Given A Choice Between The Impossible, Choose The Ladder
by Hills Snyder

Patronage. Nasty word that. Or maven. You know what these words mean, but you wouldn’t want to use them in your song lyrics. Still, the artist-run-space as patronage is a subject worth looking into. I would try to put that in the context of a tribe, the Paphadelphians, who are getting a little famous for their proximity in motion.

Oh, here’s a song right here:

I don’t want to build your crate, rate, conflate or implicate you

I don’t want to see your slide, touch gallery guide or swallow my pride

I don’t want to thank the lender, graffito your fender or define my gender

I don’t want to rave and rant, have to recant or get your grant

I don’t want to return your call, spackle your wall or break your fall

I don’t want to touch base with you, erase, debase or freebase with you

I don’t want to deploy in your field, firm up the deal or meet a big wheel

I don’t want to review your show, be in the know or on the go

I don’t want to be put on hold, pissed and cajoled or out in the cold

I don’t want to defend my stance, video enhance or wear cool pants

All I really want to do is baby, be friends with you

Anyway, you’ve got to have a sense of humor. That’s probably the main thing. Not having a sense of humor means you aren’t aware of vapors and veils, and that’s not good. One of the Paphadelphians (I promise not to use the word again), said yeah, but I want to wear cool pants.

See what I mean?

Michelle Shocked said music is too important to be left to the professionals, or some such. I would appropriate this for art.

Now, San Antonio is famous for its art spaces. Artists start them up all the time. One of them dates back to the Fall of 1982 when David Freeman, Brian St. John and others created Los Angeles Heights Alternate Space on West Olmos near West Avenue. That lasted until about 1985 and was followed by Blue Star, which has been sprouting subspaces since the mid-80s days of Blue Collar, just to name one. Or to mention a couple more that are part of the present --- Cactus Bra and Three Walls. These Blue Star spaces, along with a long list of others both in and out of the complex, have served to instruct and revive each other via a rotating ritual that, simply put, is fun.

Underground, groundswell, grass roots --- all these terms apply to what is an essentially subterranean expression of Want To, and like the subsurface river we’re living on top of, the scene here just does what it does. A very partial list of past and present spaces: Rrose Amarillo, The Project Room, RC Gallery, The Wong Spot, Foster/Freeman Gallery, G.A.S. Hall, Infinito Botanica, House Space, Periodic Table, The Honey Factory and most recently The Bower (since June 2002), artWhere? (February 2003), Sol y Sombra (May 2003) and Triangle Project Space (July 2003).

Sala Diaz works as a form of patronage because it operates without regard for the whims, objectives, politics and blind alleys of the collector/curator/critical axis that seems to steer much of the goings on in the art world. Our interest in the artist is direct, without the whispered tones of networking in the background. Free of the desire for prestige, fame, influence or fashion, we move ahead through the simple mantra of casualness, serendipity and stealth.

Or something like that. And possibly an impossible position, but worthy.

I get the sense that we are participants in the production of a machine that we imagine to disappear when our backs are turned, but which actually gains definition when we aren’t looking. Our hands and thoughts massage its contours, and as we turn away it solemnly continues to etch itself in outline. Next time we check in, we don’t notice how subtly it has grown and how insidious its need has become.

So here you are and the stars are twinkling above. You’re trying to work under those stars rather than beneath the umbrella of culture. If that is possible. If you can escape…

my eye is a wedge in your cruelty

your lake superior fills my teardrop

my soul is the furniture of your vanity

your crustacean shivers beside my star

my blanket is your wardrobe

your importance clings to my serenity

my insecurity shudders beneath your furrow

your eyewear sickens my blindness

my accommodation is lost in your assumption

your beeline assumes my attraction

my desire pales compared to your bucket brigade

your structure elevates my leftovers

my hand mimics your lack of concern

your religion is left for repairs in my workshop

my picnic is squandered by your penny loafers

your visitation patinas my neighborhood

my piñata vomits your candy cane

your station is open after my midnight

my shot glass is polished by your faithlessness

your dim bulb turns up in my strike anywhere

my lamby-kins visits your veterinarian

your shoe leather investigates my familiarity

my toenails click in your closet

your disposition lays down with my location

my chapstick wants to fuck your fashion sense

your limp dick is my chaise lounge

my focus is your telescope

your disease control classifies my inkwell

my hate knows your limitlessness

your love is a lemon in my glass of milk

my kneecap is in your hatbox

your eyebrows stain the wall behind my door

Or some such…

People write their social contracts in all different colors of ink. I would say that getting a space and doing something with it is jet black. That’s how we like it.

Three Walls

Opened by artist Michele Monseau in June of 1999, this space along with its neighbor Cactus Bra, has served to anchor the Blue Star Arts Complex and keep First Friday interesting.

Randy Wallace, whose strange carnymecho chutzpah previously wowed us with The Trial of Mechanism Mac at Ethel Shipton’s Project Room, went over the top at Three Walls in November 2002 with his Gyromancer: Randy lays down on a horizontal boom which rotates about an upright axis in the middle of a circular track. His head rests on a block of ice at center while his feet tread upon the track, which is labeled with the words Past Present Future Forever Never Always. Dually confined as he is by the machine and by his own intent, his body serves as a malfunctioning pointer or as absurdly polarized clock hands, measuring obstinacy, patience, duration, stamina, indecision, loyalty and a host of other qualities. Meanwhile the ice melts beneath a voiceover in Spanish, the loving tongue: you are my compass / I am frozen / I risk everything for you / you burn through me / we will move together until we melt. These excerpts and others like them continue with variations in tone and emphasis throughout the performance, which lasts ninety minutes. As sound and movement cease, a flashlight beam falls randomly to rest on one of the words on the track, Future, Forever, Never…

Cactus Bra

The longest running artist-run-space currently open in San Antonio, Jayne Lawrence and Leigh Anne Lester began Cactus Bra experimentally in 1993, subsequently opening on a steady basis in November 1995. Like Three Walls, this space is a studio converted for exhibitions.

Dario Robleto’s May 1997 Cactus Bra show, which he terms as crucial, was significant to others also. His stand-by concept of artist as alchemist was in embryo here, just waiting for the after-effects to kick in. Blue Hot Blue Gun Suicide, a humble little piece at the time, pointed the way in what was to come in later works in which product and process would take turns in the driver’s seat. Like his melted Sex Pistols album or the toothpick carved out of a baseball bat, Blue Gun usurped the purpose of an ordinary object, in this case a hot glue gun. By repeatedly triggering the glue into a cubicle mold, then leaving the gun partially submerged and drowning in its own orgiastic discharge (which we subsequently view as a solidified mass sans mold), Dario achieved a Kevorkian assist through which the bullet hole acquires more significance than the bullet. A clever erasure of the artist’s hand, built upon the necessity of its involvement and bringing fate to bear on a single mass-produced item, personified blue.

The Bower

Leslee Fraser, Joey Fauerso and Michael Velliquette arrived in central Texas separately but together in the winter of 2001 - 2002. It didn’t take them long to begin using a residential space on South Alamo as a forum for artists. Their new live-in space, just around the corner from Sala Diaz on South St. Mary’s, recently hosted a sleepover for visiting curators who were invited to spend the night in the exhibition, which conveniently enough offered a futon. During last summer’s Contemporary Art Month, artists George Ferrandi and John Orth offered Snowbirds and Streetfights. Ferrandi’s improbable narratives, as she calls them, are most significant because they represent the pure imagination of the artist unhinged from academic, institutional, or any other established form of expectation. There is no concern for the prevailing winds of clout, just the lovely eccentricity of a single human being. In her scenario we follow the duckish character Chavish through various vignettes of treasure and travail ultimately to wind up at the room scale chart, a veritable wailing wall of possibilities and analyses that serve to alternately define and destroy who/what we might think Chavish is. John Orth’s snowman paintings further delve into single frame narrative constructions that allow plenty of room for poetry and speculation. I’m hoping exhibitions such as this and the Bower’s current David Dunlap and Helen Neumann show are signals of more to come from The Theory Impervious School of Personally Perverted Perspicuity…

Sala Diaz

(Elaine Wolff interviews Hills Snyder, April 2004)

Elaine Wolff: When did you first start working with Alejandro, and when did you become the curator for SD?

Hills Snyder: Alex invited me to do a show of my work at Sala Diaz, but before that project rolled around he had gone to Bard and I had become director of the gallery. This would have been August 1997. For the next year I implemented his program of exhibitions and then became curator in addition to my various responsibilities beginning about October 1998.

EW: How would you describe Sala Diaz' aesthetic(s) and how much do you attribute that to Alejandro?

HS: We don't use words like aesthetics at Sala Diaz. You pretty much have to attribute Alejandro's aes to Alejandro, Chuck's aes to Chuck and my aes to me. Or maybe I’m just a dumbaes.

EW: Do you remember the first time you met Alejandro? Can you tell me about that, or another experience with him that you remember fondly?

HS: We met at Liberty Bar in 1994.

As for fond memories, Alejandro, Chuck, Jesse and I were walking once in Madrid, on our way to meet Kathryn Kanjo at some swank restaurant she was kind enough to treat us to. Seems like we stopped at every fashion filled window in that upscale neighborhood, but one of these windows featured a particularly alluring mannequin in a sexy outfit and I made the absurd comment that seeing it made me miss Meg, whom I hadn’t seen in six weeks. Alex just looked at me with that crooked smile of his and said, “Man, you’ve got it bad.”  Which of course I did, still do.

Later at the restaurant our waiter was so decked out and detailed in his appearance you’d think he’d studied with David Zamora Casas. One piece of his gear was some sort of metal plate hanging at waist level on a chrome chain around his neck. None of us could figure a clue as to what its function might be. We were in deep hoity-toity here, if you see what I mean. Anyway, Alejandro finally hit upon the notion that it could only be a “World’s Best Waiter Award.” This of course was hysterical and ended our conjectures, though we all thought our waiter could use a little more humility.

EW: How would you describe Alejandro, Chuck, Jesse, and Franco's impact on the San Antonio art scene?

HS: Three parts Jacqueline Suzanne and one part Luis Buñuel.

Patronage as a concept works best as spillage, a multi-directional form of support and reciprocity, unfettered by notions of trickle-down, entitlement or containment. For example, Mike Casey’s support of Sala Diaz is easy to trace in terms of his contribution of the building, but less obvious, and just as significant, is the wide-open atmosphere he helps create by allowing artists free rein with the space. And of course, his generosity is met by the artists, who complete the circle of trust by doing their work and restoring the space when the fun is over.

Sala Diaz also subsidizes the experimental work of curators in that a guest is invited at least once a year to put together any kind of show they choose. In this way, the creative roles are mixed up, lines of demarcation are erased, and the space becomes a locus for support that spreads radially without concern for selecting or even necessarily knowing who benefits. Past guest curators have been Tracey Moffatt, Chuck Ramirez, Jennifer Davy, Henry Estrada and Michael Klein. Those upcoming include Katy Siegel, Harper Montgomery and Jennifer Jankauskas.

And of course, the artists reverse the flow of patronage altogether in that Sala Diaz is the recipient of the work they do. Time and time again, it is the artists that have reconfirmed my commitment to the project. Some that have been especially significant in this regard: Todd Brandt, Yunhee Min, Sharon Engelstein, The Art Guys, Anne Wallace, Rae Culbert, Reverend Ethan Acres, Melissa Longenecker and Guy Hundere.

April 2003, we’re at the ArtPace Is Anyone Listening? Conference in the Empire Theatre. Someone in the audience directs a question to the panelists on stage: where is the front porch of the museum? A well-known San Antonio artist, sitting several rows away, immediately looks back at me, and smiles. True. But I think the porches are really all over the place. Like telephones in The Matrix, you just have to find your way to one in time.

Hills Snyder's most recent involvements with San Antonio artist-run-spaces include Co-founder (with Meg Langhorne) and Director of The Pilot Hole in the Blue Star Arts Complex, 1989 - 91 and Director of Sala Diaz, 1997 - present.

Copyright (c) 2004 Transformer. All rights reserved.