Two weeks ago, late on Friday night, I found myself sitting on the edge of the stage in the basement at Sid Rich college. The walls, bright red as they are, somehow told me this was a good place to be that night. The echoes of the space were somehow a comfort where the music bounced around the few bodies inside. At around 11:30, there were already only four of us left in the room, taking in the dimness and the emptiness where before had been light and music and chatter. And it felt good. Really, really good.
This was a space whose existence I’d discovered barely three weeks earlier—it is now a space where I remember one of the greatest nights of my time at Rice so far. There hadn’t been a party; no solo cups, LED lights, or beer-sticky floors and bodies. What we had was the result of an idea, three weeks of hard work, and Cavity’s first student art show of the academic year.
Cavity, a small coalition of student artists and art-lovers, was a concept placed in our hands by three upperclassmen who, in a space of two weeks last spring, did more for student art at Rice than anyone else had for a long, long time. It was—and is—the result of minds coming together to do something where there was a need for it. Not just chatter and idealism, but walls and bodies in real time. Where Rice University turned away from providing us with the time and space for student art that so many of us want, they said we won’t stand it.
One night during dead days in the spring, they proved that they meant what they said, and on that night two weeks ago, in a place as seemingly unlikely as Sid’s basement, we proved it again. We found a space and made one of the most powerful connections I’ve ever felt—student to student, all of us who wanted to fill that space together. It was small, but it was ours, and it was covered to every aspect of its capacity with the things we all created. On those crazy red, black, and yellow walls there were paintings, drawings, collages, photographs, projections, lights, and words. There was a dance performance, a journal to draw on, a stage anyone could step up to and make something of their own (they painted furniture we’d literally picked up off the streets, and let me tell you, it looks pretty damn cool). A sculpture hung from the ceiling, and even the empty air around our heads eventually became full as students DJ-ed and beatboxed throughout the night. It was all ours. I’ll never get over how exciting that was, honestly.
No, it wasn’t easy, and it was far from perfect. It was a lot of running around helplessly, taking the longer way around, some canvases falling off walls, and a few messes (we somehow ended up with Oreo cheesecake and Oreos). It wasn’t neat or glamorous, but the beauty of it, and what I’m here to write about, wasn’t in that. It was in the people who—when we thought about student art and said this is something we care about—responded with hey, we do, too, and proved it. That was all it took, and it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever felt. It was a kind of comradeship unlike any other, the feeling of bringing something to life, to live alongside the things other minds brought to life, and watching them all run off together and be.
I think, in the end, that it was an art in itself, and it was all thanks to all of you, who heard us and listened.
Thank you for filling that space with us.
There is more to come, and it is always for you.
Written by Ana Paula P.
All photos from The Station Museum of Contemporary Art website. Torture by Andres Serrano is on display through October 8th. Admission is free.
From the outside, the Station doesn’t call to you, it doesn’t welcome you—it stands there and it waits.
And when it’s done waiting, inside it’s almost just like any other gallery; light, polished wood and white walls, bouncing spotlights and the echoes of words spoken inside off of each other. But these walls move, because this space is about the art, first and foremost, and so with every new exhibit they are torn down and rebuilt to accommodate the incoming work. And so, it is also different from any gallery you’ve ever seen.
1502, on the Corner of Alabama and La Branch. This is the Station Museum of Contemporary Art.
It stands as a small warehouse in Houston’s Third Ward, where the roads are at least three different colors of repaved asphalt, and the number of wires crossing from post to post above them feels a little claustrophobic. It’s the kind of place where it feels like the sky should always be gray, because anything else just wouldn’t make sense. Just like the wire metal mosque and worn out billboard in front of it don’t really make sense, at first. But it is all there—inside and outside its walls—for a reason, and every piece of art has something to say.
Currently these walls hold Torture, a controversial photography exhibit by Andres Serrano, in which a combination of staged photographs, portraits, and still life shots displayed in massive prints reveal to us a dark and convoluted narrative of torture in the modern world. It is, by no accident, a political, active, and incendiary work.
As told in the exhibit’s introductory literature, Torture was born in the walls of The Foundry, an obscure experimental space in a commune of southwest France. To produce his staged images, Serrano hired models who allowed him to submit them to shackling, humiliation, and “degrading positions” with the help of military personnel, thus blurring the line between staging and reality, asking How much is too much?
And there is a whole other level of contextualization to this narrative—a powerful statement in the inclusion of images of real torture survivors, historical torture sites, and portraits of political figures with links to torture controversies. Indeed, like Serrano himself, the Station Museum is no stranger to controversy. It is not their goal to seek it out, but they will not run anywhere but towards their pursuit of creative and expressive freedom. Their mission is indicative of this, undoubtedly proud:
“The Station Museum upholds the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The museum is an activist institution supporting civil society issues as well as artists who engage in social, political, aesthetic, economic, and/or spiritual content and expressions.”
Serrano’s Torture arguably occupies all of these adjectives. To see his work is to feel and to think somewhere dark—to find discomfort in something beautiful, so that we walk through it and around it, and most importantly, so that we cannot ignore it.
Wandering through the exhibit on a class field trip a few weeks ago, I felt the overwhelming presence of a narrative that needed to be told, and was able to do exactly that inside of those frames and on those walls. My body and the bodies of these photographs shared the same space, and, maybe only by some long stretch of my imagination, I felt that my body and the bodies of the individual people suspended in those photographs shared the same space.We shared stories without words, and they told me something I didn’t know before.
And so I think there is something to be said for space, for how Torture’s current residence in The Station Museum is a marriage of art and place united towards a common goal. Just as much as the space means nothing without the art, the art is arguably nothing without its walls. Whether it is in this place or another a thousand miles away, the art does not, in the end, exist to its full extent without this physicality. Without a place to hold the viewer, there cannot be a viewer, and without them, does anyone ever hear what the artist is saying?
I can’t help but think back to our own art community at Rice, and about how our lack of student art spaces is nothing short of an insult. It is another voice, an administrative one that says, Your art will not exist because we do not want to hear it. But we, the students, do. And we will. Just like at the Station Museum, there are places—places hidden from view, that need us to find them—where the walls are shifting and ready to be filled. These conversations are just beginning.
For now, I find comfort in this: there are places out there that don’t sell themselves to us, but that does not mean we cannot find them. Spaces where narratives are unfolding at a million miles per hour—where art is coming into contact with the world outside, kicking and screaming. Where it comes into contact with you, to kick and scream at you until you hear what it has to say. Where art and artist and viewer share a space and say We want to feel, and talk, and think about this, whatever this is. Where we are not passive.
These spaces are close to you. Find them. Make them.
Written by Ana Paula P.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.