Arts In Context Shorts: A Strange Pilgrimage

This week’s episode of Arts In Context Shorts features “Strange Pilgrims” at The Contemporary Austin. This experiential art exhibition, takes its name from Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez’s 1993 book of short stories, wherein Márquez characteristically loops together strange, magical, hallucinatory stories. With its newest exhibition, the Contemporary takes spectators on another kind of magical pilgrimage through time, place, imagination and perception.

Curated by senior curator Heather Pesanti, “Strange Pilgrims” is the Contemporary’s first large-scale, thematic exhibition, spanning three locations – the Jones Center, the Laguna Gloria and the Visual Arts Center in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas – and an extensive, 14-artist lineup. The exhibition is broken up into three thematic sections: Environment and Place, Performance and Process and Technology and Information.

The exhibition features a combination of newly commissioned works, site-specific refabrications, and existing works from an international lineup of artists, including Ayşe Erkmen, Sofía Táboas, Yoko Ono, the Lakes Were Rivers collective and Charles Atlas.

From giant vats that pump out large quantities of foam to indigo stained sculptures, Strange Pilgrims covers a wide variety of mediums and ideas. Sometimes challenging, often interactive, and always fascinating, The Contemporary Austin has elevated experiential art to a new level.

Strange Pilgrims is on view until January 24, 2016.

After Trauma of Combat, Soldiers Heal Through Songwriting

Austin-based singer-songwriter Darden Smith had never had a real conversation with a U.S. military service member until he met Lt. Col. Fred Cale. He quickly realized that they had much in common – both were music lovers. Through this meeting, Smith, the founder of SongwritingWith:Soldiers, realized that the divide between soldier and civilian was not what he thought it was. He saw the potential for music and songwriting to help soldiers transition back into civilian life.

“SongwritingWith:Soldiers to me is an incredibly beautiful kind of evolution, you might say, of what I’ve always wanted to do, which is tell stories and write songs,” Smith said.

The free program pairs professional songwriters with veterans to craft original songs based on their experiences. For many of the 120 military members who have participated, songwriting begins the healing process.

“I guarantee you they’ve saved lives with this program,” said Major Chuck Hawthorne, a retired Marine.

Equal parts cathartic release and creative endeavor, SongwritingWith:Soldiers offers a chance at healing to the people who need it most.

Arts In Context Shorts: Body Shift

Creating “ECHO,” an improvisational, site-specific dance, the dancers of this Body Shift Performance Workshop have honed the skill of open awareness.  Each individual explores improvisational dance by tuning into his or her own body and choosing a movement that will benefit the design of the whole dance.  This allows the dancers freedom to do the dance that only they “know how to do” with the accidental moments of improvisation shining through like hidden gems.

Body Shift is a collaboration of Forklift Danceworks and VSA Texas and offers classes and workshops which empower people of all abilities to embrace dancing in their own unique way.

Arts In Context: Bike Zoo

Take a walk – er, ride on the wild side.

Giant rattlesnakes, bats, and butterflies parade down the streets thanks to the Austin Bike Zoo. This mechanical menagerie is the brainchild of Jeremy Rosen, a UT grad with a degree in mechanical engineering. Rosen began the project with a simple goal of creating whimsical ways to play with bikes and ended up with a collection of intricately engineered animals. Part puppetry, part engineering, and all fun, the Austin Bike Zoo inspires wonder and delight everywhere they go.

“We have our own style and our own way of doing things,” Rosen said. “It really is original.”

Arts In Context Shorts: The Neon Jungle

Evan Voyles builds signs to last generations. Voyles is the sovereign sign-maker of South Congress – he hand-created and repurposed vintage signs for Magnolia Cafe, Homeslice, Soul, Stag, Creatures, Turquoise Door, Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Perla’s, Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Yard Dog and Uncommon Objects, the last two going on 20 years of age. Voyles started on his craft as a vintage neon sign collector and began to build signs when clients asked for specialized styles. Most recently, Voyles faced one of his biggest challenges yet: a 50-foot-tall replica of a 1952 Fender Telecaster for Austin Vintage Guitars. His personal artistry is on full display as he creates a new iconic masterpiece.

“I get to change the way my hometown looks,” Voyles said. “Who really gets to say that?”

Arts In Context Shorts: Barrio Writers

By empowering teens through creative writing, higher education, and creative arts, the Barrio Writers are reinstating the term “Barrio” to its original meaning – community – and embracing it. This writing community began with small workshops at El Centro Cultural de Mexico in Santa Ana, California and have now evolved into week-long, intensive programs on university campuses across America. At the end of the week, the Barrio Writers transform their stereotypes into a place of positivity and become empowered in their own words. Having also published several summers of writing into anthologies, they collaborate to promote diversity, cultivate creative writing, and offer a new voice in literature. Get information about events in Central Texas at

Watch full performances from students who participated in the Austin program this summer.

Arts In Context Shorts: Wig Party

This week, Arts In Context Shorts shows you one way to get in touch with your colorful side.

As a painfully shy child, Allyson Garo embraced theater and costuming to free her inner extrovert. Today, as the owner of local boutique Coco Coquette, Garo brings maximalist glamour to the masses. Showcasing a treasure trove of wigs and accessories, this splendid little shop helps Austinites find their inner diva.

Wig parties bring friends together to explore the art of incognito and inspire even the introverted to be flamboyant fashionistas. Garo shows how easy it can be to transform one’s self into a work of art at Coco Coquette Austin’s masquerade market.

Arts in Context: Somos Krudas

Having survived under a totalitarian regime, Cuban hip-hop duo Krudas Cubensi refuses to compromise. Lyrically, nothing is off limits as they spit fiery lines about politics and sexuality with a frankness and openness that is seldom seen. With a persistent Afro-Cuban rhythm, Odaymara Cuesta and Olivia Prendes use their art as a weapon “to fight against oppression, for justice, for balance, for our rights, to celebrate the life.” Now based out of Austin, Texas, Krudas Cubensi continues their fight for social justice through their incendiary, original hip-hop.

Arts in Context Shorts: Wildly Strange

This week’s Arts in Context Shorts features Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s eerie photographs that possess a “wildly strange” nature. Often employing masks, dolls and sometimes his own children set against abandoned buildings and other eerie backdrops, Meatyard’s work differed from the documentary, photo-journalism approach that defined the mainstream definition of the photographer in the 1950s. His photographs blur (often quite literally) the distinctions between literature and visual art, encouraging viewers to explore the role of fiction in the photographic images and their representation of reality.

Arts in Context: The Thing We Are Not

This week’s Arts in Context Shorts features the work of artist Denise Prince. Across the disciplines of film, photography, painting and object making, Prince’s work employs the commercial language of advertising to make explicit what is real or deftly, its counterpoint, fantasy. Prince’s portrait on cancer survivor and apparel designer Gail Chovan is supplemented by wit and made clear the pleasure with which she constructs narratives and then disrupts them. Through the artistic process, Prince has learned to live better by uncovering the thing we are not.