Interview with Ansen Seale
If you're an at-all regular reader of this blog —or this paper— you've likely read about Gene Elder: conceptual artist; activist and founder of the Wedding Cake Liberation Front; Director of the HAPPY Foundation; bon vivant; and San Antonio's foremost archivist and historian of the LGBT community.
Gene Elder at the HAPPY Foundation Archive, November 2008. Photo by Justin Parr.
Gene's also an incisive and entertaining interviewer on the art front. This is, I believe, the second of his series of "Chartreuse Couch" interviews I've run on CurBlog--the first one was with Chris Forbrich, Council hopeful and political up-and-comer.
Gene Elder's an institution, y'all. Hell--he's even in this week's QueQue.
I've tried to reproduce his unique e-mail formatting for the title, here, let's see how it pans out.
Oh, and if you'd like to be added to Gene Elder's e-mail list, or if you have something to contribute to the LGBT Archive, you can contact Gene at firstname.lastname@example.org
View Of Reality From A Chartreuse Couch
(My Own Private Alamo) by Gene Elde_____________________r
How nice to have you here today. You have just opened an exhibit at the
Land Heritage Institute. This requires some explanation. Describe this
recent project is called the Corn Crib and is located in south Bexar
County on a 1200 acre plot of land along the Medina River. It was
commissioned by the Land Heritage Institute and FotoSeptiembreUSA. LHI
is a living "land museum" and is located where the Applewhite Reservoir
was to be dug had it not been for the popular uprising which turned it
down in 1991.
Gene: And you put photos in an old rock shed.
The shed in question. Photo by Ansen Seale.
only instructions were that the piece had to be about the land and that
it had to contain photography. With those wide-open parameters in mind,
Penny Boyer, Michael Mehl and I went scouting around looking for a
location and a project.
Gene: I came. I saw. It was a long walk to the corn crib.
Yes. On this 1200 acres are several human habitation sites that vary in
age from 10,000 years old to the mid 1970's, when it ceased operations
as a farm. One of the complexes of buildings was constructed in the
1850s using the stacked-stone method of construction. Most of the
buildings have fallen to ruin, but the one that remains was a place
where corn was stored in the winter to feed animals (and perhaps humans
as well). I knew from the minute I saw it that this was the place. The
building measures 12 x 13 feet and has a corrugated steel roof,
probably replacing the original roof in the 1930s. The ruins of the
original stone house can be viewed nearby.
Gene: Unusual site. I expect there won't be that many people that come to see it.
indeed. And that's exactly the point. The viewer must travel and
experience the land in order to gain the fullest appreciation of the
art. This place was perfect for the installation because it provides
protection from the weather. Photography is an inherently fragile
medium and until recently, its place in public art installations has
been limited. So I was thrilled when I realized that this small
structure would protect the photos, and the photos would protect the
building, both by keeping people from touching the walls and, in a
larger sense, by giving the building a purpose.
Gene: Is this permanent?
Yes, this is a permanent exhibit. The Land Heritage Institute is not
fully open to the public yet, but I've been taking interested people to
see the Corn Crib every other weekend or so.
Gene: Okay, enough about the site. How about the photos.
my cue from the surroundings, I wanted to created a chapel-like
environment to honor corn, the sustainer of all the inhabitants on this
land for 10,000 years. When you enter the Corn Crib, you see nine
transparencies glowing like stained glass windows. They show images of
various varieties of corn taken with my digital panoramic camera. Some
of the panels show more monochromatic varieties of corn; all red or all
blue. Others are covered with multi-colored kernels looking like a
carpet of jelly beans.
Photo by Ansen Seale
Gene: They are lit from behind, and I didn't see any electricity.
Corn Crib is way off the electrical power grid, so by necessity I had
to make a very green project. To light my photographs, I constructed
back-lit LEDs panels and powered them with solar panels. Other than the
glowing photos, the interior of the space is dark.
Installation view. Photo by Ansen Seale
Gene: Well, we need more of this in the inner city as well. Maybe you can think of other places that need to be illuminated.
Ansen: Wow, I just noticed, this couch really IS chartreuse!
yes, you artists notice everything. Well, that explains the corn crib.
Now you get to ask me a question. I always let the guest ask the last
Don't you think it's true that San Antonio has one of the most vibrant,
active and well supported arts communities in the country? I mean, it's
easy to complain about a lot of things in SA, but really, there's
something going on here all the time in
the arts. I've only lived in SA since 1979, so I don't have a lot of
perspective about what goes on in other places. I do travel a lot, but
that's not the same as being plugged in to a local community. From what
visitors have told me, I get the sense that for its size, SA is very
special in this regard. What do you think?
Antonio is a strange bird and that is why we all like it. I have been
here since 1971 and the art scene has certainly gotten more
interesting. But we still don't have major dance companies coming here.
I want to see the Joffrey Ballet and other dance companies that
Margaret Stanley always brought to town. There may be a lot of stuff to
do and a lot of brilliant talent but we don't have an arts leader like
Margaret Stanley. And that is what we really need now. Margaret had
national and international respect and knew how to get the wealth in
San Antonio behind her fundraisers and projects, and she could still
sit around with the artists and be right at home in both worlds. The
loss of Margaret's San Antonio Performing Arts Association ended a very
unique time in our art history and education. I need to invite
Margaret to the Chartreuse Couch. I'm going to get her on the phone