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Use Your Illusion

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By Michael Pennywark

Photo by Suzi Grossman


Pop-up performances, pop-up restaurants, pop science, Pop-Tarts and even pop tarts: life in the twenty-first century is quick and easy. Thanks to technology and ever-increasing demands on our time, our experiences, like our food, have become as fleeting as my attention span–which I’ve been told rivals only that of a goldfish. So imagine how happy I was to hear about a new pop-up art exhibition presented by Suplex and Art League Houston featuring up-and-coming artist Ryan Hawk Feb. 7th-14th.


The exhibition will feature a selection of Hawk’s work that reflects the variety of media with which he works, from video installations to drawings, photographs to sculpture, and even a live performance on Feb. 8th. I caught up with the Houston native who is returning from a four-year stint in Boston. He explained that the idea was not just to introduce a new public to his work, “but also to give me an opportunity to show the various media that I use in my practice. This exhibition is unique in that regard, as most people identify me as either a performance artist or a video artist and have not seen my sculptural and object-based works. This show will reflect my current approaches to art making and also offer insight into my conceptual interests such as mythology, art history, technological mediation and spatial-temporal investigations.”


Each of Hawk’s video works documents a live performance, and being a sucker for performance art and anything that moves in general. I was hooked like one of those fish…what are they called again? Never mind. Hawk added that while performance art usually exists in the moment and is experienced in real time, he feels strongly that “current engagements with the medium shouldn’t ignore our digitally dependent and technologically obsessed world…When I consider a performance for a video installation, I imagine how a performance can be sustained for a new audience who were not present for the live experience. Through the use of video technology, I can manipulate the content in order to mirror the original action.” Manipulation, illusion, and what Hawk calls inner-subjectivity and the reflective consciousness are themes that run through his work.


When all the syllables started to distract me, Hawk clarified: “Within the context of my work, the terms inner-subjectivity and reflective consciousness are not limited specifically to spiritually, but are instead meant to underline the conceptual and philosophical nature of the work. One of my overlying ambitions as an artist is to create spaces of reflection. To say that I create spaces that reflect the inner-workings of our conscious might be an exaggeration. However, I am comfortable stating my ability to manipulate, exploit, or at times temporally suspend the viewer’s belief in the work that they are viewing. By creating an illusion within a work, I create my own version of reality–one that allows the viewer to see only what I permit them to see. The viewer becomes critical and aware of the ‘tricks’ I’m implementing to create the illusion, when I abruptly suspend illusion and expose truth. This sudden exposure of the truth is something that I believe everyone can identify with.”


This got me talking to Max Fields, co-founder of Suplex and curator of the show, who pointed out that Ryan “tears down illusions as often as he creates them, frequently doing both within a single work. That paradox is one fascinating aspect of his art practice. He creates minimalist sets or stages that, at first glance, are both pristine and beautiful, then he exposes the illusion within the work.”  Along with the performance installations are photographs and drawings documenting the live performances and exposing the illusions. For Fields, this “gives viewers the ability to spend time with his work and to appreciate each framed action for what it is. Because the aesthetic beauty of his illusions and the visual destruction of those illusions are both equally important to the work’s intention, the production stills document the performance, as well as supplement it. In that regard, those who have not seen Ryan’s original performance will read the stills in a completely different way than those who have. There’s some illusion in that, as well.”


Presenting the exhibition as a pop-up show is a creative solution for Suplex, which is staffed by a small team of volunteers; but as Fields points out, it also “gives artists the ability and freedom to realize works that might not otherwise come to fruition, to experiment in their practice publicly and to present work and/or performance pieces that might not be appropriate or viable if this exhibition took place over three months at one of the larger Houston arts institutions.”


Now, where are those pop tarts I keep hearing about?


Art League Houston and Suplex Present: Ryan Hawk

Feb. 7 - 14, 2024

Opening reception: Feb. 7 | 6-9PM

Performance: Feb. 8 | 2-3PM

Art League Houston


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