Pulling up to the seedy Fox Motel on a drizzly Saturday night for a one night stand, we were harboring a certain feeling of déjà vu. We found our regular parking spot and headed toward the crowd with anticipation. Some hung on the edges, unsure of what to make of this hubbub – unsure of what they might be getting into. We dove in.
This is the fourth incarnation of “Seven Minutes In Heaven,” an erotic art happening curated by Jessica Garcia since 2012. This exhibition staged at The Fox has become a staple of Contemporary Art Month. Every year, there is a different lineup of artists to occupy the rooms and this year is no different.
Jenelle Esparza, Nate Cassie, Ethel Shipton, Louie Chavez, Mat Kubo, Ed Saavedra, yesmissolga, and Sixto-Juan Zavala each took their place and served up their variation on what constitutes erotic subject matter. As we are all aware, eroticism – or intimacy – is a highly variant situation. It all depends, right?
Garcia feels strongly about being able to talk about sex, and doesn’t believe in censoring the flow of creative response. I asked her if she ever makes specific requests.
“Let me put it this way, there is sometimes specific types of work that I want to see. From Mat (Kubo) I wanted to see the typewriters in the room. Or, I will see a specific piece of work from an artist and request that (particular) work, but mostly, I set people free to do as they will,” she said with a lift of the eyebrow and a come-hither smile.
Not only has Garcia become known for her “Seven Minutes” antics, but also as a woman doing conceptual installation art in a typically male-dominated field. She is also known as, or for, “Invisible Gallery.” She creates pop-up sculptural works in temporary spaces. Whether working on her own or collaboratively, she has gained street cred in the artist-run space community and by working for organizations such as Southwest School of Art and Ruiz-Healy Art.
Jessica felt that the 2015 group of participating artists “got it” across the board in a big way.
"The artists this year really brought their best and used the Fox Motel as inspiration. That is exactly what I look for in this specific exhibition – artists that are willing to surpass traditional expectations," she said. "The crowd was extremely receptive this year to all the participation."
Make no mistake, these hotel rooms are not easy spaces to work with. They are dingy and well-worn. The lighting is horrible, as one would expect. But in this incarnation, there was a tremendous sense that the spaces were fully incorporated into the art rather than the art simply being placed in the venue. The 2015 edition was also much more interactive and engaging than previous years. My first impression was that it was generally less smutty overall than past installations. Less potty humor, less overt sex, which may disappoint some. On the other hand, the installations certainly encouraged a good bit of discussion about what sex or intimacy means to different people. There was a new layer of subtlety.
Ed Saavedra of Flight Gallery chose to push the idea of intimacy as actual - gasp! - conversation. Clothed in a terrycloth robe and perched on the dresser, the audience was invited to converse with him, one-on-one, via microphones. And yes, there was a line. In my opinion, this was the most overtly intimate scenario. The room was dark, underscoring the grittiness of the venue.
Photographer Jenelle Esparza abandoned her usual medium by creating an altar on the bed composed of a veritable cornucopia of flowers, fruits, and vegetables of suggestive size, shape, and succulence. The artist invited people to take a bite and partake in the feast. She filmed them on her iPhone as they ate.
“In the beginning people were shy, but as everyone had more to drink, they were more willing to take part,” Esparza said. The room was warm and heady with fragrance - very enticing.
Louie Chavez was perhaps the most ambitious in converting his room into a hentai wonderland of pornographically provocative graphics; converting the bed into a sculpture that one could imagine doing the sexual bidding of anyone caught in its grasp. Smoke, lights, color - it was fun and seductive and overwhelming.
On the other hand, yesmissolga, papered her room with shots of people in the midst of clutching a wheelchair. The photos were suggestive, but not pornographic. It would be interesting to see this work pushed to greater and more uncomfortable lengths. The wheelchair was present, and the willing were encouraged to interact with the chair while yesmissolga clicked away with the camera provided. Kinky.
Mat Kubo brought in a cluster of typewriters, joining anyone to type, and the “approved” bits were taped to the wall. There was also a sculptural bar in a suitcase, complete with psychedelic disco lights and incense, worthy of any itinerant writer a la Hunter S. Thompson, flopping from one fleabag dump to the next.
Nate Cassie and Ethel Shipton created a scenario that invited more questions than answers. The bed strewn with “toys” of an erotic nature, suggesting bondage and S&M, but leaving one unsure as to whether anyone was actually using the toys.
This installation reminded me of the time that I was house-sitting for a friend back in the 1980s in Houston. One of his little tricks broke in and dumped all of his toys and porn everywhere, thus inducing a situation in which one didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or laugh maniacally. Does one clean up before calling the cops to report the stolen TV and car? Anyway, Nate invited us to kiss the mirror to let him know we had been there. And I actually thought about doing it for half a second.
Sixto-Juan Zavala contributed an excellent undulating video installation projecting onto the side of the building, in sync with the beats of the righteously queer Pink Leche. The art of this DJ utilizes spinning in combination with original lyrics and music, making for one of the most interesting young DJs working in San Antonio today.
Unfortunately, the Miniature Curiosa puppet show was missing from the mix, cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. “Miniature Curiosa explores the underbelly of childhood nostalgia with the disappointed eyeballs of adulthood," states the Minature Curiosa website. “This is not the theatre. This is the living room of an overzealous magician who doesn’t know any tricks.”
The brain-child of Zach Dorn and playwright Murphi Cook, this delightfully quirky and brilliant enterprise is the recent recipient of a grant from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, winning both the Alan Beckstead Award for Original Production and the Tobin Grand Prize for Artistic Excellence. They have also received recognition from The Jim Henson Foundation.
“Seven Minutes In Heaven” was once again delivered by creating a space in which to ask and answer questions, skewer expectations and, above all else, play. Because really good sex is about being able to play not only physically, but mentally. We look forward to Garcia's plan for 2016. She has a few tricks up her sleeve and is already in motion for the future. Anticipation is in order.
"'Seven Minutes In Heaven' is always an exhausting event for me as the biggest event Invisible puts on every year. When it's over I feel proud. Proud to work with so many amazing artists, proud to have so many people support this idea of no censorship, and proud that a gallery like Invisible can continue and keep growing year after year. Invisible Gallery exists as a vehicle for artists to push themselves and expand their work and would not exist without the support of the art community, 'Seven Minutes In Heaven' would not exist without it," Garcia said.