• Art in Translation: “See the Forest for the Art”

    Hey everyone! Rachel here.

    As any of my friends will tell you, I absolutely love art. The interest manifested years ago when my grandma, an artist, watched me once a week while my mom ran errands and my dad was at work. She would take me to art exhibits and I always eventually wound up in her studio, creating the latest masterpiece for her fridge while I waited for my dad to pick me up.

    Years later, my artistic abilities have sequestered themselves to notebook-margin doodles and gift-wrapping (seriously, it’s on another level). My love of art is still just as strong, albeit a bit more refined.

    In fact, one of the only things I enjoy as much as looking at art is talking about art ­— an unfortunate circumstance for my friends.

    It’s not that they, and everyone else, have a disdain for art (okay, I’m sure some do). It’s just that contemporary art, with its varying degrees of abstraction, can be incredibly difficult to decipher if you haven’t studied it. Sometimes to the untrained ear, art talk can be a little, well — let’s just say it can sound foreign.

    Because of this, many of us are put off by art before we fully understand it. We miss opportunities to be inspired, find entertainment or perhaps even a chance to divulge criticism — all because we “don’t get art.”

    I could go around reviewing exhibition after exhibition, writing up generalized thoughts on shows around Austin, but let’s get real. This is the art blog post. There are no rules here (it’s like we’re in the international waters of online media). Okay, there are some rules, but the point I make is this: It’s time we try something different, something everyone has a chance to like or at least find interesting.

    Every Wednesday, I’ll pick one piece currently on display in Austin and explain it in a way that everyone can appreciate. This isn’t “Contemporary Art for Dummies,” but rather a much more conversational way of talking about art than what is generally used. Essentially, I’m going to tell you what the piece means, what the artist is trying to convey and why one might think it’s cool.

    I’m sure everyone won’t like all of the pieces I post, but I’m positive there will be something for everyone. And if not, I promise to keep it interesting.

    Last Thursday, I was wandering with a friend through I Art Congress: Eat Your Art Out, a monthly series of downtown exhibition features and restaurant specials. We stumbled into Champion, a contemporary art gallery at the corner of Eighth and Brazos streets, owned and directed by Sonia Dutton.

    After some less-than-clever maneuvering around construction blocks, we finally made it inside. Bloom, the exhibition by Claire Falkenberg, was a series of large-scale canvases (all roughly ranging from 29 to 61 inches in length) displaying combinations of photography, collage and painting. Each had a familiar landscape, partially obstructed by a large formless shape of either black or white paint. The paint gives viewers the opportunity to uncover extraordinary details in the real world, which are usually unseen.

    I was immediately drawn to the piece titled “Forest,” which depicts a litter-covered patch of forest floor.

    The photograph is actually a collage of multiple pictures of wooded scenes, giving it a feeling of timelessness and familiarity, as if you were revisiting a place you once saw in a dream. The black paint obscures a large part of the canvas, appearing somewhat three dimensional, shaped like a portal resting on the ground and fading into the dark tree leaves.

    Dutton said Falkenberg uses the photograph as a way to represent humanity mirrored in the environment. It is up to the viewer to determine the meaning of the void created by the paint. The cloud of paint could be ominous, violent, an escape or a beacon of light — the possibilities are without number. As for the rest of the photograph, the artist is taking away a large part of the scene and asking us to figure out what the picture means in its absence — how we would fill in that space.

    Personally, more so than the other pieces, the paint in “Forest” looks like a hole to me — almost like a rabbit hole. With all the garbage lying around the base of the black paint, it kind of makes me think of what would happen in a modern “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” if years after her last adventure (yes, including the second book) Alice revisited the spot where she had fallen into her fantasy world.

    My point is the scene itself appears worn by both time and people, and although darkness can often be ominous, the black cloud in this case seems to offer an escape from that landscape — possibly from reality. If I imagine myself in that scene, it feels whimsical and curious rather than discomforting. That being said, I would definitely be concerned to happen upon a giant gaping hole in the middle of the forest.

    Until next Wednesday, figure out what the void means to you and how it changes the picture in your eyes. I bet you will surprise yourself. 

  • The Garage Sale Review: Organ donors and liquor pump

    Various gems like this vintage record player can be found in garage sales around Austin.
    Various gems like this vintage record player can be found in garage sales around Austin.

    Salutations, my garage sale amigos!

    Saturday marked my inaugural dive into the eclectic ocean of Austin garage sales, and I have to say it yielded some pretty decent finds. There wasn’t anything too extraordinary, but just like fishing or pregnancy, garage selling requires patience: The juicy stuff will reveal itself when it’s ready.

    As this is the first week, I figured it would be smart to take it easy on you garage sale rookies and stick close to UT. As you can see on the map below, my route began at 4500 Shoal Creek Blvd., went south to San Antonio Street, veered east across Interstate Highway-35 and ended up at 3402 Merrie Lynn Ave. The entire journey took about three hours (4.86 miles), which is pretty good considering I scored a free “liquor pump” (more on that momentarily) and a Settlers of Catan board game for $1.

    OK, enough chit-chat, let’s get started.

    View The Garage Sale Review: 6/11/2011 in a larger map

    4500 Shoal Creek Blvd.

    I arrived at my first stop at 8:32 a.m. and was disappointed. There just wasn’t much there, especially not anything blog-worthy, which is unfortunate since it was the first garage sale. Me being a professional, however, I ignored my misgivings and diligently dug through a bunch of unfamiliar junk until I found something I could show you guys.

    As you can see, I uncovered a set of nine magic tricks. The seller, who prefers to remain unnamed, told me she bought the magic tricks in Las Vegas for $10 each (ouch). She was selling the tricks for $2 each — which would have been quite the deal had they been nine MacBook Pros ­— but considering they were just a bunch of crappy, sandwich-bagged illusions with titles like “Three Rope Mystery” and “Magic Coloring Book,” it wasn’t a very good deal at all. I politely declined the magic tricks and journeyed onward, looking forward to the junky treasures that awaited me.

    834 W. 37th St.

    Even from the street, I sensed the second garage sale had potential. I eagerly started poking around and found some pretty cool books and DVDs, but nothing really jumped out at me. Was it another dud? I guess it depends on how you look at it. There weren’t any unusual finds, but after speaking with Mary, the seller, I realized I had stumbled across a great chance to teach you young, vulnerable garage sale Padawans out there how to avoid getting a bunch of free junk pawned off on you.

    Mary told me the story of her “cursed” organ, an instrument that had been given to her and her sisters years ago by their mother in a failed attempt to trick some children into learning how to play an organ. The siblings, who didn’t want anything to do with the organ, didn’t touch it. Years later, it was passed along to the next generation, who also decided that an organ wasn’t something they needed.

    As is the custom with unwanted junk, the organ ended up in a garage sale, first priced at $75, then at $50 and finally, offered to me for free. Although a free organ is arguably a good deal, I wisely remembered my parents’ yard and how, over the years, it had gradually become littered with the corpses of free barbecue grills that garage sales had dumped on my dad. I am my father’s son, but I have my own life, and I will not commit the same mistakes that he did. With my own legacy in mind and my conscience clear, I continued on my way.

    1702 San Antonio St.

    The third garage sale was a considerable improvement over the first two, I’m pleased to say. Patrick and Marci, my gracious hosts, greeted me with a friendly “bullshit for sale” as I walked up. I started picking through the items and a peculiar doodad soon caught my attention. I inquired and the garage sellers told me the object in question was something they called a “liquor pump.” They said that it had never been used, and indeed, except for a little dust, the device was in great condition.

    A liquor pump, eh? How strange. It was modeled after an old-timey gas pump, complete with a nozzle and a transparent tank the liquor pumper would ostensibly fill with a liquor (or liquid) of his or her choosing. My eyes lit up as I imagined filling the “liquor pump” with delicious 2-percent milk, my beverage of choice. I guess Patrick and Marci must have spied my enthusiasm, because they gave it to me for free! Additionally, they threw in a pair of tube glasses, which may or may not have something to do with the liquor pump.

    This is also the garage sale where I bought Settlers of Catan for $1. If any of you readers are familiar with this award-winning board game, then you know what a great deal that is.

    1810 E. 39th St.

    When I arrived at the house on 39th Street and saw a brand-new Nintendo Wii for sale ($150), my world was turned upside down. I didn’t know what kind of garage sale I was dealing with. Sure, there were some used trinkets, but other items were in mint condition — an oddity in the world of selling old junk. I asked Zoey, the seller, what the story behind all her unused stuff was, and she explained the Wii (and the unopened Fat Cats calendar) were both gifts from friends that she didn’t need.

    The puzzle pieces were falling into place. Zoey was a “re-gifter!” I wish I could claim I didn’t buy the Wii and the Fat Cats calendar because they violated garage sale code (being new) and my rock-solid integrity, but actually it was just because I’m poor. Well, I could probably have afforded the Fat Cats calendar, but I already have one of those.

    3402 Merrie Lynn Ave.

    The final garage sale in my quest was probably the most exciting as far as unusual items go. Swords and archery equipment (including a pretty awesome miniature crossbow) were scattered around the yard. Cake-decorating kits were displayed on the shelves and I even encountered the second organ of the day.

    Kelly Sloan, who was running the show over on Merrie Lynn Avenue, told me all of the weapons were bought by her parents at gun shows and that she was having the garage sale “to get rid of all this junk.” Very eloquently put, Kelly. I started to leave, but not before my roommate, who had accompanied me to the garage sale, belted out an organ solo.

    See you folks next week, and remember: Haggling is the highest form of persuasion.

    Photos by Aaron West

  • The Basement Tapes: Elaine Greer

    Indie folk singer-songwriter Elaine Greer and her band will be playing at Hole in the Wall this Sunday.
    Indie folk singer-songwriter Elaine Greer and her band will be playing at Hole in the Wall this Sunday.

    Singer-songwriter Elaine Greer’s light, airy voice, winsome melodies and slight country twang has earned her serious critical praise in Houston: She was nominated in 2009 for Best Female Vocalist for the Houston Press Music Awards. Greer, now based in Austin, has also opened for The Fiery Furnaces, Tilly and the Wall and Tim Barry. Her first EP, Making Plans and Going Places, featuring a cleaner mix of her breathy vocals was released in 2009. Her debut album, Annotations, will be released on June 30 and she is setting out on an American cross-country tour in July.

    Greer will be performing twice on Sunday at Hole in the Wall for the Follow that Bird! Tour Kickoff, once as the front-woman of her band and then with local band The Sour Notes. (See weekend recs)

    The Texan interviewed Greer and fellow band member and UT alum, Yola Blake, about their upcoming tour, latest album, recent show at Free Press Summer Fest in Houston and choosing a new name for their band.

    Daily Texan: I know you have been going solo for a while, has that changed?

    Elaine Greer: I have two projects going on. One of them is my solo project. I'm playing with a new band with a new line-up of people here in Austin, including Yola. There's six of us so it is kind of a big band. Then I'm also in the band The Sour Notes. I used to be in it a while back and then I quit that band ‘cause I wanted to focus on solo stuff but now I'm with them again.

    DT: So for your solo project, is the band's name going to remain "Elaine Greer?"

    Greer: At this point, we've labored for hours trying to find a successful "and the 'name' " but no one can decide on anything yet.

    DT: Are there any nouns standing out to you?

    Greer: There's been some potential. Which one is your favorite?

    Yola Blake: I don't know because we shot everything down. We did the "yellowbirds" for a while...

    Greer: There was the "daylights." There was the “killer whales.” [laughs] There's been like a hundred thrown around by our friends, saying I've got it. Our drummer said the “magnets.” [laughs]

    Blake: There's the “sapphires.”

    Greer: And the “pickles.”

    Blake: I like the “sapphires.”

    Greer: Eh. I don't. [laughs] See, this is why we haven't decided. [laughs]

    DT: So how was Summer Fest?

    Greer: Summer Fest was hot. If I could describe it in one word it would be hot.

    DT: Was it a lot different this year than last year?

    Greer: I think it was. It was pretty different. I played the first year that they did it, and it was way different because they had only two stages that year and that was awesome, I thought, ‘cause they had a lot of local bands and that was what they were pushing. Now it has become a really huge thing with all of these bigger bands and all of the local bands kind of get pushed aside a little bit more. It is kind of a bummer. But it was fun, I guess. I just hate being hot. If I'm hot, I'm never happy.

    DT: I've seen you play and sing during concerts with other local Houston bands such as the Wild Moccasins and the Young Mammals – even when they were the Dimes, what has that transition been like, being so known in Houston and moving to Austin?

    Greer: It was really frustrating at first, because yeah, that scene was, you know, you go out and everyone is your friend. The Dimes, we played together since we were in high school and the Wild Moccasins and I had a lot of the same band members. So it was like one big collective family there. When I first moved here, it was kind of depressing because I was like I don’t know who to talk to, what to do, I don't know anyone here. So yeah, that was frustrating for me. We were talking about this earlier, ‘cause I'm so excited now ‘cause I have a lot of stuff going on. I think it just took a little bit longer to pick that up.

    DT: What initially made you want to make that move?

    Greer: There were a few factors. One of them was a relationship. Also, I've lived in Houston all of my life so being in that kind of place where you go to a bar and you know everyone there, I guess I didn't really like that so much? I kind of miss it sometimes, but at the time, it wasn't what I really wanted. I didn't know what steps to take and what to do. I guess I wanted to move somewhere that had a lot more opportunity and more bands. Austin has been so inspirational. I would say that the main parts of the move were more personal reasons.

    DT: What was the inspiration behind Annotations?

    Greer: Basically with the album, I started writing songs whenever I was transitioning from Houston to Austin, so there's a common element to those songs, that feeling of feeling displaced and lonely and being unfamiliar with your surroundings. They are all songs I wrote when I first moved to Austin. The name Annotations I came up with is ‘cause it just reminded me of annotations of things I think about in life. Like going through these day-to-day activities and these situations that are really awkward or weird or uncomfortable and it's my little side notes.

    DT: So the band is going on tour in July, what are some of the cities you are just so ecstatic to visit and play?

    Greer: New York is always exciting. We're going to be playing Providence, RI, which I heard is really cool. Chicago. We're playing in Akron, Ohio on the Fourth of July for the Fourth of July bash so that should be cool.

    DT: What are you packing?

    Blake: Oh my gosh, we were just talking about this.

    Greer: I was like I think I'm just going to bring all summer dresses and just roll them up so I can like fit 12 in there. [laughs]

    Blake: [laughs] I was like I guess I'll bring accessories so I can wear the same thing every day, dress it up.

    Greer: Girly girls on tour is always hard.

  • Apron Optional: Grab your onion goggles

    Hello, all!

    While you may think of me as a 1950s housewife from my picture, I am actually just a staff writer for The Daily Texan with an affinity for sun dresses, floral prints and bunny videos on the Internet — but this post is about food.

    I have been baking on and off for quite a few years now. Perhaps I inherited the bug from my dad, the cakemaster of our house. Or maybe it came about as a way to lock in my circle of friends with sugary treats and confections. Either way, there is no disputing the direct relationship between providing baked goods and being adorable — a concept I’m completely comfortable to admitting I enjoy.

    Every Friday, I invite all of you to join me as I take on new adventures in the kitchen, leading the way through the thicket of online recipes and confusing ingredient substitutions. Each week you will find a new recipe complete with tales of my culinary conquest. I’m definitely no expert, but that just means more entertainment for all of you!

    I’m not sticking to any specific style or cuisine. Instead, I’ll be digging up recipes that are presentable and impressive but still easy to make (hello, we aren’t on “Top Chef: UT”) and, most importantly, delicious. Being a student, the recipes will be (for the most part) student-budget friendly.

    Full steam ahead, I thought it best to do a little cooking 101: How to chop an onion and cook pasta.

    For some of you, this may sound a bit ridiculous and basic, but I’m not lying to you when I say a year ago I could make cinnamon toast cupcakes from scratch, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how to make spaghetti. No judgment here.

    It all started with a dinner party last summer. I had just started getting into cooking and invited five friends over for dinner. Between myself and my two self-elected helpers, the kitchen quickly devolved into a disaster zone. The dessert was messed up, the chicken alfredo sauce wasn’t cooking properly and my friend dumped two pounds of spaghetti (for six people) in a pot and left it for me to cook. Just as I was about to completely unravel, my brother (resident Pasta Roni aficionado) stepped in and saved the day. After a pleasant meal and a lot of cleaning up, my brother suggested perhaps it was time I learned how to make pasta.

    First, the onion. Oh, the onion, how I have avoided the task of chopping you. Is there any vegetable less appealing to chop than an onion? No, there is not. Unfortunately, onions are vital in making plenty of delicious things, so we’ll have to get over it. While you can choose to take the stylish route of wearing swim goggles like my mom, the most fashionable advice I can give you to avoid the traditional tears is to chill the onion in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before cutting it and breathe through your mouth.

    Now, on a cutting board, take a sharp knife and cut off the top and bottom of the onion. Resting it on one of the flat ends, carefully cut the onion in half, intersecting the bulls-eye in the center. Peel the skin off, and lay each on the board so the center is face down. Make parallel cuts beginning at one of the flat ends (please watch your fingers). The thickness of the slice is at your discretion or whatever the recipe requires. Take a few of those slices at a time and stack them sideways, and cut them again to make small pieces. Repeat with the other half and you have successfully chopped your onion! Next step: buying breath mints.

    Pasta is pretty simple. First, boil water in a large pot, using enough to clear the top of the pasta by a good three inches or so. One time I thought I would save time by heating water in an electric tea kettle and pouring it into a pot sitting on a preheated burner — big mistake. The whole thing started hissing and bubbling in a violent mess that left me with a minor burn and a bad mood. Don’t take shortcuts, just cover the pot and enjoy the 15 minutes to yourself. Once the water is boiling, sprinkle in some kosher salt (roughly a teaspoon, but it’s not an exact science) and put in your pasta. If you’re using spaghetti or any other sort of long noodle, there’s no reason to break them in half! Wait a few seconds and stir the pasta to push it all under the water. Set a timer for a minute less than the smallest amount of time on the package. When the timer goes off, (carefully) test a piece of pasta. It should be al dente, which is the fancy Italian way of saying firm, but not hard or undercooked. If it’s ready, drain it over the sink into a colander and you’re done. If it still feels crunchy, set the timer for one more minute, taste it again, then drain it. If you aren’t planning to use it now, I suggest tossing the pasta with a very small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking.

    That’s all for now! Next week, we’ll make something even your pickiest friends will want to mooch off of.