Another 50 years of San Antonio history as interpreted through the hands of local artists is now on display at Blue Star Contemporary Art. The Common Currents series celebrates our Tricentennial by commissioning 300 new works of art from 300 artists, each representing one year across six galleries, 50 years at each. Blue Star is the second sequence of the showcase, representing years 1768—1817.
Each of the 300 artists were chosen by their peer collaborators in a “chain-letter” approach to selection. The six member organizations of Common Currents chose the initial round with two artists apiece, with one of the requirements being those artists must then nominate another two more artists to invite for participation. The other requirement was that the art submitted must be a new work. Artists were then assigned a year to recreate. What that looked like was completely up to their interpretation.
“Typically we hand-select artists, either through open calls, seeing them in the community, or researching specific themes,” Inessa Kosub, Public Affairs Manager for Blue Star, told CO LAB Magazine. “In this case, we were asking the artists and turning over the controls to populate the exhibition with new work.”
Blue Star started with Kent Rush, one of the original artists of their first 1986 exhibition, and Yenifer Gaviña Franco, a recent alumni of Blue Star’s MOSAIC Student Artist Program.
“It snowballed really quickly,” said Kosub, adding that the selection process allowed them to access an unprecedented pool of artists that is “really representative of San Antonio and the great artistic wealth that we have here.”
The art on display is arranged chronologically, creating not only a sense of a story told, but a breadcrumb-trail of the ingredients that form our cultural foundation: the horses introduced by European occupation; herblore and knowledge passed down from the many who once called this region home; the unsung women who dug the foundations for civilization; the new words invented out of necessity to describe the inevitable mixing of languages, histories, and blood that eventually became us.
It was pleasantly evident that most of the artists involved went the extra mile to do their homework. Years 1778—1781 heavily focus on the plight of the Lipan Apache as the Spanish toyed with their existence, pitting them against neighboring tribes. Others dig up the real stories and faces of those easily lost under the weight of textbook history, while some pieces honor the thousands who will never be remembered but whose shoulders we will always stand on.
Year 1796 seeks to compete with the gallery itself with a gallery of its own; Carol Cunningham produced a finely finished print catalog of “a survey highlighting the topography, geology, and mineral resources” of San Antonio, with the most beautiful (and portable) examples on display inside the case. Visitors can leaf through one of the copies for themselves, journeying page-by-page into history as told through bits and pieces of the physical landscape.
Many other entries evinced themselves as unique interpretations. Justin Boyd, whose eye-opening kite was featured in last year’s LIFT exihibition, recorded the sounds of Rosillo Creek, site of an 1813 battle during the Mexican War for Independence just southeast of downtown, and constructed speakers out of debris he found on-site to play them. A handful of others were presented as live performances, such as 1814’s re-enactment of legendary sighting of an Ocēlōtl warrior. Sean Fitzgibbon’s 1774 entry allowed visitors to read a patronizing letter penned that year describing Spanish subjugation of the Tonkawa people, and then crumple and dispose of it properly.
The exhibition at the Blue Star will be open through May 6, but Common Currents still has a 200 more years in store for us. Each month will see another premiere of another 50 years at participating art institutions, giving patrons the opportunity to explore new spaces that otherwise might not be on their radar. Look for the remaining installations to open at the following Common Currents member organizations:
- January 18: Artpace San Antonio, 6–8pm
- February 1: Blue Star Contemporary, 6–8pm
- February 15: Southwest School of Art, 6–8pm
- March 1: Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, 6–8pm
- March 15: Carver Community Cultural Center, 6–8pm
- March 29: Instituto Cultural de Mexico, 6–8pm