February 4 & 5, 2023
A year to the day after our last major ice storm, our city froze solid.
When the weather finally shifted and the ice turned to rain, we’d been without power for three days. Many of our neighbors were in the dark far longer. The sun and heat felt almost garish after so much frustration and cold, but I dragged myself into it, made myself run errands, tried not to think about the fact that in all likelihood we’d be doing the same dance next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.
Dimension Gallery Sculpture Park popped up on my map while I was looking for something to eat after blearily trawling through Target. It was an unexpected new addition to my list of places to visit for this project, close enough that I didn’t have any excuse not to go, so off I went.
The park was bare bones and scraggly, situated in Austin’s rapidly gentrifying East side across from converted industrial buildings full of bars, shops and a climbing gym. Some of the dozen concrete display stands sat empty, plaques proclaiming the names of long-gone artwork. Other pieces were unnamed. All of it, a sign near the park entrance said, was for sale, provided you inquire at the listed number.
Near the park’s far edge, poking around the back of a shipping container, I found what looked like a damaged section of one of the nameless works, plus loops of wire that might have been trash or someone’s abandoned art, slowly decaying.
At each empty plinth, I tried to guess which name might fit the discarded pieces I had found. Maybe the coils of wire were “Oil & Honey,” damaged in some older storm and tossed aside?
I enjoyed the weirdness of the half-empty park more than the art itself, but I admit I’ve never been fond of sculpture. Maybe it’s because sculpture demands an awareness of the physical that I don’t always enjoy. My body, after all, is not a reliably enjoyable place: it’s irritable, painful, and as we slowly recovered from yet another catastrophic freeze, it demanded new and frustrating patience, working through meticulous biological calculus that was invisible to me even though I housed it.
I visited the Really Small Museum the next day, determined to claw back a bit more normalcy by plowing forward and checking another location off my list. The two tiny spaces that make up the museum, the 14th Corner Contemporary and the Banton, are both white wooden boxes affixed to poles in adjoining East Austin neighborhoods, a project to bring art closer to where people live and work.
The exhibit at the Contemporary delighted me immediately. Seed pods, perfectly dried and displayed on a silver tray in front of their images rendered in delicate pencil, all of them native to Texas. The symbolism was so obvious it made me laugh: a woman hoping for a child, standing before the seeds of native flowers on the cusp of spring. I tried not to read into its title, to take it as a warning: Dormant Season. Hopefully not, I thought, making my way to the next stop. Hopefully with the ice gone, we had thawed enough for growth. Hopefully the stress of huddling in our frigid house night after night, the fury at our politicians’ inaction, the tears I’d shed over our spoiled food, hopefully it hadn’t been too much for my body to handle.
By the time I got to the Banton, the temperature had soared. The heat, scorching after such a deep freeze only a few days prior, was a bizarre contrast to the sky-high piles of broken branches on every curb, a temporary exhibit in itself: look at this destruction. Will we do anything to keep it from happening again?
Inside the tiny white gallery I found squares of rough fiber sewn imperfectly together, drenched with yellowish resin or glue that looked almost like bodily fluids. The preserved seeds from the last gallery seemed static and artificial in comparison. Shot through with seed beads or glitter, a chunk of crystal from a chandelier and scribbled with faint patches of unexpected color, it felt alive, biological, fleshy, messy and haphazard and mesmerizing. Up in the rightmost corner was a tiny figure, barely recognizable as human: a woman, a doll, a little girl, the idea of a person, pinned to the fabric like a keepsake.