Blue Star Contemporary’s current exhibition “Fünf,” which opened on June 7 and will run through September 8, spotlights the fifth cohort of resident artists to participate in its Berlin Residency Program.
Blue Star first partnered with Berlin’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien, a non-profit organization esteemed for its international residency studio program, in 2013. Since its founding, the Blue Star Berlin Residency Program has sent four San Antonio-based artists each cycle to live, work, and deepen their practices in the German city. Artists are selected via an open call submission process.
As a part of the three month program, resident artists are not only given living and studio space but also receive access to workshops, exhibition opportunities, and studio visits with international curators. Though there is no set expectation that artists must create new work while in Berlin, Blue Star typically showcases its residents’ work after their return.
The work in “Fünf” (meaning “fifth” in German) was created by 2017-2018 residents Amada Miller, Andrei Renteria, Ethel Shipton, and Jared Theis.
Blue Star curator and exhibitions manager Jacqueline McGilvray, who curated this show, explained that, though they don’t always do group shows for returning residents, they have known for a few years that they’d like to do one in honor of the fifth anniversary. In part, McGilvray said, to celebrate the artists’ work and in part to help spread the word to other local artists about the existence of the residency program.
In “Fünf,” the decidedly divergent practices of these four artists come together to form a compelling and multifaceted whole.
Each artist has been given a space within the museum that’s semi-divided from the rest, yet walking through there’s still a feeling of continuity, at least in the sense of overlapping themes.
Miller’s work in the exhibit, titled “Hollow Moon Rings Like a Bell,” makes use of 55 carefully arrayed handbells with iron meteorite fragments inside, as well as graphite on canvas and small aluminum, glass, and bronze meteorite-like casts, to create the feeling of a lunar landscape. In her work, she ponders the curious claim by NASA scientists that when meteorites hit the moon it rings like a bell — even though there is no sound in the vacuum of space.
Renteria’s body of work in this exhibit is entitled “A Quien Corresponda/To Whom It May Concern.” Notable in formal innovation and heavy with potent (and maybe political) pathos, Renteria’s work here, referencing the worldwide migrant crisis and the war on drugs, draws attention to the transformative and often destructive effect that violent situations can have on language and belief. He accomplishes this in part by playing with the fluctuating lines that make up his funereal graphite on vellum drawings.
Shipton’s contribution is a rather whimsical stop motion video installation, called “TIME,” that documents the creation of a cityscape mural she made on her wall while in residence. She began the mural on a lark, using leftover tape and other implements left behind by previous residents. This led her to contemplating layers of time in the video and in the large mural that she constructed at Blue Star in the same vein. It’s a one-minute video that represents a month of work, but it’s also a conversation of sorts between Shipton and past residents.
Theis’ part of the exhibit is actually a few clusters of works that form an arresting whole. Working with fabric, wire, paint, fake flowers, ceramics, and metal, as well as video and audio, the artist’s ambitious presentation focuses on a personal mythology that he has spent years developing. The results are as fantastical as they are thought provoking, as disconcerting as they are pleasant, and as colorful as they are dramatic.
“I spent hours of each day just walking and noticing,” Shipton said of her time in Berlin. “This got me thinking about time and the speed with which we move through our lives.”
For her, the residency proved to be an outgoing experience, one in which the location itself and its own character ended up informing and shaping her work.
Renteria, on the other hand — who went to Berlin in winter while Shipton went in summer — said that the residency, and a few false starts in terms of the work he wanted to do, led him to a comparatively introspective experience.
“I got to this point where I was really reevaluating my research methods and even my technical approach to the work I wanted to do,” said Renteria. He also mentioned being inspired to reconsider his own form and execution by the work of artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Cy Twombly, that he encountered in Berlin museums.
Ultimately, McGilvray said that she is impressed by and eager to share the work in this exhibit, which, created in Berlin and since, she believes finds each artist pushing themselves to new heights.