San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

by HAP MANSFIELD

Where do you belong?

How do strangers perceive you?

How is being different looked upon in our society?

These and more questions are posed in Christina Sughian Houle’s video project “Migration Patterns During Wartime.” A unique theatrical experience awaits at the Joan Cole Mitte Gallery, 233 W. Sessom Drive, at Texas State Dec. 12-16. as performance artist, choreographer and film maker Houle exhibits her latest video work. Attendees should brace themselves for the unexpected.

If you go…

“Migration Patterns During Wartime,” is a video that follow six performers as they don weird costumes made of stuffed animals and hitchhike, drive, ride or walk from San Antonio to Austin. Artist Christina Sughian Houle says the work is an examination of how people react to others who are outwardly different.

The video will run Dec. 12-16 at the Joan Cole Mitte Gallery, 233 W. Sessom Drive on the Texas State University campus. The public is invited to a reception and exhibition of the bizarre, furry costume at 1 p.m. Dec. 16. Admission is free.

Houle’s film chronicles the travels of six performers in four separate groups “migrating” from San Antonio to Austin. Each group uses a different form of transportation: hitchhiking, car, bus and walking. The performers are supposed to meet up at the Capital building. This would seem to be a rather, dare we say, pedestrian, undertaking except for one thing; the performers are wearing sculptural costumes created from the pelts of stuffed animal toys. Added to this “otherness” is the fact that one large costume is often simultaneously inhabited by two performers making an entirely “different” creature.

One of the facets of the dance/performance-art piece is the idea of the outsider, the “otherness” of strangers and the loneliness of the unusual, or at least, different in society. It also deals with the reactions of those encountering the outsiders and the fear of those who are different. The piece brings up thoughts about race, gender, sexuality and fitting in. The search that each human being must face in order to belong is also explored as well as the concept of acceptance and “loving thy neighbor.”

On display, at the first screening at 1 p.m. on Dec. 12, will be one of the costumes worn by the performers. The creature costumes that Houle created are both whimsical and disturbing. She said that she used more than 200 stuffed animals to create them.

Houle used the innovative Kickstarter to finance her project, in part. Kickstarter is an internet funding platform for creative projects where anyone from around the world may pledge money to an artist for a project. One of Kickstarter’s rules is that the full amount requested by the artist must be obtained in a certain amount of time. If the amount is not pledged in full, no donor is charged. Houle received more than she asked for in the required time.

Houle, who studied and performed comedic improvisation at Chicago’s famed Second City, has made several other  video programs that connect to her current work. Her project “16 Conversations With Escape Bird” involved Houle wearing a large somewhat bird-like costume and communicating with various people while using no words, only pantomime. Her work “Incantations of Help” involved Houle interviewing 50 San Marcos residents, then playing the audio on headphones to members of her family and having them repeat and enact the words on video. Much of her work centers on the interconnectedness and vulnerability of human beings and how we try to communicate.

The migrating creatures in costume for “Migrations” were performed by some of Austin’s most original talents and include Adam Sultan, the “cat” from the performance band Mistress Stephanie and her Melodic Cat. Also taking roles in the piece are Jordan Moser of Ballet Austin and Matt Hislope, one of the founders of Rubber Repertory. Additional performers include choreographer Lindsay Robinson and performance artists Megan McGinnis and Suzi Gonzalez.

Houle talks about “Migration Patterns During Wartime” in this video:

And you can watch her gut and skin plush toy animals here:

More of Houle’s work may be seen at her website here.

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