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While the advertising world has largely abandoned neon signage in favor of LEDs and fluorescent lighting, many contemporary artists have embraced the dynamic mediums of neon and plasma, challenging common misconceptions that these materials are only suitable for two-dimensional art. “In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the aesthetic of neon art and signage. However, few people realize the level of hand skill and scientific knowledge that it requires,” says HCCC Curator Kathryn Hall. “Through experimentation with blown-glass forms, unique gas compositions, and the interplay of light and sound, these artists demonstrate new and exciting potential for a material that has been in a state of commercial decline.”
As a throwback to the neon of a bygone era, Brooklyn artist Kate Hush puts a new spin on animated signs by addressing feminist issues through the flashy aesthetic of the material. Her femme fatales reference the dangerous and tragic women that once dazzled the silver screens of film noir. Her recent body of work responds to the absurd female stereotype of the crazy, unstable woman and plays into the fantasy of the dangerous vixen. For instance, in “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” (2015), the artist straddles the line between the mundane and psychotic, leaving it ambiguous as to whether the large red drops originating from the young woman’s head are hair dye or blood. The blinking lights generated by the animation of the piece only increase its dramatic effect.
Other artists in the show are enthralled by the science of these luminous materials. In their purest form, noble gases produce different colors and, when combined, create a wide spectrum of possible light effects, as exemplified by the works on view. Plasma is a perfect medium for artists who want to incorporate performance into their works, as the electrons in the material collide into one another, creating a series of explosive effects. The plasma works of Eric Franklin, Mundy Hepburn, and Aaron Ristau, for instance, come alive when the gases respond to human touch through glass. Demonstrating a highly specialized knowledge of the medium, these artists engineer custom gas mixtures to create vibrantly colored filaments of light inside blown- and found-glass forms.
Artists James Akers and Lily Reeves work with neon gas, the namesake of the art form, which produces a red glow when combined with high-voltage electricity in an airtight chamber. The two artists activate their sculptures, which they make by bending commercial tubes, in live performances. In “Neon Sword Fight” (2015), Akers and Reeves wield “Star Wars”-like light sabers in a battle between opposing forces of good (cool-blue argon) and evil (orange-red neon). Like many of the works in the exhibition, Akers’ and Reeve’s sculptures are not just meant to be seen, they are meant to be experienced.
“Light Charmer: Neon and Plasma in Action” is curated by HCCC Curator Kathryn Hall. Information about upcoming programming can be found on the exhibition’s web page at www.crafthouston.org/exhibition/light-charmer.
Charmer: Neon and Plasma in Action”
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
HCCC is supported by individual donors and members and funded in part by The Brown Foundation; Houston Endowment, Inc.; the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance; Texas Commission on the Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kinder Foundation; the Morgan Foundation; Windgate Charitable Foundation; and the Wortham Foundation. HCCC is a member of the Houston Museum District and the Midtown Arts District.
For more information, call 713-529-4848 or visit www.crafthouston.org. Find HCCC on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @CraftHouston.