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Teens, artists collaborate in Contemporary Austin program


Allie Novess and Calder Kamin are on top of the Contemporary Austin roof downtown. Kamin howls at the cranes and buildings. Novess blinks wide-eyed, turning her head from side to side, cautiously on guard. They rummage through a cooler. They try to work an elevator. They cautiously climb up staircases.

They are creating a performance piece video for the Teen Artists + Mentors program at the museum.

Novess, who just graduated from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and will be going to University of Texas-San Antonio in fall, plays the part of Deer, and Kamin, Coyote. They are decked out in full costume with makeup and hard hats with ears sticking out of them.

Their video, “Displace,” is about what happens when cities displace animals. In their video, the animals begin to adapt in unnatural ways. They go from sitting in a field with bluebonnets to sitting at a cafe and using a cellphone.

Their work also includes wood silhouettes of different animals with glowing eyes and a house in which the inside contains nature and the outside is industrial. The animals and house can move around the gallery space at Pump Project, where the exhibit “Special Blend,” a culmination of the mentorship program, opened last week.

Novess and Kamin are one of 10 pairs of teens and artists that began collaborating in January for the sixth year of the program. The high school artists apply in fall after they already have taken a three-month, once-a-week Young Artist program at the museum. Once chosen, they are paired with a local artist.

The pairs meet once a week for at least three hours to learn about art and make some together, eventually creating a work for the program’s exhibit in July. Sometimes they work in the artist’s studio space; sometimes they go to different places around Austin to research their project. There also are some weeks when all the teen/artist pairs come together to present their progress. Each pair is given an $800 budget by the museum for their project.

Students learn about managing budgets, making deadline and being efficient. “I learned so much about the professional world and how to be a professional in the art world,” Novess says.

While the artist is sharing his or her time and expertise, they also are learning from the teen as well. Kamin was very comfortable in science and educational art but did not have a lot of background in performance. Novess did theater at school and knew how to do stage makeup. Together they also learned how to design the 3-D work of the house, so its pieces could be cut in wood by an art fabricator and later installed on site by Novess and Kamin.

Their work is very collaborative. They each came up with crazy ideas in the moment to try in front of the camera and whatever we don’t see in the finished video was edited out because of laughter.

“She brought the joy back to making art for me,” Kamin says. “She taught me how to be spontaneous, to be fearless.”

“I learned how much I need art in my life,” Novess says.

Novess and Kamin collaborated around their similar concern about overbuilding and the environment. Other teens examined big issues as well in their art.

Oddalys Sanchez, who just graduated from Del Valle High School and is going to LaSalle University in Orlando, Fla., and her mentor, Lisette Chavez, looked at gentrification and the stereotypes facing Latinas in “#thestruggleisreal.” The spark was the destruction of Jumpolin piñata shop on East Cesar Chavez Street. Sanchez and Chavez created self-portraits in piñatas and then broke them open. They filled them with Mexican candy as well as toy money and coins. Plastic cockroaches crawl around the loot.

Sanchez and Chavez had never made piñatas before, so they did research on YouTube.

“I have so much respect for the people who make piñatas,” Chavez says. “These things should be $200. It took us weeks. … It’s so much work.”

For Chavez, who finished her master’s of fine arts at the University of Arizona last year, working with a teen re-inspired her to do art. “Art just came out of me,” she says. “When you’re an academic, everything is so planned out. With this, I could see art in a different way.”

One of the things that Sanchez said that particularly inspired Chavez to change her thinking was “all of my art is a giant mistake; I’m just trying to fix.”

“I was driving and I wanted to pull over,” Chavez says. “It made a lot of sense. I appreciate art work even more.”

Brenna Dwyer, who graduated from McCallum and is going to take classes at Austin Community College in fall, and her mentor, Heather Parrish, figured out on the first day that they both have a secret love of bees, a concern about their diminishing numbers and a desire to be a beekeeper.

As part of the program, they took a class about beekeeping that inspired them to create a stop-motion animation video using the printmaking techniques they both shared. The video, “HiveMind,” plays in a beehive box.

“There’s always something you can have in common with someone,” Dwyer says. She also learned a lot about how to communicate with other people and to get to know them.

Anna’Elise Estrada, who graduated from Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, and mentor Betelhem Makonnen found that they both walk a lot and created “Wa(l)king,” a video of their meanderings with a voiceover of entries from Estrada’s dream journal. They approached the program broadly and eventually narrowed down what they were going to do, Makonnen says of their process. Like people, their art grew and evolved.

“A lot happens in seven months,” Estrada says. “You really do grow as a person.”

A love of the universe and Carl Sagan inspired Noelle Kendziora, now a senior at McNeil High School, and her mentor Chantelle Rodriguez, to create a 3-D body laying on the ground above a sky of flowers. They built the body using their own bodies to create the molds. This was Kendziora’s first time working outside of 2-D art. Kendziora says the program will help her introduce more of her own ideas and thoughts into art class when she returns to high school in August.

Julia Fabela, a Del Valle High School graduate who will be going to Texas State University, and her mentor, Lindsay Hutchens, created art around Fabela’s love of virtual reality video games including “The Sims.” On their first meeting, Fabela told Hutchens that she had created good and bad characters in the game.

Pulling on Hutchens’ experience in photography, they created photography of themselves as one good character from history or pop culture paired with another bad character from history or pop culture. Princess Diana is matched with Maleficent from the Sleeping Beauty story. Harry Potter counteracts Hitler. A portrait of Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” sits beside one of Mao Tse-tung.

While Fabela says she was introduced to the Austin art world through Hutchens, Hutchens was reminded what it was like to be a teenager again. “They have a lot of things on their plate,” she says. Seeing what Fabela was juggling while finishing high school reminded Hutchens not to be so hard on herself when she doesn’t have a productive day at making art. “It ebbs and flows,” she says, just like it had to while working with Fabela.

Eric Moe, a Bowie High School graduate who is going to University of Texas, created the ultimate collaboration with Jonas Criscoe. They blended their last names and created an icon and a brand called “Criscmoe.” Criscoe taught Moe how to screen print. They created T-shirts, flags and wallpaper that is on one section of wall in the gallery. What is the brand Criscmoe? “The question is what Criscmoe isn’t,” Criscoe says. “It’s everything and anything… It’s whatever you want it to be.”

Jesus Trejo, a junior at Lehman High School in Kyle, and James Huizar both moved away from Austin during the program — Trejo to Kyle and Huizar to San Antonio. They worked by sending work to each other and meeting at least once a month. Together they created a zine of images and a mural, “Stuck in ThE TIMe WarP of Life,” that they painted the week before the exhibit opened. For Trejo, this was the first time he had worked on something that was not the size of a piece of paper.

While Trejo was learning to go big, Huizar picked up on Trejo’s use of pattern and applied it to his own work. Trejo is also much more carefree and loose in the detail, which Huizar has also picked up. From Huizar, Trejo learned about scheduling and allowing himself time to work on art.

Naomi Angeles, who graduated from Harmony Science Academy and is going to University of Texas-San Antonio in fall, and mentor Lauren Moya Ford created a work that is about the process of creating art. “The Search” uses objects Angeles found in her backyard and around her neighborhood. They painted and stacked bricks. They split golf balls in half to reveal the colorful cores. Angeles also wanted to work more with clay; so they made clay pieces together. They also each created a video.

When they came into the space with all the objects, they created the final work. “We had all the stuff, but we didn’t have the plan.” So, they played and tried out different ideas until they found something they liked.

Ford says creating art with Angeles was very different than working alone, which is often an artist’s plight. “It feels like it’s not a job. It was a complete privilege.”

Artist Frank Wick taught Supreme Hinton, who graduated from Lehman High School in Kyle and is going to the University of Chicago, how to work with plaster. They created some plaster work together, including a bust of William Shatner, that they broke with a sledge hammer and then turned the head around on its neck.

Wick says he let Hinton make the decision to break the bust. He says that might have been something he would have thought of “but I would have stopped myself,” Wick says. “I would have talked myself out of it.”

With Hinton, he could take a chance, even though he knew if it had not worked out it would have meant hours of creating another bust.

The program was more than just about creating art for the pair.

“I would not have gotten to know someone who is 17,” Wick says. “It’s refreshing. “

Yet, he says he treated their relationship more like peer-to-peer than teacher-student.

They don’t expect the relationship to go away now that the project is over. Wick and his wife plan on visiting Hinton at school in Chicago.

“He’s the first person to give me confidence to do art,” Hinton says. “He’s like a second father figure to me.”



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