Where, exactly, does an exhibit begin and end? For that matter, where and with whom does a work of art start and stop?
Amanda Ross-Ho wonders. And so, as the current artist-in-residence at the University of Texas Visual Arts Center, she is staging an open-ended, participatory project in the 1,900-square-foot two-story Vaulted Gallery — a large-scale creative experiment that she hopes will encourage gallery-goers to venture beyond their usual roles as passive art viewers.
"I want to scramble the social contract that's implicit when people come into a gallery," says Ross-Ho, standing amid an array of materials that make the Vaulted Gallery seem more an artist's studio than an exhibition space. "I've always been interested in asking people to meet me halfway."
After covering the gallery floor with clean muslin drop cloths, Ross-Ho set up workstations with the tools for anyone to create three basic yet symbolic art objects: an 18- by 24-inch stretched blank canvas, a hand-built unglazed ceramic vessel and a handmade sheet of 81/2-by-11-inch paper.
But this isn't the usual "hands-on art activity" — that seemingly de rigueur museum offering to children.
Though people of all ages — children included — are invited to participate in Ross-Ho's project, the Los Angeles-based artist brings a much more considered approach to her experiment than merely offering a pinch-pot-making, finger-painting, do-it-yourself group effort.
Ross-Ho's "Untitled Nothing Factory" is a structured venture in live art that loops back to itself.
Materials are deliberately basic: The lumber for the stretched canvases is unfinished, as is the canvas itself. The clay for vessel-making is a natural white, and finished pots will be simply fired. Even the basic equipment is white: the worktables, the chairs, the trio of box fans for drying the handmade paper.
Ross-Ho presents the ultimate blank canvas — the symbolic starting point of art-creation realized as a large gallery-cum-studio.
As canvases are made, they will be hung on one gallery wall, and vessels will be stacked on plain wood shelves along another wall. The handmade paper will be left to accumulate wherever it ends up in the project space. And the detritus and mess generated by all the art-making will be allowed to layer, too.
Ross-Ho will be in her ersatz art factory. "I like the idea of seeing what transpires socially when people are working," she says. "And I like the idea of this (space) being like a factory where things are simply made."
Ross-Ho herself once worked in a textile factory shortly after she finished her undergraduate degree at the Art Institute of Chicago. The daughter of two professional artists, Ross-Ho has long probed the studio situation as fodder for art: For an exhibit last year in Belgium, she upholstered the gallery walls with the paint-splattered drop cloths from her studio.
Since finishing her graduate degree in 2006 at the University of Southern California, her career has been in rapid ascendancy. Coverage in major art world publications, inclusion in the 2008 Whitney Biennial and gallery representation in Los Angeles, New York and London — Ross-Ho has garnered considerable regard.
But for all the high-brow notices, her work cheerfully pesters many of the conventions the art world holds dear.
Take the title, "Untitled Nothing Factory." It's a poke at all those "untitled" art works. And it's a sly subversion of the idea that all the blank canvases, plain pots and blank paper that will be produced is — by its "blankness" — a kind of nothing, when really it's a whole of something.
Even the schedule for "Untitled Nothing Factory" is meant to undermine the conventions of exhibit presentation — the ritual of opening receptions marking the beginning of the art-viewing.
Though the project has been open since Friday, the canvas-stretching and vessel-making will stop on Feb. 11 and everything will be left in "Untitled Nothing Factory" just as it is.
On Feb. 11, there will be a reception — whether it's a closing or opening reception isn't really clear to Ross-Ho. ("Untitled Nothing Factory" remains on view through March 12.)
Says Ross-Ho, "The end of (the art-making process) is really a beginning in itself."
‘Untitled Nothing Factory'
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 12
Where: UT Visual Arts Center, Art Building, 23rd Street and San Jacinto Boulevard
Information: 471-1108, www.utvac.org
‘Invitation to Participate'
What: Join Amanda Ross-Ho in the art-making process of ‘Untitled Nothing Factory.'
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Reception and artist's talk
What: Work stops on ‘Untitled Nothing Factory' and Ross-Ho gives a talk about the project.
When: 6 p.m. Feb. 11