"The Blessings of the Mystery" Questions the Notion of Preservation and Ownership

A different West Texas at UT's Visual Arts Center


Somi Se’k (The Land of the Sun – La Tierra del Sol) by Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas (Courtesy of the artists)

Research, when presented as art, mines from the didactic to form the poetic, the subversive, and the speculative. Freed from the institutional confines of peer-review and verification, research-based art creates space for multiple conclusions and narratives; it rejects the conflation of the "scientific" with the incontrovertibly true or legitimate.

In "The Blessings of the Mystery" (currently on display at UT's Visual Arts Center), Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas display their research on West Texas. By assembling created and found objects, drawings, and video footage – and writing every exhibition label in the show – the artists pose a beautiful alternative, and perhaps a more wholly truthful understanding of the place, one that includes non-Western models of knowledge and history-making.

At the entry of the exhibition hangs a colored pencil drawing, Somi Se'k (Land of the Sun), which takes its title from the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe's word for the Chihuahuan Desert, Rio Grande Valley, and its delta. While the illustration may read as a glorified pictographic map, it notes important Indigenous and industrial sites that serve as repeated motifs throughout the show, and introduces the framework that Caycedo and de Rozas use to approach the area. In the drawing's accompanying text, the creators refer to the Somi Se'k as a "net of universes where the region's past, present, and future are still in conversation." In many of the following works, the artists return to this Indigenous concept as a source of artistic and empirical inquiry.

Seeing the West Texas landscape as a site of cosmological convergence directly contrasts Western constructions of property ownership and environmental extraction. Caycedo and de Rozas highlight how West Texas embodies this paradox in an adjacent work, Measuring the Immeasurable, which features various contraptions used to survey land – colored flags, safety vests, field notebooks, and rulers – hung at the center of the gallery. By reducing these tools to art objects, the artists point to the absurdity of parceling something as mysterious as nature into crude boundaries designed to increase profitability. They ask, "What is missed or lost through this process? Whose rights are forgone when this happens?"

These questions, and the notion of preservation – of land, identity, and natural resources – are explored through objects Caycedo and de Rozas culled from UT's archives. Particularly notable are 1930s drawings by Forrest and Lula Kirkland, who copied Indigenous rock art from the Lower Pecos to protect it from environmental and industrial threat. The drawings make a cameo in the show's lengthy, culminating video, "Teachings of the Hands," which discusses the exhibition's central ideas through the voice of Juan Mancias, the chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas.

Investigating Texan histories of colonization, manifest destiny, westward expansion, and environmental vulnerability is a delicate task, especially for two European-born artists. But in their thoughtful display of research, Caycedo and de Rozas let the viewer construct their own version of the region's history. And as they point out, who are we to give a land a name, history, and value anyway? Perhaps this question is the point.

Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas: The Blessings of the Mystery

Visual Arts Center
2300 Trinity
utvac.org

Through Dec. 3.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More UT Visual Arts Center
<i>The Supper Club</i> Gives Artists of Color Important Space to Be Seen and Heard
The Supper Club Gives Artists of Color Important Space to Be Seen and Heard
Elia Alba’s multifaceted project at the UT Visual Arts Center

Robert Faires, Jan. 25, 2019

“Marta Lee & Anika Steppe: Kind of About Michigan” at UT VAC
“Marta Lee & Anika Steppe: Kind of About Michigan” at UT VAC
A road trip to adolescent haunts in Michigan results in a touching collaboration that stops short of sentimentality

Melany Jean, Oct. 13, 2017

More Arts Reviews
Biography of Spooky Rocker Roky Erickson Gets Inside the Myth and Madness
Biography of Spooky Rocker Roky Erickson Gets Inside the Myth and Madness
New oral history explores the head and mysteries of Austin's psych pioneer

Raoul Hernandez, Dec. 3, 2021

Review: Hyde Park Theatre's <i>My Season With the Astros, Expos, and Phillies</i>
Review: Hyde Park Theatre's My Season With the Astros, Expos, and Phillies
One man’s sports obsession becomes a charming one-act exploration into mediocrity

Bob Abelman, Nov. 19, 2021

More by Vivie Behrens
Are You Local? Crit Group Reunion Redefines What it Means to be an Austin Artist
Are You Local? Crit Group Reunion Redefines What it Means to be an Austin Artist
Two-part retrospective exhibition brings local creatives together, and to the main gallery

Nov. 19, 2021

Beili Liu's Sculpture <i>Cloud Pavilion</i> Shimmers at Seaholm
Beili Liu's Sculpture Cloud Pavilion Shimmers at Seaholm
How this glistening steel sculpture by the Austin-based artist became a permanent fixture of an evolving Downtown

May 28, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Blessings of the Mystery, West Texas, UT Visual Arts Center, Carolina Caycedo, David de Rozas

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle