Randi Mabry

Randi Mabri, studio art and philosophy double major, sits before her senior art display inspired by her family history and childhood memory. Mabri’s exhibition is currently on display at Pump Project’s Flex Space in east Austin.

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Faded family portraits hang off of white wallpaper covered in pictures of strawberry plants. Letters from a father at war are strung across half-built walls on the other side of the room. A soft voice speaks in German, and a wooden cuckoo clock chimes in the background. The poorly lit kitchen is the architecture of philosophy and studio art senior Randi Mabry’s childhood memory.

It is also her latest art piece and installation.

At the age of 18, Mabry’s mother received a letter that her grandfather wrote in 1941 that revealed that he was a German sergeant in World War II. The letter intimately details his time spent in Normandy, where he was shot and cared for at a French sickbay. Roughly a year ago, Mabry’s mother gave her the letter, which Mabry had someone translate into English. To cope with the weight of the knowledge of her heritage, Mabry turned to her favorite medium of expression — installation art — to create a full-scale model of her grandmother’s kitchen. The exhibition, titled “meine karten sind durchlochert: my maps are full of holes,” is currently on display at Pump Project’s Flex Space. The exhibition’s closing reception with traditional German food and discussion will be held on March 29.

“It just seemed natural to create a space and tell a narrative, a narrative that was beyond writing another letter or story in words,” Mabry said. “I wanted to create a space and invite people back into my memory of my grandmother, who is really my strongest connection to that lineage. It’s intimate and slightly uncanny.”

Mabry began conceptualizing the installation about eight months ago when she proposed her idea to Pump Project’s gallery director Rebecca Marino. Marino explained that she accepted Mabry’s proposal because of the complexity and ambition of the idea.

“I really liked the idea of her fitting her family context into the historical context,” Marino said. “I thought conceptually it was very strong and the idea was very strong. When she said she wanted to recreate her family’s kitchen, I just loved it. There’s a real, genuine interest, and I was personally intrigued by the idea as a whole.”

Mabry’s installation only shows the pieces of the kitchen that she remembers and contains some of her family’s heirlooms such as an old rocking chair, a drawing of their town in Germany and a refrigerator filled with German sugar cubes that her grandmother used to buy.

“There’s this terrifying problem of this family lineage of fighting for Nazi Germany that’s in her letter and this image of Nazi war craft,” said Jeff Williams, an assistant art history professor. “So, it blends this thing that’s comforting and homely, that you identify with, your most secret and warm feelings, and that’s kind of flipped on its head with this horrifying realization of this hidden past.”

According to Mabry, the installation allowed her to present the complex layering of her family in a humanistic and comprehensive way. 

“I love doing installation sculptures — this basic phenomenal form of experience,” Mabry said. “If you move through it physically and spatially, it’s this all-encompassing experience. It’s a different relationship than you would have to a painting. This couldn’t be as simple as a painting or a book.”

The exhibition allows visitors to physically experience part of Mabry’s family history, and it provides people the opportunity to reflect on their own heritages, Williams said.

“I think one of things that someone walking to the space should take away is that hopefully it gets them to, at the very least, question their own construction of their memories and biography,” Williams said. “That it’s very much Randi, but you think about your own personal history and the various stories within the family and complex relationships with how your ancestors ended up in America and their hardships and the insecurities of going through that endeavor.”

Studio art senior Randi Mabry believes that showing an audience visual art being impulsively made on stage pushes the boundary of traditional performance art. “It’s all performance; the piece only exists while the piece is playing,” Mabry said.
Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Artists, dancers and musicians will be surrounded by audience members who have the rare opportunity to observe art from an unconventional perspective. Classical Reinvention’s “Paint.Play.Plié.” performance will combine different art forms in an interdisciplinary portrayal of classical music. Rather than utilizing a stage, the performances will occur on a single flat plane. Classical Reinvention founder and president Jacqueline Perrin says she focuses on developing a new way for classical music to engage audiences.

“I’ve learned that audiences are really receptive when they realize that you are trying to reach out to them. Audiences are way smarter than we ever give them credit for, but a lot of classical musicians that I know think of the audience as our enemy in the way of our art,” Perrin said. “No, they are real human beings, and you should probably cater to them like they are human beings.”

Perrin was originally inspired to start the organization after watching years of unengaging performances.

“I started this organization two years ago because I’m sick of what I like to call ‘sit down, shut up’ concerts. I’ve been exposed to this art form and I love it so much, but the way it is performed makes it really difficult to enjoy,” Perrin said. “My goal through this organization is to make classical music more accessible to people.”

Perrin incorporates different modes of expression and performance into her shows. In “Paint.Play.Plié.” the performers will dance or paint to live classical music. The twist is that all the performances will be improvised.

“Improvisation is interesting, because it should inform how you experience the work. What you are listening to now could easily be different. If you were to listen to the exact same thing five minutes earlier, it would be different,” Perrin said. “It’s extremely exciting, and the communication is the most interesting aspect, because everyone needs to be nonverbally communicating at all times in order for it to be a cohesive piece. Watching the communication transpire on stage is so elegant.”

Lucy Kerr, a dance and philosophy senior, will be improvising a contemporary dance to a percussion piece and a Haydn piece. Looking for a more emotional dance form, Kerr branched out from traditional ballet and modern dance. Improvisation allows her to feel the music and relate that experience to her audience. All genres of dance can be improvised, but Kerr focuses on modern and contemporary styles.

“There’s something about modern dance and contemporary dance. There’s a lot of dynamic, and there’s a virtuosic kind of power to it,” Kerr said. “It tries to communicate ideas that contribute to society and the human condition. But sometimes it’s just about the dancing.”

While improvisation may be more nerve-racking for the artists, it allows the audience to experience the creation of the piece.

“It’s all performance; the piece only exists while the piece is playing,” sculptor Randi Mabry, a studio art senior, said. “After it ends you have the remnants of it. For me, I don’t really see that [finished piece] as a piece in itself. For me, it’s the act of painting while the music is playing.”

By allowing the audience to see visual art being impulsively made, Mabry said she is pushing the traditional definitions of performance art. Generally, visual art is developed over time and with precision. Mabry normally creates sculptures that are abstract and conceptual.

“I like abstract art because its emphasis is on process and not product. I could spend anywhere up to 10 hours on one painting and not get bored,” Mabry said.

“It takes a life of its own. In realistic painting, you have one ideal image and the process of it leading up to the art.”

Rather than developing the ideas behind her art, Mabry experiences a new sensation every time she paints to music. The music directs her art.

“Improvisational painting differs, because I have an auditory structure to it,” Mabry said. “In listening to music, I listen to the rhythm like the staccatos. The brush strokes reflect the rhythm, and usually the colors of the paint that I use will be reflective of the music itself. “

Perrin said that Classical Reinvention is part of a movement to modernize classical music instead of confining audiences to the typical performance setting. The challenge comes from attempting to please both longtime patrons and progressives.

“These aren’t gimmicks, and they aren’t an attempt to dumb it down. They enhance and enrich and show classical music from different perspectives so that you go away with more than you would have normally.”