Matthew Irwin
About
Matthew Irwin is an arts writer and editor based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He writes for publications such as American Theatre Magzine, art ltd., the Austin Chronicle, Frieze Magazine, Hyperallergic and Magnet Magazine.
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April
7

Q&A: Fusebox Festival Director Ron Berry

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Appears on TexasObserver.com

Austin’s Fusebox Festival will begin with a sort of anti-elegy, a zombie score. “Mozart Requiem Undead”—a re-imagining of Mozart’s “Requiem” comprising new compositions by indie artists including Glenn Kotche (Wilco), Caroline Shaw, DJ Spooky, Justin Sherburn (Okkervil River) and Adrian Quesada (Grupo Fantasma)—will be performed by a full orchestra and a 150-person choir. Graham Reynolds and Peter Stopschinski of Golden Hornet Project will lead the piece outside the French Legation Museum.

The directors call Fusebox a “hybrid art festival,” because it plays host to music, theater, performance art, documentaries, artist talks and round-table discussions. Additionally, Executive Director Ron Berry has begun referring to it as a “festival about festivals,” i.e., an opportunity to measure the impact of a festival on it host community, especially when that community is as festival-happy as Austin.

The performance of “Mozart Requiem Undead” will launch the 10th anniversary installment of the two-week festival (April 16-27 at venues throughout the capital), as well as a new Fusebox initiative called “Free Range Art.” That’s a branded way of saying that all festival events are free. Registration and the schedule are available online at fuseboxfestival.com.

The Observer caught up with Berry to find out why Austin needs a hybrid art festival, what Fusebox can teach us about festivals in general, and why, after a decade, Fusebox has moved to a free model.

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April
2

High Desert Test Sites

Various venues, Arizona, California & New Mexico, USA

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Appears in frieze magazine

My first impression of High Desert Test Sites (HDTS) is decidedly negative. Los Angeles hipsters in designer boots, high-waisted shorts and sunhats scramble up a desert wash in Joshua Tree, California to view Desert Appliqué by Léa Donnan (all works 2013). The nomadic settlement of abandoned crochet blankets is beautiful and colourful, if static in its nostalgia for homesteading and American craft culture. But viewers leave footprints up the wash, damaging flora. I struggle with any artistic statement that holds the potential to destroy that which it attempts to celebrate. Yet, HDTS teeters on this precipice – one on side awareness, on the other exploitation, the hope of participation risks the cynicism of tourism. These are contradictions that appear within the 2013 itinerary, in the locations as well as the projects. Over the course of the event, I come to view HDTS itself as the work, testing the limitations of community and individual effort, which are essential limitations of art in the world at-large.

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February
19

Shop Talk*

The man in front of me with a pencil-thin moustache slouches back in his chair like a younger man on a barstool, money in his pocket and the memory of an unapproachable woman still in his bed.

“I guess you have to see what you can do, just to see if you can do it,” he says. “I wanted to see if I could have a wife and a girlfriend, and I did. I wanted to see if I could have my girlfriend live with me and my wife and I did.”

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February
16

There be dragons in England

In the midst of fighting for his way of life, a washed-up performer and drug dealer stirs the moral ambiguity in all of us.

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Appears in ABQ arts & entertainment

Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem is a working-class drama about taking arms against the moral authority. It’s a folk tale about the end of myth, an allegory for the last days of the fairies. It’s a dark comedy about a performer who has outlived his charms. 

These are a few of the reasons Marty Epstein wanted to direct Jerusalem at the Vortex Theatre. Here’s another one: He just knew that fellow Vortex Rep board member Charles Fischer would make a perfect Rooster Byron.

“Charles … originates from the same area of England,” Epstein says. “He understands the English mindset and English history. He is one of the finer Albuquerque actors and someone who can handle a role of this complexity.”

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February
13

Chapter 1: Desert

Neal McCormac came to me at a time when my thoughts had nearly abandoned me. I couldn’t write, despite several bursts of urgency that held potential to form a clear picture of Ohio where I grew up. Instead, I recognized the pages to be full of petty and judgmental scribbling, the expressions of a 30-year-old man still resenting his childhood. What’s more, the world around me carried on, regardless of my inabilities or grievances. It became obscenely involved in a pageantry of self-satisfaction. The nation and its financers waged wars against countries full of oppressed people. Our fear of retaliation compelled us to accept arbitrary interventions in our daily lives. Our patriotism compelled us to defend financial liberties for the richest among us while the poorest became subjects of contempt. Pardon me for being so general, so unenthusiastic. The war was just everywhere then—especially in San Diego, of the border and the Navy—and yet we treated it like a seasonal occasion, like football or elections. We pored through stats, attempted to make predictions, but we were overwhelmed and divided. So we did what we could. We concerned ourselves with travel plans, careers and unobtainable real estate. We took pictures of ourselves helping others. We went snowboarding on weekends and read thick, fanciful books meant for children. We horded music and film because they didn’t cost anything. We discussed television shows. And we seasoned our food with sexual innuendo, the drippy, pretentious fantasy coupling of romance novels. The painters I knew had become graphic designers; the musicians had become entertainment lawyers. I worked in public relations. We were trying to pay off our debts. We were gathering up our experiences for our biographies. “We were,” in the words of the poet Adrienne Rich, “trying to live a personal life.” And maybe that was all we could do. Nonetheless, I understood that the war and our inability to confront it were related to those wonder years back in Ohio, the returning promise that our work would achieve what our parents’ hadn’t, their generation bogged down by history. I knew that writing about Ohio would bring clarity to our circumstances. Yet, clarity of mind was exactly the problem. I couldn’t write, and I very nearly repeated my habit of throwing out all the materials related to my book when Neal appeared, reappeared in my life.

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January
6

High Desert Test Sites hits the road

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A-Z West
Andrea Zittel 
Photo: Jessica Eckert

Appears in art ltd.

The drive across the Southwest on I-40, or the more romantic Route 66, introduces travelers to vastly different high desert topographies, from barren flatlands to volcanic ruts, from colorful buttes to forested hills, to prickly meadows. These lands are home to such new monuments as Leonard Knight’sSalvation Mountain, Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Art Museum, James Turrell’s Roden Crater, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array—works of art and vision by masters and fools (“A wise man knows himself to be aÊfool,” the Bard wrote). For eight days in October 2013, this path across the Southwest was also home to more than 60 impermanent artworks, as well as a caravan of artists and art-lovers, for High Desert Test Sites.

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January
4

Emily Cheng: “WholeInOne”

TreeCluster
2012
Flashe on canvas
84” x 78”
Photo: courtesy Zane Bennett Contemporary Art

Neither academic nor personal, Emily Cheng’s beautifully composed paintings at Zane Bennett consider the abstract lightness and mysticism of the world’s religions without accounting for their more complex prescriptions or varied pasts. Nor do we find much consideration in “WholeInOne” paid to the mythologies that accompany these religions. Instead, form and composition seem to be Cheng’s focus, and religious ornamentation provides her with the source material. In all of her works, she also seems to combine the ethereal quality of 20th-century Chinese ink paintings with the flat anime style popularized in contemporary art by Takashi Murakami.

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November
9

Chris Ballantyne at the Tamarind Institute

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BBQ
2013
2-color lithograph
8” x 11 1Ú2” 
Photo: courtesy Tamarind Institute

Appears in art ltd.

Chris Ballantyne’s paintings of suburban landscapes and scenes are the stuff of graphic novels—the flat use of color, the strong lines. His murals have a graffiti artist’s awareness of his environment, the way certain cracks or objects tie into the scene. And collectively, his work has a humorous, theoretical sense of architecture, as if he had raided the concepts folder at the Franz Kafka Memorial Neighborhood Planning Office.

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November
7

Meme Weaver

Distributor brings indie film from India to the US

Appears in the Austin Chronicle

Real life is a privilege afforded to the educated and elite. By “real life,” we mean the everyday struggles of average people as depicted in films. Average people outside of films, meanwhile, would much rather watch an escapist blockbuster than a reenactment of their own day-to-days. This describes the difference between independent cinema and Bollywood in India as related by Alka Bhanot, founder of the Austin-based distribution company Indie Meme.

"For a country with such a large population that faces a harsh reality, [escapism] is important for them," Bhanot says. "When you show films that reflect reality, it isn’t that compelling to them."

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September
26

What Texans Talk About When We Talk About Art

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I step out of my car at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio to find a spent bullet casing underfoot. It’s from a smallcaliber rifle. Maybe some renaissance dude inadvertently knocked it off the floorboard of his truck as he climbed out to dine in the trendy art complex, but regardless, it’s a bullet in the parking lot outside a happening white-walled art gallery. I pocket it. Later, I show it to Austin video artist Abinadi Meza, who moved from Los Angeles three or four years ago to work in Texas, and he is overjoyed. He asks to take a photo, saying, “That is Texas.”

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