Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Inspired by the Collections: A Window of Art

In an Austin home in Hemphill Park, an installation of art inspired by Ransom Center materials is on display through July 27.

A Window of Art, which draws inspiration from the Ransom Center's Denton Welch manuscript collection and from the world's first photograph, explores themes such as windows and interior vs. exterior—all painted on the walls in the home's living room.

A project of Fluent Collaborative, the piece is the result of testsite, which pairs two people, usually a writer and an artist, for a collaborative project.

This testsite collaboration between artist Cliff Hengst and writer/curator Lawrence Rinder draws inspiration from two areas in the Ransom Center's collections: the First Photograph (c. 1826), an image of rooftops seen through the window of the photographer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce's home in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, and the archive of the English writer Denton Welch (1915–1948).

"Welch is one of the most memorable and truly original English prose stylists of the twentieth century," said Rinder. "Like Welch, Cliff uses text to express concerns about his own physical health and the difficulty of human relationships. So, we began reading Welch initially as a bridge between Cliff's own autobiographical text drawings and wall paintings and the archival possibilities of the Austin site."

Rinder and Hengst were initially drawn to the Ransom Center because of an interest in Welch and planned to pair Welch with experimental video artist Joan Jonas, but after visiting the Center, the project took a turn down a different path once Hengst saw the Niépce photograph.

When Hengst visited the future exhibition site—the private home of Laurence Miller—he realized that Miller "lives" most of the time in a small bedroom on the upper floor and was intrigued by the idea of Miller seeing life in Austin through the view of his third-floor window.

Upon revisiting the Welch journals, Rinder found that Welch frequently used the image and metaphor of the window to express the threshold of the imagination and the entry point into the unknown. Welch was confined indoors a great deal after an automobile accident and wrote often of the role and meaning of windows in his life.

"Unsurprisingly, Welch encounters windows as liminal sites through which he experiences unfamiliar and evocative sights and sounds," said Rind. "Often the very presence of a window will trigger his imagination so that what is actually present on the other side is not precisely what is 'seen.'"

Echoing the Niépce photograph, Hengst has painted on the living room wall an image of the view from Miller's upstairs bedroom window. Also painted on the walls throughout the downstairs area are quotations from Denton Welch's Journals in which the author introduces images seen through, or thoughts inspired by, windows. The overall project seeks to inspire reflections on internal and external experience, on the psychological character of domestic space, and on the charged relationship between public and private territories.

"We are so pleased that Lawrence Rinder and Cliff Hengst have used the Ransom Center's archive as a point of inspiration for their testsite collaboration," said Ransom Center Curator of Photography David Coleman. "Mr. Hengst had perhaps the ideal experience for all of our researchers and visitors—he came to the Ransom Center interested in one author and was unexpectedly inspired by someone altogether different. His final artistic statement, one might say, was the result of reading one person's work through the lens of another's. That the crossover was between the word and the image underscores the rich possibilities of the Ransom Center experience."

Rinder was recently appointed director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. He comes to Berkeley from the California College of the Arts where he was the Dean of the College and Dean of Graduate Studies. Previously, he was the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator of Contemporary Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Hengst is an artist based in San Francisco, California. His wall drawings, paintings, and performances have been included in numerous group exhibitions including Liquid Paper at Ratio 3 (San Francisco, California), Color Wheel Oblivion, Marella Arte (Milan, Italy) and Slowdive at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco, Calif.). Recent solo exhibitions include: S.A.N.E at Gallery 16 (San Francisco, California) and Cliff Hengst at Jack Hanley Gallery (San Francisco, California).


A Window of Art is on display through Sunday, July 27, at 502 West 33rd Street. The space at testsite is open on Sundays from 1–5 p.m. and by appointment, which can be made by contacting Mary Katherine Matalon at 512-453-3199 or mkmatalon@fluentcollab.org.

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