New Media, Post-Modern Conceptualism‚ web site art:
Bexar County Line dot com (www.BexarCountyLine.com). Started as a joke. However, after some inadvertent research, I came up with a good way to describe it: Post-Modern Conceptualism. A New Yorker magazine article triggered my consciousness about the title and the approach, the end-product. The story was about an art movement in New York and Amsterdam, in the early seventies, 1970’s, where the artists were working on conceptual pieces, rather than just a painting from a singular — or recombinant — school. The art could be performance, or any other form, so it seemed.
It’s a fine line between outright male bovine excrement and fine art. The Conceptual Art blurred and over-stepped that line. For the sake of transparency, the site’s name came first. It is derived from two sources and three locations. Two of those locations are along Interstates Highways, 35 Southbound from Austin, and 37, Northbound from Corpus Christi, the Gulf Coast, headed towards Austin. The other half of that is Austin City Limits.
I was working in Seattle. The server, waitress, asked about me and my work, so I handed her a business card. She looked at the Area Code, “Austin? Cool. I like to go there twice a year, for SXSW and ACL.” ACL is the festival named for the PBS show, named for the sign, Austin City Limits.
One evening, in San Antonio, I was asked, “If Texas does secede, what will we do with Austin?”
Short answer is obvious, build a wall around it, and treat it like the Vatican (State). After all, Austin isn’t just the capital of Texas, it’s the spiritual capital of Texas, as well. Tolerance, peace, love and waterbeds. Keep Austin Weird. Like that’s a challenge. My answer was well-met.
Austin and its home, Travis County are, indeed, hallowed ground. Just like Austin’s mantra, though, “Keep Austin Weird?” San Antonio has a similar appeal, KSAL: Keep San Antonio Lame. The two sources, though, they were the signs, Bexar County Line, northbound, me coming up from the coast, and southbound, me headed down to Alamo City to work. Counterpoint? Austin City Limits.
The humorous part, the bit that made me smile, was thinking about how proud Austin is of its “weirdness quotient,” and back-to-back, separated by less than 90 miles? San Antonio is just as strange, if not stranger, only, no one really cares. It’s not a badge of honor to be weirder than Austin. That’s where I got the idea, and that’s also, an example of one of the images that I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands of times, and I’ve never been able to accurately capture — the Bexar County Line sign on the west side of Interstate 35, heading south from Austin. It’s cantilevered out, and the sign itself has an almost modern feeling to it. It announces that this is historic old San Antonio, the county that was named a long time before the US was the US, when this area was prime Spanish colony and land grants. That sign, the image itself, I have yet to capture it correctly, that one which started this all.
The ancillary version of the symbol, the east side of Interstate 37, amid the equally lush and harsh brush country of South Texas? I recall stopping and snapping several dozen images of that sign — most often seen as the masthead and iconic logo. I was returning from a weekend of romance and fishing. Or romancing the fish, as I got to a point where I spent more time feeding the fish bait, rather than catching the fish. All in fun.
The name and symbolism are organic in nature, yet very much man-made in execution. The original goal never seemed to work. By the time I was hanging around San Antonio, at first, just for work, I started to amass a collection of digital images. Tourist stuff. Local material. Images, some arcane, some beautiful, some balanced and serene, some just everyday life. The images themselves speak well to the area, the climate the city, the neighborhoods, the two main industries in Bexar County: Hospitality and Military. Yet there’s also something that sets this project apart from a “real photographer’s photo-blog.” That’s the “post-modern conceptualism” part, that quirky, stream of consciousness imaging.
The rules, more like an organically grown set of guidelines, were simple. I tend to use inexpensive (under $100), almost disposable digital cameras. No film. No print. No paper, no dead trees. All electronic. Cheap, too. Not exactly the best gear, but there’s the added advantage, the cheap camera, I’ll have it on hand — drop it? No problem. A cheap camera I’ll have when a sultry summer day produces a dazzling array of flowers and colors, with heat shimmering off the pavement. Wouldn’t have the expensive camera with me. Much, almost all, of the digital images are point click with no consideration for focus, lens angle, F-stops, or even if my agitated hand is holding the camera still enough for a decent picture.
Towards that end, my girlfriend’s car, I keep a spare (cheap) camera stashed in her glovebox. Never can tell when the right image pulls in front of her car. Have to be ready.
The web site isn’t about fancy, high-end, ultra-expensive photography. High-resolution prints aren’t (currently) available. This isn’t about each image that is carefully color-balanced, and cropped in such a manner as to make it most aesthetically pleasing according to art school standards.
The site is an image a day. Posting time isn’t always the same, but within any given 24-hour period, there will be one new picture, a digital image. The picture is taken within the confines of Bexar County. Probably by a cheap, digital camera, although, maybe a cell phone camera or perhaps an expensive camera, that might happen. The pictures are not uniformly anything. Some are outside, some are inside, some have people, more often than not, though, it’s just a simple object. Digital still life. Flags, flowers, signs, lettering, painted objects.
The art and architecture, the sense of place, color and the explosion of richness, a joy in everything around, that smell of hot food and greasy Mexican cuisine, an aroma that is just amazing? That’s part of the effort. Sometimes it is minute, details, a close-up. The idiosyncrasies of everyday life. The clash of cultures as the old world meet the new worlds, as the Latin, indigenous and European pioneer cultures all collide. There’s the rich savanna, the coastal plains at the foot of the western hills.
The nature of the art in the site itself, though, is the selection and apparently random nature of the images. There’s been an occasional attempt at thematic groupings. Sporadic, at best, and the goal is to merely feature a single image, each day, that somehow shows off some particular quirk, a random act, typical or atypical, of what makes up this portion of the planet, as defined by the Bexar County Line.