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Gene Elder talks to Ansen Seale: The Chartreuse Couch Interview


If you're an at-all regular reader of this blog â??or this paperâ?? you've likely read about Gene Elder: conceptual artist; activist and founder of the Wedding Cake Liberation Front; Director of the HAPPY Foundation; bon vivant; and San Antonio's foremost archivist and historian of the LGBT community.

Gene Elder at the HAPPY Foundation Archive, November 2008. Photo by Justin Parr.

Gene's also an incisive and entertaining interviewer on the art front. This is, I believe, the second of his series of "Chartreuse Couch" interviews I've run on CurBlog--the first one was with Chris Forbrich, Council hopeful and political up-and-comer.

Gene Elder's an institution, y'all. Hell--he's even in this week's QueQue.

I've tried to reproduce his unique e-mail formatting for the title, here, let's see how it pans out.


Oh, and if you'd like to be added to Gene Elder's e-mail list, or if you have something to contribute to the LGBT Archive, you can contact Gene at

View Of Reality From A Chartreuse Couch

(My Own Private Alamo) by Gene Elde_____________________r
Interview with Ansen Seale

Gene: Ansen! How nice to have you here today. You have just opened an exhibit at the Land Heritage Institute. This requires some explanation. Describe this to us.

Ansen: My recent project is called the Corn Crib and is located in south Bexar County on a 1200 acre plot of land along the Medina River. It was commissioned by the Land Heritage Institute and FotoSeptiembreUSA. LHI is a living "land museum" and is located where the Applewhite Reservoir was to be dug had it not been for the popular uprising which turned it down in 1991.

Gene: And you put photos in an old rock shed.

The shed in question. Photo by Ansen Seale.

Ansen: My only instructions were that the piece had to be about the land and that it had to contain photography. With those wide-open parameters in mind, Penny Boyer, Michael Mehl and I went scouting around looking for a location and a project.

Gene: I came. I saw. It was a long walk to the corn crib.

Ansen: Yes. On this 1200 acres are several human habitation sites that vary in age from 10,000 years old to the mid 1970's, when it ceased operations as a farm. One of the complexes of buildings was constructed in the 1850s using the stacked-stone method of construction. Most of the buildings have fallen to ruin, but the one that remains was a place where corn was stored in the winter to feed animals (and perhaps humans as well). I knew from the minute I saw it that this was the place. The building measures 12 x 13 feet and has a corrugated steel roof, probably replacing the original roof in the 1930s. The ruins of the original stone house can be viewed nearby.

Gene: Unusual site. I expect there won't be that many people that come to see it.

Ansen: Unusual indeed. And that's exactly the point. The viewer must travel and experience the land in order to gain the fullest appreciation of the art. This place was perfect for the installation because it provides protection from the weather. Photography is an inherently fragile medium and until recently, its place in public art installations has been limited. So I was thrilled when I realized that this small structure would protect the photos, and the photos would protect the building, both by keeping people from touching the walls and, in a larger sense, by giving the building a purpose.

Gene: Is this permanent?

Ansen: Yes, this is a permanent exhibit. The Land Heritage Institute is not fully open to the public yet, but I've been taking interested people to see the Corn Crib every other weekend or so.

Gene: Okay, enough about the site. How about the photos.

Ansen: Taking my cue from the surroundings, I wanted to created a chapel-like environment to honor corn, the sustainer of all the inhabitants on this land for 10,000 years. When you enter the Corn Crib, you see nine transparencies glowing like stained glass windows. They show images of various varieties of corn taken with my digital panoramic camera. Some of the panels show more monochromatic varieties of corn; all red or all blue. Others are covered with multi-colored kernels looking like a carpet of jelly beans.

Photo by Ansen Seale

Gene: They are lit from behind, and I didn't see any electricity.

Ansen: The Corn Crib is way off the electrical power grid, so by necessity I had to make a very green project. To light my photographs, I constructed back-lit LEDs panels and powered them with solar panels. Other than the glowing photos, the interior of the space is dark.

Installation view. Photo by Ansen Seale

Gene: Well, we need more of this in the inner city as well. Maybe you can think of other places that need to be illuminated.

Ansen: Wow, I just noticed, this couch really IS chartreuse!

Gene: HAHAHA, yes, you artists notice everything. Well, that explains the corn crib. Now you get to ask me a question. I always let the guest ask the last question.

Ansen: Don't you think it's true that San Antonio has one of the most vibrant, active and well supported arts communities in the country? I mean, it's easy to complain about a lot of things in SA, but really, there's something going on here all the time in the arts. I've only lived in SA since 1979, so I don't have a lot of perspective about what goes on in other places. I do travel a lot, but that's not the same as being plugged in to a local community. From what visitors have told me, I get the sense that for its size, SA is very special in this regard. What do you think?

Gene: San Antonio is a strange bird and that is why we all like it. I have been here since 1971 and the art scene has certainly gotten more interesting. But we still don't have major dance companies coming here. I want to see the Joffrey Ballet and other dance companies that Margaret Stanley always brought to town. There may be a lot of stuff to do and a lot of brilliant talent but we don't have an arts leader like Margaret Stanley. And that is what we really need now. Margaret had national and international respect and knew how to get the wealth in San Antonio behind her fundraisers and projects, and she could still sit around with the artists and be right at home in both worlds. The loss of Margaret's San Antonio Performing Arts Association ended a very unique time in our art history and education. I need to invite Margaret to the Chartreuse Couch. I'm going to get her on the phone right now.

Gene Elder is the Archives Director for the HAPPY Foundation.

Editor's Note: The LHI is sponsoring a field trip this weekend to see the "living museum!" You can check here for more info and to register, it's an amazing event with great speakers, transport provided from Blue Star, and it's TOTALLY FREE:

Also, here's a review of the LHI/Ansen Seale's installation at emvergeoning, written by Ben Judson.

A couple more beautiful Seale corn images, with thanks to him for letting me use them here:

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