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CAMH Presents ‘Shapeshifters’: Art imbued with teen spirit

By Katelyn Landry     3/5/19 10:15pm

In a generation where digital interconnectedness is religion and where the Parkland tragedy is reality, versatility of mind, body and heart is less of a skill to put on your resume and more of a superpower. “Shapeshifters” is a triumph of teenage intensity and adaptability that brings the experiences of modern youth to the forefront of the mainstream Houston art scene. 

“Shapeshifters” is the 11th biennial youth art exhibition curated by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s Teen Council. Young, Houston-area artists submitted over 700 creations in response to the questions: “What forms you and/or your generation? How do you define your space? Can you change shapes?” These questions prompted several different interpretations of what it means to be a shapeshifter. Some artists focused on architecture and effects of the physical world on their experience, while others aligned the concept of changing shapes with their ability to adjust internally and emotionally. 

The exhibit saw an impressive turnout for its opening night on Friday, March 1. The excitement and nerves of featured artists in attendance cultivated an atmospheric electricity that attracted enough people to nearly fill the Nina and Michael Zilkha Gallery to capacity. This exhibition made for teens, by teens seemed to captivate spectators of all ages in very different ways. For instance, one piece that features a projection of a glitching Tumblr page may seem comfortingly familiar to some audiences but completely novel to others. The differences in reaction between older and younger spectators was interesting to observe and further underscored how this generation’s definition of art is perpetually evolving, increasingly inclusive of new mediums.

“Shapeshifters” thrives on its extensive range of mediums and its embrace of the ever-nostalgic coming-of-age narrative. The diversity of the pieces, ranging from photography and painting to sculpture and interactive digital media, showcases the innovation of artistic expression, especially among young, emerging artists. One piece features an old-school desktop computer that spectators are welcome to sit down at and explore. With stickers, movie DVDs, music CDs and a flip phone à la 2005, this piece seems to indicate the dawn of modern technology as a significant factor in teenagedom. 

Another piece presents an audio track, available for spectators to listen to through headphones attached to the gallery wall, which lurches from sounds of skidding shoes on a basketball court to a dozen rounds of gunfire, and then to President Donald Trump’s remarks following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. This powerful and sobering piece communicates the prevalence of gun violence in the daily lives of students everywhere and its position as one of the most significant issues impacting modern generations.

The CAMH Teen Council is responsible for the theme, title and artworks featured in “Shapeshifters” as well as its design, organization, printed exhibition catalogue and related programming. According to the museum’s website, the council is comprised of 14 dedicated high school students who work for CAMH in a collaborative, creative environment in order to create programming and introduce emerging artists and art enthusiasts to professional museum settings and the dynamic Houston art scene. Every year, the council works to organize programming for their peers such as art exhibits, film screenings, fashion shows and more. 

“Shapeshifters” brings youthful zeal and passion to CAMH with its celebration of teenagers and their nebulous state of being that is stretched and branded by a tumultuous, changing world. Each piece communicates something different about the struggle to find identity, acceptance and happiness. Nonetheless, the celebration of adolescence and all its volatility shines through the entire exhibit and leaves audiences with a new appreciation for teenage artistic expression.

“Shapeshifters” is on view at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in the Nina and Michael Zilkha Gallery until June 16, 2019. Admission is always free and open to the public.

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