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Friday, February 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Moody Center unveils new Project Wall exhibit

Photo courtesy Moody Center for the Arts

By Eric Ma     2/14/23 11:59pm

The Moody Center for the Arts recently unveiled their newest Moody Project Wall exhibit, “Swarm Migration,” by Houston artist Bennie Flores Ansell. The new exhibit features a mural made of 3D-printed wishbones representing student and artist stories about migration. The opening reception for “Swarm Migration” will be Feb. 15 from 6 - 8 p.m. and feature the artist and other project collaborators.  

A visual artist, Ansell trained as a photographer but has always done more installation work and manipulation of photographic evidence. She was born in the Philippines but grew up in Connecticut and Florida. Ansell discovered her passion for installation as an undergraduate and now teaches at a community college. 

“I started cutting up images. It’s as if I wanted the photograph to take up space, to occupy space,” Ansell said. “So now, for the Moody Project Wall, I am printing in 3D. I have never installed a 3D piece of this size, I used slide film, I used printed transparency film, to install something that occupies space off the wall is exciting for me.”

Ansell created a mural using one thousand 3D printed wishbones made from her own CT scans, which she installed on the mural using slide film and printed transparency film.  Ansell said the wishbones signify what we leave behind when we die — namely, our bones and our words. 

“For the past 20 years, I have been making art about migration and flying,” Ansell said. “When I was a young girl in Connecticut, I would lay on the grass and watch the birds fly south with the cold grass around me. It’s just such a vivid experience. This new body of work is really about I wish I can fly. I fly in my dreams a lot.”

Fittingly, the installation takes the shape of a swarm of birds. Ansell described it as a distinct metaphor of her experiences of being born in the Philippines, coming to the United States and living in a predominantly white neighborhood. 

“I was always out of the flock, and the question of where you are from lingered,” Ansell said. “I grew up in the 70s and 80s, where there were not a lot of people who looked like me. It’s exciting to be in the time we are now. There’s a global connectedness we now have, which has affected and changed how we see ourselves.”

Ansell believes that her work should push her audience to think about their paths — where they have gone and where they will go. She said that our journeys could be about growth and physical movement, but also the mental nature of belonging to another place. 

“A fraction of a second is what I create in the swarm. It’s a fraction of these bones caught and stopped in motion, but you know they are going to move,” Ansell said. “There is this implied line. When you walk into Moody you will first see the bigger bones, and then as you move forward it will gradually get smaller and smaller, which will change the perspective and the depth of the piece.”

Ansell has also been working with a Hanszen College junior, Marc Armena, to collect stories. Through their efforts, Ansell found that the first Asian to ever graduate from Rice is Filipino. She said that art that revolves around searching for an identity is finally being paid attention.

“20 years ago, sometimes I would be working on identity work and people would tell me that we are past this,” Ansell said. “Now, a lot of artists are taking this identity work and running with it and it’s being shown now. The whole landscape has changed a lot in twenty years.” 

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