Polluted New River, Mexican/American Border, Calexico, CA, 1989 Robert Dawson Water, continued from page 25 done where there weren’t any expensive safety regulations. A woman who overheard them laughing didn’t think it was all that funny, and started talking to me about the economic externalities that hide the true costs of pollution, “not just in Bangladesh, but right here in Houston.” Outside the building, the fountain in Main Street Square was blasting synchronized jets and plumes of water into the air underneath a plaque proclaiming, “As we build our city let us think that we are building it forever.” Or at least until the city runs out of water. “Water in the West,” a group show featuring the work of 11 artists, was up at Williams Tower, an office building in the Galleria neighborhood, right next to the eponymous mall. Riding the train from gallery to gallery downtown, I saw a group on a weird corporate teamworkbuilding/treasure hunt exercise and a trio of nuns from Mother Teresa’s order outside the Greyhound Bus station. Office workers on cigarette breaks shared the sidewalk with homeless people. I listened to a group of Baylor law school students talk about how their mock trial went, and to half a conversation between a young man and a friend he hadn’t seen in a while: “Yeah, I just got out of the lock … Four years, five months … You hiring?” Williams Tower was surrounded by upscale retail shops, among them a three-story Starbucks in the middle of a parking lot. Inside the Tower, the overriding mood of the photographs was of a sense of unreality. Robert Dawson’s “Polluted New River, Mexican American Border, Calexico, California, 1989,” is a fantasia of darkly fetid waters incongruously highlighted with lovely, floating soap bubbles, all mirrored by a dark sky filled with a few fluffy clouds. In these pictures, waterfalls are concrete slabs, and pristine landscapes are punctuated with houseboats, hydroelectric dams, and suburban developments with green lawns on the very edge of the desert. Sometimes the landscapes themselves are shocking, and sometimes the photographers knock the scenes off balance by doing things like stitching together pieces of a picture from shots taken at different times of day. Mark Klett’s “Deer Creek Falls Panorama, 2001” was a series of seven individually framed pigmented inkjet prints that show the sweep of a little valley with seven different colors of sky, water, and rock. Some shots were taken at high noon, and some, with blurred star trails, at the edge of night. It was a lovely, but unsettling reminder of the complexity of time and place. Driving past the Galleria district, past the posh homes of Post Oak and up to the West End, where the New World Museum recently opened, was unnerving. Some of the houses around the museum looked as if they’d been bombed. A few were missing their front doors. Here and there a clump of little cottages had been torn down to make room for a row of new town house condos. I reached for the door of the museum just as Armando Palacios, the museum’s founder and director, came bounding out. He walked me into the museum, where he still hadn’t turned on the lights. As he flicked them on, the darkness fell away, revealing first one, then another, of Susan Derges’ astonishing pictures. Derges makes photograms of waves, streams and waterfalls by laying 8-foot by 3-foot pieces of photo paper behind the water, letting a little ambient light fall on them from the moon and nearby street 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/7/04
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