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There’s No Place Like Home

Posted August 27, 2012 in ArtPrize

This blog entry is part of a series of conversations between Kendall blogger, Pamela Patton, and several ArtPrize 2012 artists who will be exhibiting in Kendall’s galleries.

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. And there’s certainly no place like the Hillerbrand-Magsamen home.


Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen’s videos, photographs and installations reinterpret the people, activities and objects of their everyday life and engage the edge between the heroic and tragic. They navigate perceptions of identity, emotion and family within a uniquely American subjectivity.

They live and work in Houston, Texas, where Mary Magsamen is the curator for the micro-cinema The Aurora Picture Show, and Stephan Hillerbrand teaches in the University of Houston Digital Media Program.

After getting a sneak peek at their ArtPrize video entry (let’s just say it involves a Sawzall, bedroom doors, and lots of action), I had a chance to talk to Mary about the "home video."


“We’ve been doing a lot of work about our family, and the idea of being middle class and working so hard to accumulate so much stuff. We wanted to comment on family, interaction and communication, and explore the contrast of wanting to be with your family, and wanting to escape. How we work so hard to obtain goals, but we don’t really get anywhere. We’ve applied a “Hollywood” aesthetic to the piece by adding dramatic music, rich cinematography and fast-paced editing. It’s an action-adventure movie that’s a commentary on ridiculous reality shows and the silly tasks contestants must accomplish.”

Much of the couple’s work involves their home, their pets and their two children. “The kids like it when we have an idea, and they have great fun with the beginning of the project, but they usually lose interest on the second or third take, so we have to bribe them—and the stakes are getting higher. Once it was as simple as a trip to get ice cream. Now, they want to go to Wal-Mart or Target to buy something—the very behavior we’re commenting on in our work. Ironic, isn’t it?” Mary says with a laugh.

Hillerbrand and Magsamen’s work includes still photography as well. “Our ‘Family Portrait’ series takes something that exists and expands on it, looking it at a new surreal perspective.”

Prior to exploring the middle-class condition, Hillerbrand and Magsamen used food as their subject, using everyday, banal items and making them more extraordinary. The simple act of cream flowing into coffee becomes a beautiful abstract melding of shape, form and color. “ All of our work comes out these everyday experiences. We want to expand it into a larger conversation.”

In addition to their still photography and videos, the exhibition will include photographs that beg a closer look. The subject matter, again, is a commentary on the American quest to acquire things; so many things that they are stacked floor to ceiling. And the canvas? A polar fleece blanket that aspires to encourage a high art dialogue around a middle class item usually purchased at the photo department in mass market retailer.


The ‘things’ in the Hillerbrand and Magsamen household often become subject in the couple’s work. “We used our sofa and our television set for a piece, ‘Do It Yourself Love Seat.’ The kids had their friends over after school, and they noticed the empty room. Our daughter commented, “Oh, it’s at my mom’s work.”


“We want people to look at our work and think of their connection. ‘I have the same thing; what does this mean? What is the bigger discourse on how we consume and dispose and acquire? We hope there’s a bigger conversation about trying to keep up with the Joneses, and that viewers look at their own lives in new light.”
~ Pamela Patton


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