TTU Interdisciplinary Arts Professor Honored for Research Excellence
Heather Warren-Crow's performance art challenged media subjectivity and earned her the Texas Tech University System's highest faculty honor.
Her curiosity and creative scholarship begged for the opportunity to cross boundaries between theater, film, visual art, dance, music, media, animation, video, performance and sound art.
So Heather Warren-Crow said yes when the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts opened a door for her to join Texas Tech University’s interdisciplinary doctoral program in the fine arts.
“I like to encounter diverse disciplines. It really suits me,” said Warren-Crow, an associate professor of interdisciplinary arts and an affiliated faculty member in Women’s and Gender Studies.
“I like to encounter diverse disciplines. It really suits me.”
“Much of my creative work is designed to draw viewer-listeners’ attention to the ways in which various forms of public address — from lectures and book readings to talk-show confessions, internet rants, and online meditation videos — are structured and performed through language and voice,” she explained.
“I am interested in the tension between what is scripted and what is spontaneous, as well as the production of the seemingly spontaneous expression of emotion as an indicator of authenticity.”
Her work has been exhibited in galleries and performance spaces in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, India, Japan, Mexico, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and across Europe and the United States. Recent presentations and exhibits include:
- Theatrical design at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space.
- Performance art at Glasshouse in Brooklyn, New York.
- Theater at the Porsgrunn International Theatre Festival in Norway.
- Video art at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum.
- Sound art at the PNEM Sound Art Festival in Uden, Netherlands.
- The Resound Festival of Sound Art in Penzance, England.
In honor of her career of achievement, Warren-Crow was awarded the Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Research Award, the most prestigious honor given to faculty members throughout the Texas Tech University System.
She received $5,000 and a medallion for her excellence, funded by annual membership gifts to the Chancellor’s Council — a giving society that supports the chancellor’s priorities by impacting student lives through scholarships, recognizing faculty achievement and encouraging excellence across all four system universities.
Warren-Crow originally taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of California, Berkeley, where she received a Ph.D. in Performance Studies. She also served as an instructor at the Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre.
Since coming to Texas Tech in 2013, she has demonstrated a productive, dual-research practice. In addition to frequent international exhibitions of her creative work, her scholarship has been published by journals such as “Screen Bodies,” “Feminist Media Studies” and “Performance Research.”
While keeping a prolific schedule of performance and sound art, she published her first book, “Girlhood and the Plastic Image,” in 2014. The book analyzes and compares the images of girlhood and the plasticity of digital media.
For Warren-Crow there was a similarity between digital images in the media, which can potentially exist in infinite versions molded and changed in Photoshop, and the plasticity of girls’ bodies and identities.
In November, the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts in Lubbock, also known as LHUCA, exhibited two of Warren-Crow’s pieces: sound art called “Engineering Consent” and performance art entitled, “Fiat $ Party.”
“Most of my current work is performance art exhibited in art galleries,” Warren-Crow said. The change in venue creates a different relationship between audience and performer in time and space.
“The viewer’s choices as to how long to watch my performances and how close to stand — decisions that are largely predetermined by the seating and lighting of conventional theater architecture, but less directed in spaces designed for experiencing visual art — are central to my work,” she explained.
Crowd control draws a crowd
“Engineering Consent,” one of Warren-Crow’s recent pieces of sound art, was based on Edward Bernays’ 1947 essay “The Engineering of Consent.”
Bernays was an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, who the New York Times referred to as “the father of public relations.” In his writing, he described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways. He worked for major corporations, politicians and the U.S. military.
“Bernays’ essay was interesting to me in that it resonated with present-day discussions about the nature of consent, the function of media and the cultivation of an engaged citizenry,” Warren-Crow said.
“Bernays’ work also encouraged me to examine my own longstanding distrust of the idea of media propaganda, which belongs to an older, and in my mind, infantilizing model of media’s influence on the public. I ended up continuing this examination through the process of making an art piece with my own infant — well, toddler — as a participant,” she said.
The sound art consisted of two sound-isolating speakers, framed by white walls. When a listener stood under one speaker, a recording of a child reciting a passage from “The Engineering of Consent” was audible. Under the second speaker was the artist’s voice coaching the child as he repeated the passage.
“It became more of a social experience during the First Friday Art Trail,” Warren-Crow said, referring to the free, self-guided public art exhibition held in Lubbock on the first Friday of each month. “There was a line of people, and they wanted to know what it was about.”
The artist as party host
Later in November, LHUCA featured Fiat $ Party.
“It grew out of a fascination with money,” Warren-Crow said. The sensory experience of money is waning as the concept of money increasingly becomes a digital expression.
“Today money is a number on a credit card site. This is different from the scent and feel of a credit card, which itself is unlike the coin jingling in your pocket to buy candy.”
The piece was a collaboration with her husband, Seth Warren-Crow, an assistant professor of sound design at Texas Tech. The work incorporated text taken from prosperity videos, guided meditations that promise to bring the viewer money and abundance. The videos instruct viewers to visualize money and sometimes include audio clips of falling coins. The performance piece also referenced Disney’s Scrooge McDuck diving into a pool of coins.
“We need a body to connect with. Look at records and LPs. They are doing better than they have in decades. Albums are tactile,” she said.
“Cryptocurrency is another example,” Heather Warren-Crow pointed out, drawing the connection between naming bitcoin — a digital currency with no tactile representation — after the physical coins it is trying to make obsolete.
As more people experience the world digitally, Heather Warren-Crow sees evidence that people crave sensory input.
“I’m hoping people think about senses in an age of media when it’s digital,” she said.