Jerry Hunt was an oddball avant-gardist who conducted an international career from rural Texas. A collection of his work and ephemera are briefly on view in Lubbock.
Jerry Hunt: Transmissions from the Pleroma
February 2–18, 2024
SOA Satellite Gallery at CASP, Lubbock, TX
Over the last several years, the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Blank Forms has embarked on a sorely needed reissue of and historical deep-dive into the obscure Texas composer Jerry Hunt. Through some lucky twist of fate, Transmissions from the Pleroma, the organization’s survey of Hunt’s visual work and related ephemera has come to Texas Tech’s Satellite Gallery at Lubbock’s CASP complex, from February 2 until February 18, an unfortunately short run.
Born in Waco in 1943, Hunt spent his career between Dallas and Canton, just an hour southeast. His music is some kind of collision of home-brew electronics, mysticism that runs the gamut between deeply serious and tongue-in-cheek, and a performance practice that lands somewhere tangential to Pentecostal glossolalia. The composer fused nebulous occultism with a strong sense of place rooted in his daily life in rural east Texas, claiming “all you need is a map of Texas and a couple of books from 18th Century magicians, and you could figure the whole thing out.”
In an interview with William Duckworth, reproduced in the companion book to the exhibition, Hunt claims that he didn’t “think music has much to do with sound. The material of music is sound, but the significance of music to people is not the sound.” To that end, Transmissions from the Pleroma collects the wands and other assemblage objects that Hunt used in his performances, along with video work and various ephemera – concert programs, review clippings, performance and studio photos. “The visual and gestural parts are signals, overlays of the course of development that the musical stream takes,” Hunt explains.
Hunt’s objects are familiar and otherworldly at once, rough-edged and near-naive in a way that his sonic work isn’t, careful collisions of thrift store debris, sticks, short runs of rubber tubing. Performative ritual objects with thickly palpable presence. Surely “Christian kitsch” by Hunt’s own assessment, these pieces comfortably settle into the triangulation between magic, magick, and fetish object. Hunt wields these objects in three video works, one part sleight of hand, one part futurist musical instrument.
At the front of the gallery, obscured by a black curtain, is Hunt’s final work from 1993, a video titled How to Kill Yourself Using the Inhalation of Carbon Monoxide Gas. The title speaks literally to its contents, the composer speaking directly to the viewer seated next to a large gas canister, offering practical instructions on ending one’s life. Days later, Hunt took his own life, just before his fiftieth birthday, after many years coping with steadily worsening emphysema and terminal lung cancer. Disturbing to sit with, to be sure, but the video’s inclusion points to the careful and thoughtful approach Hunt applied to his work and life.
Texas is a state rightly known for its music, but Texan figures of the avant-garde never seem to stay. Maggi Payne, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Ornette Coleman come to mind as forward thinkers who made their careers elsewhere. Jerry Hunt stayed. His early career was spent concertizing in Dallas, while his boutique label Irida primarily released work by little-known Texans making experimental music, and eventually he settled in a creatively renovated barn in the small rural town his mother lived in, with his partner, Stephen Housewright. Despite his isolation, he was far from an outsider and maintained an active performance schedule in institutions across the U.S. and in Europe.
Being a composer working in rural Texas, I feel an obvious kinship to Hunt; it’s what initially drew me to his work. It’s fitting that this vital collection finds its way to a relatively remote corner of Texas. Hunt’s work is often met with bewilderment alongside a mixture of joy and fear; the same proved to be true in Lubbock. Crowds at the city’s First Friday Art Trail regularly number in the thousands, and the gallery was packed full the entire time I was there. There was laughter encountering Hunt’s disembodied head wearing a decadent Elizabethan collar making cartoonish grimaces on a video screen, confusion as to what exactly this person did. Signals get crossed; meaning doesn’t quite land for an audience so broad, but the effort to bring this work to rural Texas is a gesture towards the importance of pointing our ears and eyes away from the glut of cultural centers on occasion. Time hasn’t clarified Hunt’s work, but the success of his idiosyncratic approach remains singular and moving.
On February 17, a panel discussion on Jerry Hunt’s work and legacy will be held at 7pm at the Satellite Gallery.