You can get the most out of “The Infinity Machine,” located in the Menil Collection’s Byzantine Fresco Chapel, by lying down on the floor. The sound installation features a huge rotating mobile draped with 150 antique mirrors, which reflect computer-controlled lighting installed on the room’s perimeter amid broadcasted sounds that are reminiscent of bird chirps, electric guitars, and whale songs but are in fact ambient noises from the solar system recorded by the Plasma Wave Detector aboard NASA’s Voyager I and II space probes. This engulfing experience, taking up a space measuring 30 feet by 45 feet, is the brain-dropping of the married Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. “It’s super-cool,” said Toby Kamps, the Menil curator overseeing the project. “The sounds blend in glorious ways and approach symphonic levels of beauty and intensity.” The Menil commissioned the piece for the chapel’s debut as an exhibition space for contemporary art and it’s the first in a series of yearlong installations there. (The chapel opened in 1997 expressly to house a set of Byzantine-era frescoes that were rescued from the island of Cyprus, but in 2012 those restored pieces were returned to the Greek Orthodox Church and the chapel was repurposed.) At the forty-ninth Venice Biennale, in 2001, Cardiff and Miller won multiple awards for their Paradise Institute, a reality-bending conceptual piece involving a sixteen-seat movie theater wherein viewers watch a film that takes on new meaning when paired with the incongruent sounds transmitted through the audience’s headphones. “Janet and George are important artists because they combine the most advanced video and sound-recording technologies in works that illuminate consciousness,” said Mr. Kamps, who will open the exhibit with an artist talk on Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Menil Collection, Jan. 31, 2015 to Jan 31, 2016, menil.org
The Museum of Human Achievement hosts incredible programs and exhibits, from speed-dating sessions led by Thor Harris, the Austin drummer and Renaissance man, to a show presented during last year’s East Austin Studio Tour in which the space was transformed into a replica IKEA showroom. But because the museum has no social media presence and doesn’t list its address on its website, it has remained somewhat of an underground sensation. That secret is bound to come unglued a bit this weekend with the opening of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, the comedic play written in 1993 by Steve Martin (yes, the wild and crazy guy), about an imagined conversation between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein in a Paris bar, in 1904, right before Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Einstein published his theory of relativity. The show is a production by the Austin theater group Present Company, managed by Lindsay Doleshal and Stephanie Carll, cousin of singer-songwriter Hayes Carll. Promising to “absurdly bend the space-time continuum,” the theater company challenges the audience to “ponder the definition of creativity, the surreal nature of existence, and the meaning of life.”
The Museum of Human Achievement, Jan. 29 to Feb. 15, presentcompanytheatre.com
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is a meme machine. His dour countenance begs for snarky captions, and those bare-chested photos of him riding a horse in the Siberian wild spawned a number of outtakes. The Russian Winter Festival, a two-day eating and drinking binge at Hotel St. Germain, will offer cutouts of Putin so that revelers can take selfies and perhaps start memes of their own. Organizers at the hotel, a member of the Relais & Châteaux collective of five hundred fine restaurants and hotels around the world, are requesting that participants consider a jacket and gloves for the outdoor ice pavilion and bar with caviar hors d’oeuvres and vodka shots served in glasses made of ice. Following that there will be a feast of Russian and European foods including golubtsi, piroshki, and black bread, with imported Russian candies like chocolate-covered hazelnuts, Putin’s purported late-night indulgence.
Hotel St. Germain, Jan. 30 & 31, 7 p.m., hotelstgermain.com
Ballets with a Twist, the New York theater company that collaborated with Cyndi Lauper for a charity performance of her song “True Colors,” likes to make audiences feel drunk. Their revue-style signature production, “Cocktail Hour,” conjures up almost twenty classic drinks invoked as body movements. For example, Michael Dominguez, the company’s lone Texan and an El Paso native, performs a solo dance as a boilermaker (a shot of whiskey and a beer chaser) in which he nearly boils over with rage. Other depictions on the “menu” include absinthe, a Bloody Mary, a margarita, a White Russian, and even holy water. The show, a mix of formal ballet and contemporary dance, has received raves from the New York Times and the Village Voice, and it will make it its only Texas stop in El Paso.
Plaza Theatre, Jan. 30, 8 p.m., balletswithatwist.com
Print Austin is in the middle of a month-long celebration of traditional printmaking at almost two dozen galleries and art spaces. Dive into the mix on Thursday at Women & Their Work, where the artist Ann Johnson, a faculty member at Prairie View A&M University, will do a show-and-tell titled “It’s the not knowing that burns my Sole: experimental printmaking,” about intaglio printing, an age-old process that she administers on unconventional mediums like feathers and leaves in expressions of her African-American ancestry.
Women & Their Work, Feb. 5, 6 p.m., womenandtheirwork.org
Centro Cultural Aztlan, a San Antonio nonprofit that was founded in 1977 to promote Latino art and culture, started the “Segundo De Febrero” program the following year to commemorate the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848 to end the Mexican-American War and establish the Rio Grande as the Texas-Mexico border. The nonprofit’s history is inextricably linked to the program and these dual stories will dovetail on Monday for the 167th anniversary of the treaty signing with an exhibit of works by more than three dozen artists.
Centro Cultural Aztlan, Feb. 2 to March 29, centroaztlan.org