Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Art In Progress

Wonderful to see what a dozen artists are producing for the new Houston Permitting Center at 1002 Washington Avenue. The building opens to the public in early summer. Here's a preview of some of the art work that will make this public building unique in Houston. This has been a very satisfying project on which to work. Especially now that we begin to see the work take form.
Here's Dean Ruck and Dan Havel's piece. It's huge, baroque and extravagant. All assembled from recycled metals including a bouquet of trumpets and coronets. I'm loving it.
Jesse Sifuentes's murals are near completion. I photographed him and the work a week ago at Texas Southern Universtiy where he teaches ceramics and mural painting.
I love the way Jesse included coffee cups amongst the magnolias as a reference to Houston's East End coffee processing plants. His second mural will be installed on the lobby level across from a coffee shop.
It truly has a coffee theme, beginning with the ships that bring green coffee into the Port of Houston (the only green coffee port west of the Mississippi). From there, many of the green beans go to plants in the East End, the biggest two being Maximus Coffee and Sara Lee. The beans are roasted in many different ways for many different brands. Then the roasted beans are shipped all over the country. But I digress simply because I know something about the coffee industry here in the East End. Jesse's mural tells the coffee story in pictures.
Then there is Gonzo 24/7 who's having a very good painting year. He was commissioned to paint the wall of the parking garage below the downtown public library. He spent over a month in Nigeria last fall as one of a team of artists recruited to create work for a privately owned oil company. And now he's in the middle of painting two murals for the Houston Permitting Center.
There's way more than all of this. Metalab Studio is creating an electronic piece for the building lobby with a screen that shows where folks are congregating on the lobby floor because it's connected to six devices attached to six concrete columns that will register CO2 levels. The more people within breathing distance of a monitor the more movements will show on the screen near the main entrance. I guess folks will discover just how their movements affect the big screen. Along the top of this screen is another smaller screen that will be hooked into the facility's system that records heating and cooling levels, electricity generated and use so that viewers can see in-the-moment this building's energy consumption.
It is Serena Lin Bush's piece that gives me goose bumps every time I look down the four story stairwell in the center of the building and tell someone standing next to me that they will see the Houston sky on monitors placed at the bottom of those stairs. Why will they see sky in the basement? Because there will be three cameras up on the roof recording Houston's sky moment by moment and monitors in the stairwell pit to display what the camera record. There are real windows at the top of the staircase, so one can look up and see blue and then look down and see that same blue too. Here is Serena's rendering and here is Serena.
Dick Wray's iconic piece is just about ready to be installed. His piece is constructed from a series of black powder coated laser cut panels that will become an envelope over the exterior elevator shaft at the front of the building. We chose Dick to create a memorable image for the building's exterior, that would identify this facility. Well, he certainly did that. He didn't live to see the final product, but we can point to it and say that this is Dick Wray's only piece of civic art and Houston is lucky to have it.
There is still more. Kaneem Smith is constructing a series of hanging structures pieced together with burlap coffee bags. She'll stamp and paint on them and as a group, they will form an organic mass of columns. They will be installed near the big windows in the main lobby. We sometimes liken her piece to a mud daubers creation, those cone shaped mud homes built by wasp-like insects. Have you ever seen them under the eaves of your house? Except that Kaneem is adding color so they'll not look like mud. I am hoping that they may all just sway slightly as you pass by them.
There is more. You've seen Agnes Welsh Eyster's etched metal panels for the lobby reception desk. Here is another glimpse.
And then there is my work which is all about language. I don't have images yet, but I can tell you that I've spent many hours listening to conversations among the various plan reviewers, inspectors and their clients. An entire wall will be covered with excerpts from these conversations.
Another wall or two will have a running line of acrylic hands making statements in sign language: "Fewer problems down the road, if you solve the issues today." and "The code connects all the dots." and "Communication is the art of finding common ground."
In the basement there is a long corridor, perhaps 60 feet long, where I will install a running powder coated metal strip with laser cut out words in several languages. The words will all be re-words: "recycle, reuse, repurpose, renew, revise, reboot, retread, retry, remember, resume, rely, refasten, repose, relive, redo and so on." By the time that a person walks the entire length of the corridor, they'll have a pretty good idea that 'recycle' is the message.
I'll soon have some images to show. I'm working with S.O. Creatives and it's a real collaboration we've got going.
Ah, one other text intervention will be a large bar code made of reused Texas woods fabricated by Bob Card at Greenwood Bay. All the wood he uses is recycled Texas wood. He'll use many kinds of wood for this bar code, so we can see the variety of Texas woods. We are considering several words for a bar code translation right now: recycle, green, permit and approve. Also 1002, which is the street number of the facility. So there you have it. Not as much fun without images, but that will come.
Then there are Geoff Winningham's photo murals on sheets of metal. They are exquisite. His biggest mural will be three panels in width on the stairwell in the Green Building Resource Center. Lots of daylight streaming in on this image of Buffalo Bayou from two big windows.
This civic art project is unique in that it's an experiment or a pilot of sorts. in There has never been a selected artist hired to serve as a member of the architectural team, planning and coordinating a team of artists creating work especially for a building. It's been terrific because I can bring so many different artists' work into one public facility. There will definitely be a lot to see and experience. The artists are creating really good stuff. And for a space where it will be totally unexpected. I think folks are going to be surprised.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Week In Pictures and It's Only Wednesday

What a roller coaster week as we near deadlines and budgets are suddenly strained as new costs come in that I know nothing about until I open an email or am handed an estimate. I've been so busy this week attending to 'the numbers' that I did no work on my own text interventions until mid-afternoon today. That made a gap of five days without any focus on my own project for this building.
But maybe, that was OK. We came up with a great new idea today and are now juggling numbers for five walls. What can we afford to do? How can we simplify? What can we drop? What can we add to? I had a really good meeting with the graphic designers I hired to make my text ideas real.
All the project artists are at work and all ten projects are looking really good. In fact, Aggie Eyster finished her etched metal panels and she delivered them today to the mill work folks in Katy, TX.
Her panels will be incorporated into a very grand reception desk for the main lobby. There will be nothing quite like this 'meet and greet' area. Her work is superb.
1002 Washington will be unique. The building itself will get people's attention and then the art will kick in. Each piece will invite response from the public. The art is all real. There isn't even a hint of faded posters pinned on the walls.
My only misgiving and it's a very small misgiving, is that there may be a lack of coherence because all the artists do such different work. But, we chose the artists specifically because each does do something different. Each artist offers another 'take' on this great, complicated and diverse city.
Then it's time to pause and say to myself, "This building is big and folks will see one work of art at a time. They can be surprised and even delighted that they are surprised." Enough.
I've decided that I will think of this building as one of those 1980s outdoor bayou art exhibitions when selected artists created very diverse art along Buffalo Bayou between Shepherd and Downtown Houston. I remember being energized by such variety. So, I will look at this five story building in the same way I looked at those bayou exhibitions. If the art is real, the building can hold it and all will work.

I suspect that the experience of this building will be unexpected, both for the folks who work in it and for the visitors who come for permits, licenses and green building ideas. I hope we have folks who come with no other agenda than to see the art and, by the way, visit the Green Building Resource Center. I hope there will be receptions in the public spaces so ever more people spend time in this unique public building.
But oh, what a time we're having this week. Costs we assumed were already covered are suddenly coming from my budget. My contingency has shrunk to nothing in just days. That is OK if nothing else becomes an issue. If I should ever be offered another job like this, I'll get a lot more in writing, right at the beginning. I'll know the questions to ask and then I'll know enough to ask them again and again and again. And involving a wider circle in the process. Nothing like adding 6-8 people to each email so everyone is in the loop. Always.
There are moments when the whole project seems overwhelming and then I take a deep breath and suddenly believe, again, that it's all going to work out. Life is a risk and that seems to be working out. So this will also. Maybe I am simply a tenacious optimist and don't give up on anything until it's finished. Successfully. I had my palms read a few months ago and my life purpose is, believe it or not, "To get the job done." Guess that means whatever job is at hand. No pun intended.
Today was a good day, once I'd risen from bed and emailed a dozen folks, made some calls and got on my way to meet Aggie at the mill work place in Katy. Ticked off all the stops, including Aerosol Warfare where I photographed Gonzo 24/7 at work, who was adding layer after layer of color to his two canvases. Can't wait to see them finished.
Last Sunday I visited Dan Havel who was clearing space in the studio he's sharing with Dean Ruck for this project. They've collected so much wonderful metal junk, cast-offs. I'd had saved this stuff too.
We talked about how art emerges from the materials and how we're always reshuffling and reorganizing, often despairing that it'll all come together and finally it does come together and it does work. That's where Dean and Dan are now. I have the sense that the final piece may not look like what's on their wall right now. And it will be wonderful and knock folk's socks off.
Also stopped by TSU to see Jesse Sifuentes' two murals. He's nearly finished, kept adding touch-ups while I photographed him. Says the magnolias are finished yet.
What I can say about the art that is being created for this building is that it will be a surprise to almost everyone. There is no other COH building that will contain such a mix of art by local artists. All but one artist live and work in Houston.
There are several more artists that I've haven't yet talked about. I'll do that next. It's late at night and tomorrow may be much like the first three days of this week - total immersion in this civic art endeavor.