“Sharp,” located at 6822 Rowan Lane, is open to visitors daily for a period of a few months. Click here for a map.
On the 10-block shuttle bus ride from the remote parking to the latest house-conversion project by Havel Ruck Projects (Dan Havel and Dean Ruck), the driver felt that he needed to warn me. “People that weren’t expecting it were startled. It’s like arriving at a fire.”
“Sharp” is one of Havel Ruck’s conversions of an existing house, in place, in its setting. In its last life, it was a typical suburban house, a ranch on a slab with a yard. It had caught fire.
Shaun Gladwell, Pataphysical Man, 2005.
Buildering: Misbehaving the City looks into our shared spaces. With very few exceptions, the works are set in cities — specifically, city streets. A wall text opening the show mentions “modernist architecture’s mechanical segregation of work and play” (ref. Alison and Peter Smithson). A touchpoint for me in the show is Bernard Rudofsky’s 1969 book, Streets For People. He critiques the American city for what it isn’t: human-scaled, inhabitable. Rudofsky sees an American society, going back to the 1700s, in which “our streets have become roads.” My medicine in childhood for the condition Rudofsky describes was Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets.” The song took off with an ecstatic roar and promised freedom. Very meaningful in 1964, when the American city street was the scene of riot and fear. The song offered a big reconciliation.
A thread throughout Buildering is play. The tools are disruption, rearrangement of attention, and surprise. Creative play emerges as a way of re-entering our shared space on our own terms. The international artists of Buildering find the human form, the space one takes up, the finger’s touch, in the vacant space around us. They repopulate our city world with relationships that we hunger for.
Photos: David Miller.
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Kaboom Books is a generous storefront in an old commercial row in the Woodland Heights. It is my favorite used bookstore. Its storefront announces in large letters: K A B O O M. Inside, the high-ceilinged space is a treasury of carefully chosen books of encyclopedic range. The store is a paper sculpture, as well, shelved and stacked in tall faces and distinct intervals. At the desk, there are spiraling stacked forms and an old hand press ornamented with classical dolphins. The sound of the store, besides a slight creak and sigh, is the p-k, p-k of the owner patiently re-ordering one or another section. “I haven’t re-ordered that section,” he says, as if that task is a waiting meditation. I imagine him entering the store’s recesses and revolving through the world’s printed legacy each month or so. The books seem to know his close-up attentions. The stock is paperback and hardback editions, and a few rare ones are in their own room separated by a wire grate that may have been part of the old storefront.
Kaboom is co-owned by John Dillman. John’s conversation is patient, roaming, thematic, worldly, and wry. He can have come only from a street-wise, storytelling culture: New Orleans. We talked recently about a dying friend, his youthful encounter with a Doppelgänger, the mishap of sharing a name with a NoLa rogue. Conversation with him is shaped by a respect for silence.
Looming Genes and Rooted Dreams, 2009, by Dustin Farnsworth. Photo: Peter McDaniel.
Note: SPRAWL features 16 emerging and mid-career artists whose work responds to the urban landscape. Arranged in three sections, “Infrastructure of Expansion,” “Survey, Plan, Build,” and “Aftereffects,” which loosely define the phases of urban growth, the exhibition is intended to present a non-polemical view. It will be open through January 19.
I am unaware of a previous show in which the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft stepped out in this vigorous a way, but that could be my ignorance. The curators, Susie J. Silbert and Anna Walker, situate the show within the city itself, in its problematic, unfinished state. The artists begin with our piecemeal idea of the city which is seen almost always from within. They locate it in an individual piece of debris, in an effect of aging material, or in an impossible scale shift.