Andy Mann's 'Video Tree' a Downtown Icon Once Again

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It wouldn't be the holidays in Discovery Green without a 15-foot-tall tower of TV screens in the shape of a Christmas tree.

The colorful installation, the "Video Tree," is a revival of the original by pioneering videographer Andy Mann, which ran in Tranquility Park from 1990 to 2000. The resurrected version currently up in Discovery Green near Kinder Lake has been rebuilt entirely, though in the same design as its original, including the ancient CRT monitors.

Discovery Green programming director Susanne Theis knew she didn't want just any old tree for the park when it opened, and having been familiar with Mann's unique version, which uses 20 monitors to form a tree and a star at its peak, thought it'd be a perfect fit.

"It felt to me, going along with the whole design of the park, that some sort of modern reference to the holiday tradition was really important," said Theis. "The 'Video Tree' was both traditional because it had been a part of the downtown holiday landscape for a decade, but it was also very new because it used video and the TV, which is sort of a contemporary icon of American life."

Since the original tree fell to disrepair in the intervening years since its use at Tranquility Park, a group of artists including Ted Viens and Maurice Roberts, who both helped with the original, and Isaac Cohen, an Art Car Parade fixture, built the one that now stands in Discovery Green, old-school video monitors and all, even in the age of plasma and LCD screens. It's been a fixture now at Discovery Green since 2009, a tradition to a whole new generation of Houstonians, many of whom may not even know it's a revival, save for a poster explaining as much.

"It really is one of our icons," said Theis.

The tree features a constant running loop of one of Mann's original programs -- about 23 minutes of spastic images that are flipped on various screens to become mirror images of each other. At night, those images are reflected on the lake like a constantly changing, blurry mirage.

The installation's presence today serves as a tribute to Mann, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2001 and was probably most known for his involvement with the Art Car Museum.

"I think it's meant a lot to a lot of the artists that somebody can be remembered who was important and remembered after he's no longer here," said Theis. "I certainly feel and hear that kind of delight and support that the 'Video Tree' is here. And I think the public loves it for being what it is."

The tree, installed late last month, will be up longer than it has in past years, until January 22. Theis initially envisioned using the piece for five years, but since it's held up well enough, requiring minimal repairs, it could be even longer than that. She also hopes to use video submissions from the public to fill the TV's many screens.

"I think Andy would have loved that idea," said Theis. "He really was about people getting involved in it."

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