Michael Galbreth's Massive, Largely Forgotten Public Art Project "The Human Tour" Lives On

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It was one of the most exciting events of 1987. But in the intervening 25 years, it's been all but forgotten. Until now.

This Sunday, Houston artists Carrie Schneider and Alex Tu will embark on "The Human Tour: An Anthropomorphic Route Through The City of Houston," a 40-some-odd-mile route around Houston that takes on the form of a human body.

Michael Galbreth, better known as the taller half of The Art Guys, conceived of "The Human Tour" in 1982 while a student at the University of Houston. It was such a big concept it took five years to implement. Using primitive computer technology and digital mapping, Galbreth superimposed a human form on the streets of Houston. The form encompassed most of the Inner Loop, including the Second, Third and Fourth Wards and the Near North Side, which at the time was largely unexplored by Houston's West Side. Along with Jack Massing, the other Art Guy, Galbreth planted five plaques where the head, hands and feet would be, laid out more than 150 blue silhouettes on the streets to serve as guideposts and printed maps for would-be Human Tourists, which could be picked up at the downtown library or DiverseWorks.

"The tour is designed for people to see areas of the city with which they may not be familiar and get some sense of the neighborhoods," Galbreth said at the time in a Houston Chronicle piece that called the project "the single most exciting event of the 1987 Houston International Festival."

Today, only one of those plaques remains (former Houston Press reporter John Nova Lomax stumbled upon it three years ago in the Binz section of the Museum District at Wichita and Austin), all of the blue markers have worn away and Galbreth has a "shit-ton" of boxes of maps left over (the project is remembered, at least, by whoever has manned this Wikipedia entry on "Houston Alternative Art").

After "The Human Tour" launched in 1987, Galbreth pretty much moved on from his massive undertaking to turn his attention 100 percent to The Art Guys. And it might have continued to be a largely forgotten part of Houston "alternative art" history if not for Schneider and Tu.

Schneider heard about "The Human Tour" after writing about walking as a form of art on the local art blog Glasstire late last year. Galbreth's wife and Glasstire founder Rainey Knudson brought "The Human Tour" to her attention, and Schneider was naturally intrigued.

"To me, it's the opposite of what Houston is," says Schneider. "Houston is so obsessed with cars and concrete and is not very human, so it's kind of interesting that his route is based on the human form."

Schneider found a natural ally in Tu. Both artists share similar concerns about Houston's car-based culture -- Schneider as the founder of Hear Our Houston, which fosters public-generated audio walking tours, and Tu as the founder of Counter Crawl, which puts on community-based, mobile art events and bike ride extravaganzas.

When Galbreth designed his human route, he traveled it several times by car. This time around, Schneider and Tu have decided to revive "The Human Tour" on foot, breaking it up into 10 manageable chunks -- each about 4 miles long. They invite the public to join them as they do all 10 walks from February 10 to March 10 while they wear white Hazmat-esque suits specially designed for the project by the artists and fabricated by Thuy-Linh Cornett to "create a bit of spectacle," says Tu. The tour will kick off and end at Natachee's and feature guest curators, DJs, historians, and tour guides throughout the month. Other than that, Tu and Schneider don't quite know what to expect.

"All we know is where we're going to walk to, that's about it," says Tu. "Anything can happen on these walks."

Both artists will also be wearing cameras -- Tu a chest-mounted camera, Schneider sunglasses with a camera attached to them -- to record the tour constantly. In the end, they plan on making a video and screening footage at the March 10 arrival party.

Beyond that, the fate of "The Human Tour" is just as it started -- left in the hands of curious, would-be Human Tourists. Both Schneider, Tu and Galbreth hope this reinvestigation brings more awareness to the original project.

"It means very much to me that Carrie and Alex are reviving it. I'm touched beyond words," says Galbreth. "Hopefully people will pick up on the idea and the thing in fact won't die."

"The Human Tour: An Anthropomorphic Route Through The City of Houston" kicks off February 10 at 11 am at Natachee's, 3622 Main Street, followed by the official send-off at noon. The arrival party will be March 10 at 7 pm at Natachee's. For the complete schedule, visit here.

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