Off the Wall

Public art is for the birds. And for the trees. And for anyone who happens to walk by. While most exhibitions remove art from its creative context and place it within the whitewashed walls of a museum space, public art installations reinsert works into the outer world, blurring the lines between life, visual art and performance.

Kevin Jefferies knows a thing or two about public art. He's the director of the Buffalo Bayou ArtPark, the group responsible for many of the campy installations adorning the bayous around downtown. "With public art, you can integrate art much more successfully into the community and the surroundings," he says. "I love museums and galleries, but it's this hermetically sealed environment. I don't have anything against it; it creates all sorts of great possibilities for artists, but it's not really part of the community. You got Project Row Houses and the Orange Show and [other] places that do a good job of transcending that, but if you have stuff that's outdoors, it's a much more integral part of the mix."

Jefferies and his fellow public artists have cooked up a plan to turn the Sabine Street ArtPark into a writhing mass of performance art this weekend. "BBAP Presents...An Evening in the ArtPark" will feature five collaborations between dancers and visual artists in site-specific installations. "It's not just your static sculpture," Jefferies muses. "It's also temporal performances."

Dancer Toni Leago Valle has teamed up with Teresa O'Connor of Microcinema for a temporary installation. Valle will don a white costume and undulate her body as footage of running horses is projected onto her. Valle coins the project "movable art, where dance and art are equally the visual stimulation." "It's interesting," she says, "because visual artists have a different aesthetic of what art is than dancers do."

Both Jefferies and Valle are optimistic about the event inspiring further collaborations. "I think this also reaches out to other communities, because one of the big problems with the Houston arts community is that it's like little fiefdoms," says Jefferies. "You've got your dance crowd, the sculpture crowd, and there's not enough opportunities for dancers and sculptors to get to know each other so that they can develop projects. It makes sense."

"Houston is a very large place, but for some reason the audience bases are very small," adds Valle. "I think it's because people are unexposed. We're trying to bring the art to them."

Force-feeding enlightenment to the public is not without its difficulties. Once art is removed from the antiseptic walls of a museum or the bright lights of the stage, it begins to blend in more and more with its environment, losing some of its lofty esteem. As passersby whiz past public art on the way to somewhere else, they become desensitized to its sublime effects, and the panorama of the urban landscape eventually swallows up the work of art. But then again, that's half the point.

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Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek