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Big Bambú engulfs the Mies van der Rohe Galleries of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, this summer
Mike + Doug Starn: Big Bambú, installation in progress at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, June 10–September 3, 2018. Photography © Mike and Doug Starn.

HOUSTON, TX.- Mike and Doug Starn’s internationally acclaimed and ever-evolving Big Bambú project opened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Engulfing two levels of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe–designed galleries with a monumental wave of bamboo, This Thing Called Life is the fifth consecutive exhibition in the Museum’s summer series of immersive art installations.

With This Thing Called Life, the Starn brothers introduce important changes to their ongoing Big Bambú project, for the first time reconceiving the performative work as an indoor installation accessible to the public. A wave of bamboo—consisting of nearly 3,000 poles lashed together in a spontaneous matrix—rises 30 feet from the main level of Cullinan Hall to the balcony of the Upper Brown Pavilion above, dramatically uniting the two levels of Mies van der Rohe’s landmark building. Visitors are invited to cross a bridge of bamboo that winds from the balcony into the wave’s curl, then onto a path deep within the roiling sea of Big Bambú. The path continues to flow down to the floor of Cullinan Hall, where visitors can wander through the bamboo eddies and currents at ground level. The sea has long been a part of the Starns’ lexicon, for them an emblem of great age, yet continually new and changing.

The Starns, who are widely recognized for their conceptual photographic work, have created three gigantic photographs that they installed on the walls of Cullinan Hall as the sculpture neared completion. Depicting previous incarnations of Big Bambú on an immersive scale, the gargantuan prints are sculptures in themselves, with a heavy physical presence. Folding and draping off the wall and ceiling, the prints are meant to look extemporaneously installed, implying the process is not yet complete, akin to Big Bambú and This Thing Called Life. On June 10, 2018, the exhibition fully opened to the public.

“I had the pleasure of collaborating with Mike and Doug Starn on their first public presentation of Big Bambú in 2010,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH. “Now, eight years later, I’m thrilled to work with them again as they transform the iconic interior of Mies van der Rohe’s Cullinan Hall into a fluid, pan-dimensional site, transforming our experience of entering a Museum.”

As Mike and Doug Starn have said, “In the ocean, you’re surrounded by a medium so heavy and forceful, it can overpower and sink you—or all that power, the power that is old as forever, can pick you up and take you for a ride! Big Bambú is a demonstration of the invisible architecture that exists in the world. Every culture has been built with random interdependence. We maneuver through everyone else’s world, we gain footholds on circumstances out there, and we surf the invisible structure of life.”

“An intensely joyous artwork, This Thing Called Life celebrates freedom and the essential spirit of cooperation,” added Alison de Lima Greene, the Isabel Brown Wilson Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at the MFAH. “While it will fill our galleries at an exhilarating scale, visitors will find that it is also an intimate work of art, one that on every level engages audiences of all ages.”

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