What are the boundaries of a book? What happens if reading becomes a public rather than a private experience? Can a story be a work of public art? Can buildings be made to speak?
These are some of the questions we hope to find answers to with our text-based public art project The Miraculous: Houston. But perhaps the most important aim of this installation is to bring the realm of contemporary art to a wider audience.
By displacing these micro-narratives about the lives and works of contemporary artists from the world of museums, galleries and art criticism into the public realm, we hope to share with the university community, and the larger Houston public, some of the wondrous human activities that, for lack of a better term, we call “contemporary art.”
Composed as a series of brief texts ranging from a single sentence to two pages, The Miraculous (first published in book form by Paper Monument in 2014) is largely focused on conceptual and performance art. The Miraculous recounts feats of endurance, acts of absurdist wit, projects that confront political repression and racist attitudes, and celebrations of the natural world. Many of the artists included perform their work in the streets, parks and squares of big cities, unleashing the creative potential of public spaces. Several texts highlight the loss of historical memory or the contradictions between the spiritual ambition of art and its status as a market commodity. A number of episodes describe moments of revelation, often seeming to occur by sheer accident, when artists discover their true creative path, the work they were meant to do.
As a public art installation, The Miraculous: Houston is concerned with, among other things, the effects of displacement.
At the heart of the project are two simultaneous displacements or migrations:
1. the movement of a book from private individual reading to public reading, and
2. the movement of contemporary art from spaces dedicated to its exhibition to public spaces in which there is no expectation of encountering an artwork nor even of referring to the subject of art.
The consequences of this dual displacement are many. Some of them will remain unknown, even to us, the makers of this project, until it is inaugurated. Others we can speculate about.
Designed to be highly noticeable against the subdued palette of the university’s buildings, with colors and fonts that refer to the original Paper Monument edition, this project departs from most previous architecture-text experiments in that it involves transposing the entire contents of an existing book and dispersing them across a wide area; it can be thought of as an “exploded book.”
Each of the 50 works is numbered and a map showing their locations is available on signs around campus, as well as in distributed hard copies and online at themiraculousinhouston.com. While many people will encounter these textworks randomly, as they walk to or from a class, The Miraculous: Houston is also a network of sites for viewers to seek out according to their own psychogeographical itineraries. As in the book form, the texts do not identify the artists by name, allowing viewers/readers to encounter each episode without being influenced by the fame or obscurity of the artist. The suppression of the names (which are available on the printed map and online) also suggests how, in the words of Joseph Beuys, “everyone is an artist.” Anonymity is a way of celebrating the inclusive, open-ended quality of contemporary art.
In The Human Condition, philosopher Hannah Arendt emphasizes the spatial qualities of public life, how democracy and a sense of citizenship depend upon people being engaged in political discourse in commonly shared spaces.
Arendt goes so far as to say, “The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and ourselves.” It is our hope that The Miraculous: Houston, by activating (and disrupting) the architecture and landscape of the University of Houston campus, by inserting stories and metaphors and parables and biographies and conundrums and protests and jokes and a few fictions among these otherwise factual narratives, may encourage the public to become more conscious of our commonly shared space, and the cultures and ideas that flow through it.
—Heather Bause & Raphael Rubinstein
RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN is a New York-based poet and art critic and Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston College of the Arts School of Art. From 1997 to 2007 he was a senior editor at Art in America, where he continues to be a contributing editor. In 2002, the French government presented him with the award of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2010, his blog The Silo won a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. Recent poetry publications include A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015) and inclusion in Best American Poetry 2015. His numerous books include Polychrome Profusion: Selected Art Criticism 1990-2002 (Hard Press Editions), The Afterglow of Minor Pop Masterpieces (Make Now), The Miraculous (Paper Monument), The Miraculous in French, En Quete de Miracle, translated by Marcel Cohen, published by Editions Greges. He edited the anthology Critical Mess: Art Critics on the State of their Practice (Hard Press Editions). Curatorial projects include The Silo, Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, 2015; Reinventing Abstraction: New York Painting in the 1980s, Cheim & Read, New York, 2013 and Provisional Painting, Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London, 2011. http://raphaelrubinstein.com/
HEATHER BAUSE is a New York-based painter, writer and Professor of Design at City University New York. She earned both a BFA and MFA in Painting from the University of Houston. In 2016, the University of Houston purchased In My Heart There Is No Longer Sorrow, as part of their permanent art collection. Her exhibitions include, among others, Taut Structures at Henley Gallery with Carl Suddath, Hard Tension/Soft Surface at the Projects Gallery, The Stanford-Binet at Darke Gallery, and If you sprinkle at Art League Houston. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at McClain Gallery, Zoya Tommy, Gallery Homeland, the Blaffer Museum, Lawndale Art Center, Art League Houston, The Diary, in Colorado, Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn, Glasgow and Dublin, and GalleriUrbane in Dallas. In 1999, she received the National Graphic Design Award and in 2008, the American Advertising Award. She divides her time between Houston and New York City. http://www.heatherbause.com
* This project is funded by Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts Foundation and is part of the CounterCurrent17 Festival. CounterCurrent17 runs from April 18—23, 2017, but the Miraculous: Houston will remain onsite through October 2017.