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Houston gets a new edgy arts festival based on a trendy Austin staple: Ready for CounterCurrent?

Miwa Matreyek - This World Made
Miwa Matreyek's This World Made Itself and Myth and Infrastructure fuses projected animation and theatrical shadow silhouettes. Photo by Ahrum Hong
Production still from a work-in-progress film project by Wu Tsang
Wu Tsang's Moved by the Motion featuring boychild is set in a futuristic backdrop in which digital avatars and online profiles come alive. Photo by Jesús Torres Torres
Jonah Bokaer - ECLIPSE
Jonah Bokaer and visual artist Anthony McCall join forces for Eclipse. Photo by Benjamin Nicholas
Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol
Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol's El Rumor del Incendio confronts the rise of armed violence in Mexico. Courtesy of Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol
Suzanne Bocanegra
Suzanne Bocanegra's Rerememberer gathers 50 violinists who've been playing the fiddle for little more than one hour. Courtesy of Suzanne Bocanegra

If you've ever pondered what exactly the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston — not to be confused with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands — is all about, a newly launched festival promises to decode the mysteries of an organization that lauds the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations.

The Mitchell Center's inaugural CounterCurrent Festival is set to run from April 9 through 13 at diverse venues around the city. The festival, produced to be the cousin of Austin's Fusebox Festival (April 16-27), convenes the bulk of the Mitchell Center's programs into one, five-day artsy binge, an approach that simplifies how the center goes about its quest.

The name was derived from a desire to convey the electric energy generated when ideas that collide are presented in a non-mainstream environment. Although CounterCurrent nods to the kind of renegade, forward-thinking personalities that often delve into multidisciplinary genres, festival producer and Mitchell Center executive director Karen Farber is aware that experimental art can be met with reservations from more traditional art consumers — not everyone is a risk taker.

 "Multidisciplinary art is a reflection of what our world is today, a hybrid of technologies, cultures and experiences that are constantly evolving." 

"In Houston, it seems that art is either very polished or very grass roots," Farber explains. "The CounterCurrent Festival acts as a bridge between those two polar opposite approaches to presenting art."

In partnership with other avant garde presenters such as DiverseWorks, Aurora Picture Show and Project Row Houses, among others, Farber's intention is to inspire a spirit of adventure in audiences seeking to experience something that's an accurate representation of 21st century living.

"Multidisciplinary art is a reflection of what our world is today, a hybrid of technologies, cultures and experiences that are constantly evolving," Farber says. "The dialogue that takes place when working across art genres is where innovation happens. The end result is typically something fresh, exciting and exalting."

Adventurous Art Highlights

Two installations are slated for the festival headquarters, located in the historic Bermac Arts Building in Midtown. Contrasting natural and unnatural elements, Chicago-based Steve Rowell's Uncanny Sensing (Texas Prototype) follows a series of regional investigations that gathers data from sensors and remote technology. The information is then is reinterpreted visually via time lapse. Composer Byron Au Yong and videographer Susie J. Lee collaborate in Piano Concerto - Houston, a multimedia work that layers sounds and footage of 11 local pianists.

Choreographer Jonah Bokaer and visual artist Anthony McCall join forces for Eclipse (April 10-11, Quintero Theatre), a piece that incorporates movement, light, visual design and an audiovisual time score to render a play space that includes the audience. Eclipse, as the name fittingly implies, weaves light and movement.

Think of Lacy Johnson and Josh Okun's [the invisible city] as one of those choose-your-own-adventure books. Using a smartphone or GPS-enabled device, participants will turn into fictional characters via an app that delivers clue after clue in a scavenger game. Players may be asked to run through tunnels, hop aboard buses and kayak down the bayou as they encounter fun trials and challenges, each designed to illustrate the role of community.

Performance collective Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol's El Rumor del Incendio (April 12, MECA) confronts the rise of armed violence in Mexico during the second half of the 20th century. The company asks: "What motivates these men and women to take arms, abandoning comfort and the everyday inertia in pursuit of a transformation?"

To the musically refined ear, Suzanne Bocanegra's Rerememberer (April 11, Eldorado Ballroom) sounds like a nightmare. Imagine an orchestra of 50 violinists who've been playing the fiddle for little more than one hour coming together in a performance? This sound experiment, helmed by violinist/conductor Todd Reynolds, was created from textiles. Rerememberer transcribes the process of weaving into musical notation.

Wu Tsang's Moved by the Motion featuring boychild (April 12, DiverseWorks) is the performance art piece that's part of the artist's exhibition at DiverseWorks. Set in a futuristic backdrop in which digital avatars and online profiles come alive to control an intricate surveillance network, Tsang's performance follows an emerging celebrity performer as the headliner deals with an alternate reality.

Somewhere in between pseudo scientific ideas and poetic surrealism is Miwa Matreyek's This World Made Itself and Myth and Infrastructure (April 9, Aurora Picture Show), a fusion of projected animation and theatrical shadow silhouettes that tells the history of the earth. Organizers describe Matreyek's style as if one were "flipping through a children's encyclopedia."
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Admission to CounterCurrent Festival events is free with a season's pass. Online reservations are encouraged as many of the performance spaces have limited seating capacity. 

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