Houstonians have seen many a rain falling in our time, but nothing in our previous experience will likely prepare for the storm coming to the Houston Cistern thanks to the partnership of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This artful deluge titled, Rain: Magdalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern brings video art into the recently renovated space and continues Houston’s love of integrating art into public, strange and wondrous places.
Back in 2012 when Buffalo Bayou Partnership took over management of the Cistern from the city, a goal for its preservation was to turn the old water storage facility into an art space. The massive underground chamber, which began its architectural life as a freshwater reservoir, we now call the Buffalo Bayou Cistern thanks to SWA landscape architect Kevin Shanley who said it reminded him of the millennium-old cisterns beneath Istanbul. Constructed in 1926, our own Cistern is also quite ancient, if only on a Houston timescale.
At a recent preview of Rain, MFAH Gary Tinterow described his first thoughts when invited to view the Cistern and collaborate in bringing art into the space which is already something of a marvelous surprise when it was rediscovered in 2010.
“I immediately imagined sound and light installations,” Tinterow said. He also explained that after some consideration the MFAH team realized which piece already in the museum’s collection might be the perfect choice to inaugurate the Cistern as a temporary home for art installations.
Museum-goers and members might experience a bit of deja vu when first getting caught up in this Rain storm, but that’s because, like the Cistern itself, Magdalena Fernández’s Rain went by another name and has undergone something of a transformation. The Venezuelan artist’s abstract video-projection piece, 2iPM009, was one of the phenomenal works within last year’s MFAH exhibition Contingent Beauty: Contemporary Art from Latin America.
According to Tinterow, when thinking about the Cistern project, the team soon recognized that 2iPM009, “could effectively be reworked to create a magical environment in the Cistern.”
Art and Space Transformed
That reworking required a change in title because in many ways when projected onto the 25-foot high concrete columns within the Cistern, the artwork takes on new and added meaning as it redefines the space with so much watery history, while the space changes the depth and dimensions of the piece.
Both the artist herself and MFAH curator Mari Carmen Ramirez were on hand to help preview the installation, with Ramirez giving a bit of art history to bring context to the abstract video showers soon to pour down.
“In the tradition of Abstraction, in the tradition of non-objective painting that dominated a greater part of the 20th century, artists spent all of their energy trying to divest form from its natural and human referent,” described Ramirez of a period of artwork that was predominately broken down to shapes, squares and circles and color “without any reference to nature or man.”
Fernández’s Rain also begins with a simple geometric form but, when expanded exponentially, those forms resemble images of nature and perhaps even reminds us of our place within nature. As Ramirez explained it, the video art work begins with thousands of tiny dots and “from that dot this shape, this basic geometric unit is going to take shape and is going to grow and grow and take over all of the space.”
Yet even the tremendous and beautiful soundscape that is an intrinsic part of the piece references nature without actually being a recording of nature, Instead, Fernández uses the sound of humans using their own bodies as instruments, specifically the music of the a cappella Slovenian choir Pertuum Jazzile, to create Rain’s soundtrack montage.
“What Magdalena has managed to do in an amazing and beautiful way is to reinsert the human scale and the human referent back into this work which is completely abstract,” said Ramirez.
“Magdalena has said that the piece was infinite, that you could adjusted to any scale,” continued Ramirez, referencing back to Rain’s previous incarnation as 2iPM009 as part of the Contingent Beauty exhibition. “We never dreamt that we could adjust it to this particular scale, so you will be in for a magical experience.”
When Fernández spoke for a few moments about what the transformation of her work and this new space to release it within has meant to her, she first thanked everyone who helped to bring the project to fruition and called it a “gift” to present the work in “this wonderful space.”
“It’s a new approach for me,” she said, adding, “I hope this piece gives a little light to the people here.”
Rain: Magdalena Fernández at the Houston Cistern is on view until June 4, 2017. Timed tickets can be reserved and purchased at buffalobayou.org.