Black birds formed from string, red-lettered words of encouragement for a city, a heart sculpted from red yarn, if you see any of these images on walls or buildings in Austin, San Antonio, Houston or small Texas towns, know that the Mind the Heart Project — a.k.a artists Maya Gelfman and Roie Avidan — stopped and created art along the way on their journey across the state.
After closing their home studio and giving away many of their possessions, the internationally renowned Tel Aviv artist duo are on a year-long tour of the U.S., and have recently crossed into Texas to create public street art but also to enlist Texans from all walks of life to literally present their hearts to their favorite spots and objects of the cities.
Gelfman and Avidan’s have made it their mission to use public art to encourage mindfulness of place and presence, giving away their work and asking in return only that people and communities look with new eyes at the world around them.
The familiar becomes new
“When you’ve lived in one place for a long time, you don’t pay attention. You get used to the beautiful. You take it for granted and you ignore the ugly or falling apart things because you don’t want to deal with it. You want your comfort zone. That’s a tragedy. The next moment is not guaranteed. You should cherish each and every moment,” Avidan tells CultureMap.
To promote that call to cherish the spaces and places we inhabit, Gelfman and Avidan have sculpted over 1,000 yarn hearts and then give them away. They invite the receiver to also give the artwork away by adhering it to any object in a public area that has significance to them, a place they want others to stop and pay a bit of attention to, whether a park bench, tree, signpost, old building or even other works of public art.
Avidan notes that in Hebrew the phrase for “pay attention” literally translates to “put your heart there.”
“Mindfulness in Hebrew is a thing of the heart not of the mind,” he explains, while Gelfman also notes that the red yarn for them works as a metaphor for the invisible lines of connection between people and places and also a reminder of the veins and arteries of life.
A journey through Texas
In Austin and San Antonio, the artists walked the streets meeting people and giving away hearts, while also letting serendipity guide them to where they would create new public art on city walls and buildings.
“Everything that happens comes from a physical encounter on our journey and then that connection ripples out and crazy things happen,” describes Avidan, adding that while they knew they would be traveling to Texas, they let chance and the generosity of strangers to guide them through Austin and San Antonio. “We met some people completely by chance, and some by recommendation from people in other states that sent us here and through that the threads continue.”
Hearts for Houston
After backtracking for a week long stay in Houston, they will take a more organized approach to giving away the hearts. On Tuesday, February 20 they will be at Houston City Hall in the afternoon, for several hours, to present 100 hearts to anyone who wants one. But be warned, to take a heart means to join Gelfman and Avidan on their mindfulness mission.
Avidan will photograph each person with their new heart and then give the simple instruction: “Any place; any reason.” The rest is up to them, but those who can find that special spot that needs renewed notice, take a photo of it, and then email that story of the place to the artists within 72 hours will automatically become exhibited artists themselves.
The pair will organize the images and stories that they receive along with the photos taken at City Hall, and then on March 1, those photos and stories will go on display at George R. Brown Convention Center — for Houstonians and visitors alike to see those places we love and tales of why they have become so special to us.
“It’s really about people sharing their work and their stories. You really get this beautiful, metaphorical map of the city,” says Avidan of what he hopes this places of the hearts exhibition will show.
While their newly-assigned heart questers traverse Houston placing their hearts in their favorite places, the artists will wander the city, much like they did in Austin and San Antonio looking for their own significant spots that need some street art therapy.
Through organized events like the ones in Houston or happenstance encounters that they found throughout Texas and beyond, the pair have found people ready and willing to open, well, their hearts to the whole project.
“People long to belong to be a part of something meaningful, so we decided to invite people to mark their spots and create this network of significance,” said Avidan.
The Mind the Heart artists will present 100 hearts to Houstonians starting at 2 pm on Tuesday, February 20, at Houston City Hall, 901 Bagby St. Mind the Heart Project images will be on display through March 1.