Liasons Au Lyon
Houston artists leave a handprint on children's cancer center in France
A duo of Houston artists are bridging the gap between art and science with a captivating group sculpture at a children's cancer clinic. You won't find the majestic artwork in the Texas Medical Center, however. The participating artists, Daniel Kayne and Museum of Cultural Arts Houston president and CEO Reginald Adams, are creating their sculpture, "Notre Soleil (Our Sun)" at the Centre Léon Bérard in Lyon, France.
Kayne conceived the project under the auspices of the Texas French Alliance for the Arts, which conferred its first annual award to the artist in 2008. The duo drew upon the center's young cancer patients to contribute to the sculpture's realization between June 12 and July 4. "It was just amazing to be able to work for almost three weeks with these kids," Kayne tells CultureMap.
"When you work with them that closely, you don't see a cancer patient or kids with no hair. Doing hands-on activities and laughing with them, you lose yourself in the whole process. That's part of the gift we were able to bring to them."
A contemporary take on the ancient sundial and meditative mandala form of Hindi and Buddhist thought, "Notre Soleil" is situated around a tree in the 49 meter roundabout outside the Centre Léon Bérard, affording street views as well as dynamic perspectives for young patients from their hospital room windows. Six concrete triangular panels represent the rays of the sun, and patients and their families contributed ceramic handprints that will form mosaics.
"It's about nature and man working together," says Kayne. That theme will be enhanced with the pending addition of floral landscaping.
"It was really a dream come true for me," Adams tells CultureMap, referring to his museum's 12 years of creating public art — primarily mosaics — in Houston. "We've created 120 sculptures and murals working with kids in every corner of the city. It's evolved to a place where we were ready to go beyond the confines of Houston. We wanted to do something abroad, and then I got a call from Daniel to partner with him on this sculpture in Lyon."
As for collaborating with the tenacious cancer patients, Kayne says, "When you work with them that closely, you don't see a cancer patient or kids with no hair. Doing hands-on activities and laughing with them, you lose yourself in the whole process. That's part of the gift we were able to bring to them."
He explains that the nearly three-week-long residency allowed him and Adams to connect with their students on a more meaningful level than an hour-long workshop could afford. "The lasting impact of the sculpture is that while the patients come and go, they'll see their contribution to this artwork as a symbol of their own determination and will to survive," Adams says.
Kayne and Adams also found themselves rejuvenated by the experience of working with the children and briefly living in Lyon. "It's like going to that first art class in kindergarten. The project really had me feeling like a kid again," says Kayne.
Echoes Adams, "When you're around children that are literally hanging on to life by a thread because of an illness they have no control over, and they still have a zest for life, it puts things in perspective."
"I'm a romantic and tend to fall in love with cities," says Kayne, explaining his instant attachment to Lyon's bicycling culture (Kayne has resisted the assumed requirement of auto ownership in Houston). "Lyon is similar to Paris, but with a much more laid back attitude — it's like comparing New York to San Francisco. It's 2,000 years old, and there was a great music festival while we were there. From an art standpoint, it's pretty spectacular."
Adams predicts that the exchange will have lasting effects on his life in Houston. "I saw a lifestyle that was more in tune with quality of life — locals walked, and I didn't see nearly as many overweight people. There are great bakeries on every corner. I came back thinking, 'Wow, there are adjustments in my personal life that I can make to improve how I function in my household and community.' "
Adding to the Texan-Franco dialogue is a project by French artist Gérald Wagner, who was invited by TFAA to work on an art project at Texas Children's Cancer and Hematology Center as part of the Arts in Medicine Program. There, the artist constructed a dark room in the lobby of the cancer center, where he introduced children undergoing cancer treatment to the art of creating photographs of their hands with light-sensitive paper rather than a traditional camera.
Is the children's hands motif merely an incident of artistic serendipity? "Sometimes the universe works with the same materials in two different parts of the world," suggests Kayne. "I think that speaks to how special this project is. This is about artists coming together, inspiring and bringing magic into the lives of children who, on a day to day basis, may only see doctors and nurses."