The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts celebrated its inaugural art festival, CounterCurrent, last week, bringing together local, national and international artists to exhibit their work, consisting of a variety of inter-media art, in traditional and nontraditional venues across the city of Houston.
During the span of five days, leaders of the contemporary art world showcased their visions and talents in numerous ways, performing sold-out shows, engaging in artist talks, constructing installations and collaborations within the community.
The festival kicked off on Wednesday with the debut of art professor Abinadi Meza’s sound installation, “Vein of Sky,” which generated sounds from live nature elements, such as temperature, light and humidity.
Located in Hermann Park, the installation was built within a structure known as ReFramexFrame, created by a collaboration between architecture and graphic communications professors and students.
Also debuting on Wednesday, UH professor and Mitchell Center Director of Academic Initiatives Lacy Johnson presented a collaboration with artist Josh Okun and Rob Ray to create the Invisible City project, an interactive experience that uses GPS on smartphones to take participants on an adventure through the city.
“Invisible City” takes its users to places they might not normally visit and provides insight into the background of the city.
“I wanted people to really explore parts of the city that people don’t understand or misunderstand,” Johnson said. “It’s not so much that it’s invisible; it’s just that we don’t see it, or we haven’t seen it, or we choose not to see it.”
Rounding out Wednesday night, Los Angeles-based performer and multimedia artist Miwa Matreyek performed two pieces, “This World Made Itself” and “Myth and Infrastructure,” at Aurora Picture Show. The pieces combined visual animations and projections with music and live movement.
On Thursday, the festival continued with a performance of ECLIPSE by choreographer Jonah Bokaer and visual artist Anthony McCall. The performance had both elements of dance and sound as the performers interacted with the visual light bulb installation. Audience members were given the unusual opportunity to walk around the stage’s perimeter during the show to observe multiple viewpoints of the performance.
Additionally, media and performance students at Aurora Picture Show had the opportunity to showcase their skills in collaboration and experimentation. Students performed works that incorporated a wide variety of media including green screen paint, shadow projections, poetry, live video feeds and more than 100 pounds of cement blocks.
On Friday, professor and writer John Pleuker and Jen Hofer, collaborators from the current exhibition at Blaffer Art Museum, “Antena,” participated in a bilingual artist talk with visiting artists from the Mexico City-based theater company Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol to discuss issues concerning language justice. The dialogue shifted between English and Spanish with live translators helping audience members keep up with the conversation over radio headsets.
“Just by you being here and trying to make the effort to understand, you are helping create language justice,” Pleuker said.
During the bilingual artist talk, Executive Director of the Mitchell Center Karen Farber said she hopes as the festival expands, the event can become multilingual to provide more inclusivity within the city.
Throughout the weekend, Antena and Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol held bilingual events and workshops for the festival. At MECA, LagartijasTiradas al Sol presented a play featuring the history of guerilla groups in Mexico during the 1960s and 70s.
New York-based artist Suzanne Bocanegra presented “Rerememberer,” a multimedia orchestra consisting of 50 amateur Houston violinists, a DJ, conductor and weaver on an amplified loom. The performance was held at the historic El Dorado Ballroom in the Third Ward.
Farber said the feedback from the participants was amazing.
“A lot of people who were playing violin said that they were actually observers as much as they were performers because the of the installation performance taking place all around the stage,” Farber said. “(In this festival) we had a really fun time doing all kinds of projects that were outside traditional artistic contexts. This was just one of the ways in which the context really transformed the work.”
On Saturday, the festival continued to expand, featuring multiple events throughout the day. Artists Lisa Harris, Autumn Knight and M’Kina Tapscott hosted the Flower Man Bike Parade. In the parade, people decorated their bikes with flowers and retraced the route of Cleveland Turner, or “The Flower Man,” a popular cyclist from the Third Ward who recently passed away.
Other events in the Third Ward included dedications by Otabenga Jones & Associates. The collective featured public speakers, music, readings and the unveiling of public monuments created by the collective.
At DiverseWorks, filmmaker and visual artist Wu Tsang performed a special piece for the festival titled Moved by Motion.
CounterCurrent organizers hosted a pop-up wrap party in downtown featuring music and sound to close out the weekend. Artists, organizers, students and festivalgoers had the chance to mix and mingle and discuss their experiences at the event.
“Being around the art culture is really fulfilling, and it is amazing to see how much it affects the community,” said public relations junior Tatyana Parham. “The Mitchell Center really likes to reach out to people, and it’s nice to be around that. It’s nice to see how many people came out. I wasn’t expecting this turn out.”
Several of the installations and projects presented at the event will continue after the event’s closing.
Installations and projects such as Steve Rowell’s Uncanny Sensing (Texas Protype), Byron Au Yong and Susie J. Lee’s Piano Concerto, the Invisible City, Vein of Sky and Antena will all be available for various lengths of time following the event.