Shit, damn. I am just two days away from arriving in Houston and I have no where to stay. Some frantic emails, tweets and reaching out. I contacted a friend from college, Juniper Jairala. We ran in some of the same circles in college but were never close friends even though I had a super large crush on her. In fact, I had totally lost track of her over the years until I literally ran into her at Burning Flipside in 2005. We have kept in touch since then but I had not considered her when I was thinking of places to stay in Houston. As I waited to hear back from her, a few friends reached out to their connections in Houston. I want to especially thank Keely Wahl for her help in getting me a place to stay in Houston even though I ended up not using it because I heard back from Juniper and she had space for me to stay at her epic crib and I thought I would be a good chance to catch up with her and deepen our friendship.
With a place to stay settled, I hit the road and said good-bye to NOLA. After a good night sleep in a ridiculously comfortable bed, I headed over to The Orange Show in Houston to meet up with Jewelz Cody. Jewelz was fantastic. We spent a fair amount of time catching up because I think the last time I really saw her was in 2005 when I was traveling through San Francisco on my way to Thailand. Jewelz sent a few emails and helped arrange interviews with art car artist, Rebecca Bass and the ex-director of the Orange Show, Susanne Theis.
On my way out of the office, I was given the key to the actual Orange Show and went over for the very first time in my life. I had lived in Houston from 1977 to 1988. During that time I dated a girl that lived around the corner from it, but had been told at that time to not go over there. At that point in my life, I was always wanting to please others, so even though I really wanted to go, I did not. Actually getting to wander the Show on my own for about hour was a total treat. I had no idea the depth of commitment that went into creating that space. You could feel the love and sense of adventure that went into those buildings. I was so grateful for the opportunity. I have posted a few pictures.
That evening I met up with Jewelz and Rebecca at a local Mexican restaurant. This was the first time that I met Rebecca and was excited. That dinner went well and I totally fell in love with her. Unfortunately, I ordered the seafood enchiladas which resulted in food poisoning. As I drove home, my tummy started to hurt but I thought it was just from a full tummy. I climbed into bed and feel asleep thinking I was just exhausted from traveling. That was until I popped out of bed at close to midnight and booked it down stairs to hug the porcelain goddess. I spent the next 24 hours sick. Luckily, Juniper’s mom was in town and helped to take care of me. And my son came over during the following day to sit with me as I felt miserable. It was great to see him as it was the first time I saw him in almost a year. He brought over Kill Bill and we watched the movie and caught up. I am really proud of him.
The following day after I started feeling better, I headed over to the Houston Art Car Museum to interview Rebecca. This was my first time at the museum and I was totally blown away. They were having an open call art show. This is a show were the first 150 people to show up at the open call with art get into the show. There is a theme for the show that is announced before the open call.
The interview with Rebecca was fantastic. During the interview, I began to realize that the scope of the film was too narrow in focusing on burner culture. Here was this amazing artist that spent most of her art career helping people have participatory experiences by teaching workshops, creating art cars with groups and generally encouraging people to participate. She had never been to Burning Man and was not a burner. This started to shift my thoughts about the film but I did not truly understand where I was headed. But that would come into focus later during my stay in Houston.
After the interview, I hung out at the museum for a little while shooting some b-roll for the movie and just enjoying the art. As I was packing up the leave, the curators, Jim Hatchett and Alicia Duplan, offered me a beer. Since my tummy was feeling much better, I gratefully accepted the offer and took a seat on the van bench that serves as seating in the entrance of the museum. We talked for a good while. Alicia turned my on to an interesting documentary called Space, Land and Time about an underground architecture group from San Francisco called the Ant Farm. I had not been familiar with this group before although I have been a fan of their work, including the Cadillac Ranch and Media Burn. This group was part of the seed that lead to the Cacophony Society and eventually Burning Man.
As we talked about this and many other things, I started to crystalize the ideas that were floating in my head post Rebecca interview. The idea is that there are these things that I have begun to call participatory experiences (if anyone has a better term, please let me know). These are experiences in which everyone involved has the ability to become a creative agent. This is the thread that weaves through the various activities that I have been documenting.
My last day in Houston, I went to interview Susanne Theis. She is currently the programming manger for Discovery Green, serves on a panel for the National Endowment for the Arts, and was the Executive Director of The Orange Show for 24 years. During her tenure at the Orange Show, the Art Car Parade was born and grew into the magnificent experience that it is today.
I learned two important things during our short interview (we were together a total of 20 minutes including set-up and interview of 9:46 minutes). First, the growth of the Art Car Parade eerily matches the growth of Burning Man, not so much in numbers but in spirit. Both started in 1986 with the Road Show at the Orange Show and Baker Beach, respectively. Both have grown to fill their respective capacity. Both have developed communities and cultures that surround the events. And both have off shot events that were inspired by the original. Secondly, as part of her work for the NEA, she informed me that the NEA has started to put an “emphasis on works of art that engage the audience.” I tried really hard to not let my jaw make such a loud sound as it hit to floor. Jeez, do I know any artists that work focuses in interactivity and engagement? Heck, this film is about this very concept and the NEA is changing their focus to this type of art. I am still processing this information and working to bring it into the story this film is telling. But I can tell you this, my time in Houston has had a profound impact on the direction of this film.
One last thing, I take back every negative thing I have ever said about Houston. When I lived there it was going through a sever economic downturn and the culture of the city reflected that. In the intervening years, Houston has developed a significant artistic and cultural community that includes underground and participatory arts. I throughly enjoyed my time in Houston even with spending 24 hours sitting next to a toilet.