Houston is an internationally known city for many things – its shopping and its commitment to space and medical experimentation. But is has gained national and international exposure for something else – a photo exhibit that brings artists from around the work to the Bayou City.
It has been described by The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio as “the place for young artists to be discovered,” and it is the largest program of its kind in the world. That place is FotoFest 2002, a month-long exhibition that showcases the work of hundreds of photographers and artists in and around the Houston area. Their works are on display in various formats, including Web-based art, sculptural works, performances, digital prints and video projections.
More than 300 photographers from 17 countries and 30 states will present their portfolios beginning March 1 to some of the most influential people in the photography world as part of 26 presentations of Mixed Media and New Technology work sponsored by FotoFest.
The event, which attracts nearly 50,000 people, combines art with what is going on downtown. The centerpiece of FotoFest 2002 is the Houston Super Mover, which will use video projections, music and sound to highlight the downtown historic district, Buffalo Bayou and the city’s first commercial landing depot and railroad line. Four city blocks have been transformed using light and sound, while video projections move people from the shops and cafes along the bayou.
The works featured in the year’s FotoFest are diverse and highlight creations by young artists, as well as conceptions from established artists. This year’s event features internationally known French artist Georges Rousse, who will premiere his first major urban installation in the United States.
Rousse is well known for large-scale creations utilizing old, unused downtown buildings to create site-specific artwork. One of France’s foremost artists, Rousse has worked on pieces in Tokyo, Paris, Berlin and Jerusalem. He typically works with abandoned or soon-to-be demolished buildings to make art. He points and constructs artwork on the site and then makes a large format photograph of his work.
“I am attracted to the photographic memory of such spaces in the conditions that I find them, but I like to impose my own way of seeing, my colors, my lighting,” Rousse said in a prepared essay on his exhibition.
“With FotoFest, comes the beginning of a new story. Here in Houston, my work is a matter of thinking about the origins of the city. The past has disappeared. The city is very spread out; its architecture has been changed and modernized many times. There are many spaces in which I can work,” he said.
Along with Rousse, several Houston artists are featured throughout FotoFest. The Houston-based artist team MANUAL use computer-based art to create a parallel between the landscape and the computer animation. Prince V. Thomas, Linda Hayward, Carrie Markello and Casey Williams also use new technology to transform everyday items into the extraordinary.
Come On Baby, Light My Fire
As on of the four elements of Earth, fire has many qualities that evoke a multitude of feelings, which is exactly what the collaborative team of Jay Branson, Kelly Gale Amen, and John Palmer are hoping for.
In an exhibit based on their 2001 exhibit, Degrees of Fire, their first FotoFest exhibit at KGA Compound, Fire features furniture as art that was set on fire. The furniture was created by Amen, painted by Palmer, set on fire and then photographed by Branson.
Amen, who had been designing the furniture for more than 10 years, described the process as “completely spontaneous.” What interested Branson was the light source of the fire. “You’re drawn into the fire,” Branson said.
Not one to dispute, the exhibition is enticing and all at once frightening – to see the destruction of the flames, one can almost feel the heat exude from the photographs, and it is hard not to say that the works are beautiful and alluring.
“It’s spiritual,” Amen says. “It was all about embracing the fire. It was an absolute experience you may love, you may hate.”
Simplicity is Anything But
Some months ago, several of Houston’s leading architects, artists, designers and critics gathered to for The Collaborative Project 2002 for FotoFest 2002.
What came of that meeting is an installation that makes a statement about Houston and the environment we live in.
“Spinning” was selected by Jackson Rushing of the University of Houston and was designed by artists/architects Scot Brooks and Archie Pizzini. The exhibit uses photographic images and light within a framework as “a reflection of the psychological nature of where we live.” Everyday images are projected onto three spinning video screens, making the simple project complex.
Brooks and Pizzini described their project as “a reflection of our experiences within Houston, a place where chaos and order coexist and generate endless versions of themselves. Where the simple interaction of chance and money has created a phenomenal range of expressions.”
“It is about the feeling and process of living in Houston. How it has developed, changed and expanded,” Brooks said. “Simplicity produces chaotic results.”
And ultimately what Brooks and the rest of the collaborative would like viewers to take away from the project is “to see the beauty in all the amazing things surrounding us.”
For maps, times, locations and more information on FotoFest, log on to www.fotofest.org.