Spring appears to be around the corner as the warm breeze and rays of sunlight sneak through the clean curves cut into the walls the the Cherryhurst House in Montrose. The surrealist house, once a quaint 1400-square-foot house, now draws in dozens of visitors over a given weekend who are seeking to find the rhythm and answers to the complexity of the Havel Ruck Project’s latest manifestation, Ripple. Havel Ruck — the team behind Houston’s famed and now-defunct Inversion House — have been working on the idea for years, milling over ways to create something different from their previous projects, which have been known to push into the realm of the uncomfortable.
The project was rooted partially within a series of scientific drawings Leonardo da Vinci worked on in the 16th century. These drawings studied the movement, control, and visual complexities of water and and its mystical-like properties. Dan Havel and Dean Ruck are no strangers to form and movement within their projects, but this time the two artists wanted to make something more involved and challenging for themselves and the viewers. Having started in July, the team worked around the clock and working out the details of the new public work.
“We don’t like to work under normal conditions,” Dean Ruck states. “We both work in different ways, but over the years have found a harmony within each others styles. We both really enjoy working in a control and chaos scenario. Through this method we find a lovely crossover of our talents. Instead of finishing each other’s sentences, we started finishing each other’s works.”
The project is a chain reaction of events — cause and effect, if you will. This is highly apparent when wandering through the Ripple House. Besides making commentary on Da Vinci’s water ripples, the Havel Ruck team has created a ripple in time, a ripple in place. Shuffling cautiously through the piece, as to watch your feet and location so to not fall through a hole or holes that have been cut into the floor, you lose sense of your surroundings. You are not just looking at the room you are in at the present, but the room past that one, through the bathroom, beyond the attendees, and penetrating the exterior of the outer walls of the house. Curved lines cut deeply and completely through the surfaces and supporting walls, moving gracefully throughout the environment. Although crowded at times, very little talking was happening, and the house remained still as the viewers drifted through the see-through structure.
Houston as a whole is a new city, and with its odd city development it’s a tad behind the times on many topics when you think of a city of a similar size and its timeline. With Houston being the third largest art city, and vastly approaching the third largest sized city, beating out Chicago, the city of Houston has come along as a slow learner. Don’t get me wrong, I love Houston and I’m proud to call it home, however, within its development it has been moving at the speed of molasses. As far as the city’s public art scene is considered, it is still in the early stages of learning and growing into what it could be.
When comparing Houston to cities such as Seattle and Chicago, we have so much more to build off of. We have a great many projects every year that land in our parks and public spaces. But does this alone make it public art, or is it just a sculpture placed in a public setting? This is the inner nerve and wiring of public art and its dialog. “Tilted Arc,” by Richard Serra in 1981, was not only more than a sculpture, it was a massive statement far exceeding the gravity and weight of its materials alone. Located shortly in the Foley Federal Plaza in Manhattan, it not only transformed space and the meaning of public art and sculpture, it created a heated Federal Court debate on the subject. As a contemporary arts city, Houston falls into the conservative category. This means that in the conversation of public art, we are still working at busting out of what is normal and its current restriction.
“In the early ’80s I spent many years working in NYC during a really vibrant and exciting time,” says Dan Havel. “I worked along some really amazing artist at PS1 Moma before it really became gentrified. We didn’t ask permission or wait for the right proposal to come along, we just did it! We created works in the streets individually and with groups, manifesting amazing environments and happenings. You shouldn’t need a reason to make your work. This is a bit of the problem with big projects and proposals. The space and ideas are almost already provided for you. What you end up with is ‘Plop Art,’ work created in a studio or office on a computer and plugged into any scenario.”
The Havel Ruck Project doesn’t want to feel comfortable in anything they create. They don’t have a theme and don’t want to be pigeon holed as the “House Guys.”
“We work a lot with found objects and under the Art Car mentality of less rules,” Havel Ruck both state. “Right now you can’t find a better found object in Houston than houses, and currently it is a powerful message about our state of existence as a collective whole.” The team doesn’t even really work for completion, and they welcome the challenge. During the project’s creation, Hurricane Harvey slammed the city.
“We stopped the project to help our friends and loved ones gut, muck, rebuild their houses,” Says Havel. “We did this for a while, and when we came back to work we thought, ‘What the Hell are we doing here?’ It was really difficult to try and re-evaluate our work and what direction we wanted with Ripple and within our overall work as a whole. It really gave us a new outlook on the world around us, and I think that really projected into this new body of work.”
Dean Ruck and Dan Havel are always reorganizing their thoughts on “what is public art,” and that is incredibly refreshing. Their ongoing list of large-scale projects and impressive resumes speak for themselves. But with them, it is much more. And with their works, this is palatable. Although recently working a great deal with houses as found objects, they both understand that isn’t the overall direction. It takes moments in life, tragedy, political climate, and all encompassing global insight to drive you as an artist and creative. It’s more than a studio practice. It’s about connecting to the time and space around you and fine tuning that algorithm. Walking through Ripple in silence and finding as many of the Zen moments I could gather was a refreshing and revitalizing experience. The new project at the Cherryhurst house is a new high for the Ruck Havel duo, and it’s certainly a new launching point for their works.
“Money is great and needed for the day-to-day, but in the end, it isn’t the money that limits us on how we make,” Havel explains. “It’s the opportunity that we are provided with and the new opportunity we can provide for those around us.”