Site/Work/S Pictures Site/Works/S Forum Site/Work/S Interview NoZoning Catalog Essay NoZoning Pictures

Introduction to SITE/WORK/S
Cameron Armstrong

Site/Work/S originated as a project for the 18th International Sculpture Conference - Houston 2000, co-sponsored by Houston Sculpture 2000, The Rice Design Alliance and Texas Architect magazine, under the auspices of the Art League of Houston. The Site/Work/S of June 2000 included new works by eighteen artists in three major venues, performances and tours at significant existing site works, a public forum, and a historical exhibition. An edited text of the Site/Work/S Forum was published in Sculpture Magazine (July/August 2001). The spirit of Site/Work/S has lived on since 2000 in the work of many of the artists foregrounded by the project, and has been recognized in recent exhibitions such as 2009's No Zoning exhibition organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

... from the May 2000 catalog:


1. The 18th International Sculpture Conference - Houston 2000 (May 31-June 3, 2000) was organized by the International Sculpture Center to bring more than 1000 working artists, critics, scholars and dealers to Houston. It offered four days of meetings and conferences on diverse topics, including some sponsored by local groups, and was headquartered at the Hyatt Regency Downtown. Opening ceremonies were held at Sesquicentennial Park, with a gala awards dinner honoring artist Mark DiSuvero at the Museum of Fine Arts/Houston, and a closing party at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston.

2. Houston Sculpture 2000 was organized to sponsor interaction between the local community and ISC attendees, focus attention on local and regional artists, and provide logistical support for the conference. In addition to Site/Work/S, Houston Sculpture 2000 presented exhibitions at more than a dozen separate sites in and around downtown, including three separately curated surveys of contemporary sculpture in Texas, a show of work by emerging artists, an exhibition of drawings by sculptors, and a statewide, juried show of advanced student work.

3. Site/Work/S engaged the ISC, Houston Sculpture 2000, artists, and architects with questions of urban design, monuments and Houston's tradition of large-scale civic art work. Its three components - site specific projects, an exhibition of historical documents about past works in Houston, and a conference forum - provided a historical and intellectual context for the city's site work, as well a chance to witness newly created pieces.


The recent but vital tradition of urban scale installations in Houston has proceeded in a spirit of intervention and insertion, indifferent to critical norms and social proprieties. Drawing on urban planning and architecture, and local precedents, as well as recent advanced art work in the United States and abroad, artists have manipulated and at times even systematically destroyed their sites, including whole buildings and significant tracts of real estate, to create permanent and temporary environments for interaction and performance, and social and spiritual rituals. Works by artists -- such as installations at Project Row Houses and Project Row Houses itself, Dan Havel's Alchemy House, and The Orange Show, and others by architects, such as the 1999 installation of room by Lars Lerup, Sohela Faroki, et al., at the Menil Collection -- have raised issues and points of engagement within ongoing national debates about memory and history, monuments and monumentality, participatory development and social organization, and the ownership of art and culture. With the creative spontaneity of serious artistic production, and asserting well argued positions on a variety of social, political, artistic and economic issues, these works have offered ambitious new definitions of public art in the city. The work has also illuminated a field of overlapping interests between the disciplines of architecture, city planning, sculpture, and performance. As the works presented within Site/Work/S attest, this as yet unbounded middle ground is being literally embodied in the evolving community of Houston's site installations, places of public interaction and activity, and artistic reflection.

The late 1980's initiated a heroic period for site works in Houston. During the next decade, not only were some to attain the status of publicly funded institutions, like The Orange Show and Project Row Houses, but others attained a level of participation and fame that made their long term survival seem all but inevitable. Projects and installations such as Zocalo (later TemplO), The Artery and Notsuoh probed the uncertain boundaries between installation, architecture and theatre, as they attracted the involvement and support of an increasingly aware public. Through programs of collaborations with performers such as artist Kelli Scott Kelley (at The Artery), and performance groups such as Infernal Bridegroom Productions (at TemplO), these places attained iconic stature as venues for and, indeed, as embodiments of performance art. For Houston architects, this period was paradoxically one of stasis amidst the wreckage of Houston's 1980's depression, and exploration, as alternatives to conventional building programs were investigated. Some, like Keith Krumwiede, sought ways by which new engagements could be created between individuals and the urban environment, while others formulated complex interventions in art world discourse (cf. 1999's room).

The end of the 1990's brought a heightened awareness of the cross disciplinary focus required to address larger social questions and civic identity, and also of the need for "actual" as well as theoretical production. The artists saw the visual and semiotic material of Houston, often directly utilized as "found" objects or environments, as media by which they could address the city at full scale and on its own terms. The poetic setting they had discovered in the detritus of Houston's formless sprawl offered both a source of inspiration and a destination for their work. And material was ready to hand: marginal and abandoned properties could easily be appropriated, castoff structures and vehicles cheaply renovated, and artistic energies quickly mobilized to establish their sites. As the artists' site works came to monumentalize the creating of new backgrounds for art, musical, theatrical and dance performances, for education, and for interventions as socially fundamental as parenting workshops, chess games, etc., architects staked out a parallel foreground of subjective awareness. Partly, perhaps, as compensation for Houston's notorious lack of functional civic space, works such as Dwayne Bohuslav's Chrysalis Bridge and Krumwiede's Detours intervened in the usually non-conscious inventory of everyday urban experience to create moments of conscious engagement with the city's psychic, physical and environmental geography. At differing scales, yet sharing an insistent focus on the perceptual and intellectual engagement of the individual, these architects joined artists as disparate as Nestor Topchy and Dan Havel in bringing forth a more spontaneous yet also spiritually resonant engagement with history and place.

At a larger scale, Houston's site works can be seen to respond directly to its 20th Century pattern of development, an unplanned, seemingly formless urbanism that has left voids where more traditional cities would have made monuments. For some, the city's large scale installations - often the construction, renovation and/or destruction of a whole building - have been a way to focus directly on the absences of memory and social consciousness both underlying and resulting from this kind of growth. In general, their redirections of attention towards personal awareness, historical memory and the visual context as found, have entailed a broad revision of the accepted figure-ground relations behind the very perception of urban places. Instead of axes, statues and other traditional signifiers of self-consciousness and order, they have foregrounded continuing moments of social and aesthetic engagement. Instead of arenas for entertainment and spectacle, they've launched (sometimes ephemeral) institutions of experience and interaction. Certainly, the site works have offered a new definition of foreground for a landscape of sprawl, and perhaps the seeds of a new kind of monumental landscape. Site/Work/S' mission was to consider both their meanings for artists, architects and the city, and the paradox of their appearance in Houston.


Site/Work/S concentrated on three components: encounters with site works in various parts of the city, both newly commissioned and existing; an exhibition of models and drawings showing the history of such work in Houston; and a conference forum addressing critical and historical concerns, all staged in late May 2000 under the aegis of the 18th International Sculpture Conference - Houston 2000. The project was initiated by Houston Sculpture 2000, with organizational and logistical support of The Rice Design Alliance, and had project and conference coverage in the pages of Texas Architect.

Two locations were secured for new site works: the El Dorado site (at the side and rear of the historic El Dorado Ballroom building in the Third Ward) hosted outdoor pieces and projections, while the Chenevert site work site hosted indoor installations, including Monumentality, an exhibition of posthumous memorials by Glassell Core Fellows. The atrium of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture at the University of Houston was reserved for performances.


Site/Work/S Projects included the creation and/or presentation of new and existing indoor and outdoor works by artist and architect participants:

a) Installations - using existing contexts as the background for arrangements of imported elements.
b) Interventions - inserting new elements into existing places to change their meanings.
c) Projections - layering photographic or other images over existing architecture to expand its dimensions in time and space.
d) Objects - constructing discrete forms with social, historical and cultural meaning.

Site/Work/S Projects presented as part of the 18th ISC included:

Organ Grinder: Dwayne Bohuslav + parasite installed interactive forms caught between the organic and the technological, alluding to human biological structures, in the central atrium of the Gerald D. Hines School of Architecture at the University of Houston, which were used in a day long performance which culminated in the ISC's closing ceremonies.

(FOUND)ation: Dan Havel constructed "tracings" of now invisible domestic architecture in the re-construction of the foundations of buildings previously extant on the El Dorado Site/Work/S site, evoking history and memory in creating experiences of its past lives.

Glass Tower: Tracy Hicks utilized his trademark assemblage materials and techniques to evoke images of structure, containment and duration in columns of liquid and glass.

Project Row Houses: Project Row Houses' hosted Round Twelve of its Artists' Projects series during the International Sculpture Conference, and provided introductory tours of its facilities and programs.

TemplO Gates: TemplO was the subject of a competition among Houston area architecture students to design one of three new entrance pavilions for its complex.

Soulevator: John Calaway used an assembly of doors from recently demolished historic houses to evoke physical and psychic aspects of the experience of passage.

Monumentality: Core Fellows of the Glassell School of Art, including Fraser Stables, Todd Hebert, Duncan Ganley, Jessica Halonen, and Brad Tucker, presented visions of posthumous memorials in an investigation of contemporary monumentality. Writer Keith Marshall provided a critical review of the exhibit.

ZUBBUS: Stephen Fox, Nestor Topchy, and Jim Pirtle revealed "the true Houston equation: rational, irrational, transrational, blighted, wasted, on and off the beaten path" in a tour of Houston, including past and future. The tour left from the Hyatt Regency 3:30 p.m., Jun 3 (immediately after the Forum) and almost never returned.

Performances: The Artery (Jun 1 @ 8:00 p.m.) and Notsuoh (Jun 1 @ 10:00 p.m.) showcased their roles as cultural incubators and performance venues.

Popups: Lee Littlefield extended his public art interventions to various sites around the city, including land along Interstate 10.

Proposal for an Insurgency: Dietmar Froelich, Bruce Webb and Dwayne
Bohuslav led University of Houston architecture students to investigate surface, projection, media and movement in an installation at the El Dorado site work site.

Topology: Keith Krumwiede (re)assembled clues to the El Dorado site into a perceptual engagement with its psychic and haptic topologies.

Hero House Tower: Using debris and artifacts from the demolition of local houses, Mark Monroe assembled a structure recalling the homes and histories being lost in the city's redevelopment.

Site Access Day: Houston's site works, including The Orange Show, TemplO, Project Row Houses, Notsuoh, and others, and the creators of new pieces for Site/Work/S, participated in discussions and tours of their projects June 3 @ 3:30-5:30 p.m. In addition to the ZUBBUS tour, Site/Work/S provided a shuttle van for convenient access to the sites.


The Site/Work/S Exhibition focussed on the antecedents and inspirations for Houston's site works, as well as on documenting the movement itself and addressing parallels in other cities, as well as presenting a number of works by artists such as Jim Pirtle, Jeff Shore and Sharon Engelstein. Curated by Alexandra Irvine, the exhibition was on view at Project Row Houses' El Dorado Ballroom in the Third Ward (reception on June 2 @ 6:00-8:00 p.m.).


The Site/Work/S Forum (1:30 June 3 at the Hyatt Regency) included presentations about site works in Houston, and a panel discussion addressing their artistic, urban and historical import. Panel participants included Transart Foundation Director Surpik Angelini, architectural historian Stephen Fox, artist Tracy Hicks, The Art Guys, Site/Work/S coordinator Cameron Armstrong, and moderator John Davidson, past Editor of Texas Architect. The Site/Work/S Forum was free and open to the public; an edited transcript, with photographs of new and existing site works, was published in 2001 by Sculpture magazine.