Groundbreaking New Art Commission in the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
Artist Rachel Rossin’s installation will be on view February 2 – November 10, 2024
HOUSTON, TX – November 3, 2023
Buffalo Bayou Partnership is pleased to announce a major commission by pioneering artist Rachel Rossin in the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. Rossin (American, b. 1987) is a painter, new media artist, and programmer whose multi-disciplinary practice has established her as a leading innovator in the field of virtual reality. Her work blends painting, sculpture, technically advanced media, gaming, and video to create digital landscapes that focus on the ubiquity of technology and its effect on our psychology.
For the Cistern, Rossin will create Haha real, an original, site-specific media and sound installation to open in February 2024. This work will transform this vast industrial relic into a unique world, drawing on both innovative technologies and ancient storytelling methods. Taking key inspiration from the classic children’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit, Rossin’s work will invoke themes of transformation and loss.
In The Velveteen Rabbit, the question “What is REAL?” is central. After the child who loved the Rabbit into being grows up and moves on, the Rabbit learns that Realness is both liberating and painful and is attained gradually over time through being loved (and ultimately lost) by another. Once one is made Real through love, Real is a permanent state that cannot be undone. To quote another source, a popular online meme, “To be loved is to be changed.”
Rossin links these themes of metamorphosis and disillusionment to the creative process that the artist undergoes, referencing a legendary lecture given by artist Marcel Duchamp in 1957 at the former Shamrock Hilton Hotel in Houston titled The Creative Act. Duchamp describes the task of the artist as a subjective struggle from intention to realization, performed repeatedly with each new act of creation.
“In The Velveteen Rabbit, the boy loves the rabbit into being ‘Real’ and this happens at the same time the boy has no need for a companion toy anymore,” says Rossin. “As both of their memories fade for each other, the new life takes up the space of the past. The highly desirable state of realness is also a cycle of constant change and occasional heartbreak –from awareness to disillusionment and back again, with an overarching goal of remaining present.”
Haha real will be presented as a journey that unfolds over the course of a 20-minute visit. As viewers circumnavigate the Cistern, they will stop at periodic “stations” where characters and symbols will appear on LED hologram screens, while kinetic features and lighting will augment the architecture of the space and the reflective surface of its water. A high-fidelity score by Houston musician Frewuhn will accompany the visuals, accentuating the Cistern’s 17-second reverberation. The starting and ending point of this journey will be a cascade of uncanny sunsets within the darkness, hovering just above the reflective surface of the water inside the Cistern.
Rossin is especially known for her use of technology, not only as a tool or medium, but as subject matter that helps us examine our relationship with our attention and autonomy. Rossin’s childhood voice, trained from recovered home videos using AI techniques, will be heard throughout the installation. AI is also utilized in the visual elements of the work which will be mixed with hand-drawn animation by Rossin. The use of AI and virtual reality tools in the creation of the work furthers Rossin’s inquiry into reality versus simulation. As a programmer and engineer, Rossin designs these systems herself, enabling her to embed meaning within the core components of the work.
Haha real will be on view in the Cistern for approximately nine months, from February to November 2024. Reinforcing BBP’s commitment to accessibility, free Cistern admission is offered on the first Thursday of every month; discounted tickets are available for students, seniors, and military; and the space is ADA compliant. To complement and highlight Rossin’s work, BBP will also present related public programs throughout the duration of the installation. With an established history and location within the 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park adjacent to downtown Houston, the Cistern is a destination easily accessed by visitors and residents alike.
This project is organized by Buffalo Bayou Partnership with lead underwriting provided by John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation and Alana R. Spiwak and Sam L. Stolbun. Additional support provided by Vivian L. Smith Foundation; Lisa Young and Matt Assiff; Emily Keeton; Scott and Judy Nyquist; and Winifred and Carleton Riser. Buffalo Bayou Partnership is funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance. Project management and curatorial collaboration on Haha real is provided by Weingarten Art Group.
About Rachel Rossin
Rachel Rossin is an internationally renowned artist whose works have been exhibited at prestigious institutions around the world including the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Kiasma Museum of Helsinki, K11: Shanghai, The New Museum, Rhizome, The Hyundai Museum of Seoul, GAMeC of Bergamo Italy, HEK of Münchenstein Basel Switzerland, ‘Kim’ Museum of Riga Latvia, The Sundance Film Festival, The Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Casino Museum of Luxembourg. In addition to her artistic practice, Rossin has also lectured at Stäedelschule, Google, MIT, Stanford, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her work has been published in several notable publications. Rossin was recently co-commissioned by the KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York to create an installation and digital artwork entitled THE MAW OF. This work was also included in Refigured, a group exhibition at the Whitney in Spring 2023.
About the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
A structure reminiscent of the ancient Roman cisterns in Istanbul, the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern is a cavernous, 87,500-square-foot-space featuring more than 200 slender, 25-foot-high concrete columns. BBP rediscovered the Cistern in 2010 when it was developing Buffalo Bayou Park, a 160-acre green space west of downtown Houston. Recognizing the significance of the highly unusual site, BBP took the bold step of repurposing the Cistern into a magnificent public space. In addition to tours highlighting the history and architecture of the Cistern, BBP presents an ambitious program of changing art installations in this iconic space, including past projects by Magdalena Fernández, Carlos Cruz-Diez, and Anri Sala.
About Buffalo Bayou Partnership
Established in 1986, Buffalo Bayou Partnership is the non-profit organization creating and stewarding welcoming parks, trails, and unique spaces, connecting Houstonians with the city’s most significant natural waterway. The organization’s geographic focus is the 10-square mile stretch of the bayou that flows from Shepherd Drive, through the heart of downtown into the East End, and on to the Port of Houston Turning Basin. In addition to constructing award-winning green spaces such as Buffalo Bayou Park, BBP also removes trash from the waterway and activates the bayou through unique programs, public art, volunteer events and recreational opportunities that enrich the quality of life in Houston.
Image: Virtual simulation of Haha real by Rachel Rossin