Houston Report
From the Center's Gulf States Field Office

The Center’s Gulf States Logistics Site and Field Office in Houston has been busy over the last year, supporting a variety of programs in the region. Located on the Buffalo Bayou, on the industrial east side of Houston, the site provides workspace, storage, and access to the city’s urban waterways. What follows is a sample of some projects, events, research, and incidents performed by the Gulf States office.

288 Nearly 100 cars showed up for the Junkyard Drive-In, with the lights of downtown Houston in the distance. CLUI photoOil Movie Night at the Junkyard Drive-In

ON A SATURDAY NIGHT IN late February 2009, the Center’s Gulf States Logistics Site hosted a special event: Oil Movie Night at the Junkyard Drive-In. For this event, the site, a former junkyard still littered with decals, lug nuts, trunk lid lock covers, and other car fragments, became a drive-in movie theater for an evening of films selected by the CLUI, and presented by the Aurora Picture Show.

The 80-minute program included industrial and promotional films from the 1930s to the present day, describing the nature and evolution of the oil industry, and how it has been represented and perceived. Among the films included were Frontiers of Friction, a beautifully shot film describing the technology of lubrication, produced by Shell Oil in 1962; a lyrical, euro-techno-music video produced by the Dockwise Company, featuring their ship, The Mighty Servant, moving unbelievably large structures like semi-submersible oil rigs around the world; and the CLUI-produced Hollywood Gusher: Ode to Joy, a compilation of oil rig blowout scenes from major motion pictures, showing how the popular icon of the spewing oil drilling derrick combines potent sexual metaphor with industrial success.

The sea of car faces that comprised the audience honked their horns and flashed their lights expressing levels of approval between the various films. The vehicular applause soared to a cacophonous din when the last film, Hollywood Gusher climaxed, under the strains of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, and the credits for the evening rolled, acknowledging every oil-related company we could think of, for their part in making this all possible.

Urban Bayou Expeditions

Over the past year, the CLUI has conducted numerous expeditions on the Buffalo Bayou, some informal, others for paying guests. The tours have been focused on the upper bayou, the portion of the waterway between the Ship Channel and downtown Houston. This stretch of industrial waterway is in transition, from industrial to post-industrial, and features scrap yards, sewage plants, abandoned railway bridges, condo lofts, prisons, and many other intriguing and revealing characteristics of the cityscape.

289 A CLUI-led excursion on the Buffalo Bayou, passing under the rail lift bridge stuck under the freeway overpass. CLUI photoThe CLUI also conducted a public grand tour of Houston’s Ship Channel and petrochemical landscape, by bus and by boat, called Downstream: A Tour of Houston’s Water and Oil.

290 The climax of the grand respectacle event on the Buffalo Bayou. CLUI photoGrand Respectacle Celebrates Petrochemicals and Sesquicentennialism

The CLUI staged an event on the waterways of Houston in late March, 2009, a public spectacle that made connections between the founding of Houston, its emergence as a global city, and the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the oil industry. This commemorative event commemorated commemoration, a spectacle celebrating celebration and spectacle.

The event was driven by a multimedia performance that re-examined a 1986 concert commemorating the sesquicentennial of the city’s founding in 1836. The 1986 event, titled Rendez-vous Houston, centered around a synthesizer-oriented performance by French musician Jean Michel Jarre which was one of the largest concert spectacles ever produced at the time.

In the Center’s “respectacle” event in March, Jean Michel Jarre’s performance was deconstructed by multimedia artist/musician Jesse Stiles, and staged on a floating plastic platform designed by the group Simparch. Titled Déjà Rendez-vous, the CLUI spectacle fused the founding of Houston and the Republic of Texas (1836), and the current sesquicentennial (1859 - 2009) of the oil industry, through the laser guided lens of Jarre’s concert event.

Jarre was known for his global son et lumière spectacles, as well as his soaring synth music, found on successfully selling albums such as Oxygen (1976), and Zoolook (1984). His performances included use of the laser harp, musical laser beams that fan out over the audience and are plucked like the strings of a harp. He performed cascading glissandos on custom-made circular keyboards, lit from within, while lasers and lights danced in monumental amounts of wind driven smoke. His Houston performance took place outdoors, on a stage near the Buffalo Bayou, and engaged the skyscrapers of downtown as a backdrop. Texaco’s headquarters was covered with a screen onto which images of Texas were projected. Several other corporate oil building’s tops spewed fireworks, like crude gushing out of a wild well. Jarre’s show was witnessed by over a million people, listening over speakers and on the radio. Many watched from freeway overpasses, which were closed to traffic for the event.

For the CLUI event, no freeways were closed. Though the city’s downtown was also visible, it was distant, as the event took place on the other side of town, on the industrial end of the Bayou. The performance platform, created by the build/design team Simparch, was assembled over the weeks prior to the event. It was a fully self-contained eventspace, with a large screen for rear screen projection for an audience on shore. As the time for the performance approached, the platform was propelled up the Bayou by an outboard engine, and positioned in place, facing the audience that had amassed in Tony Marron Park. As darkness fell, the respectacle began.

Using a five-channel array of video projections, monitors, and loudspeakers, Jesse Stiles’ performance kaleidoscopically dissected, re-assembled, and spatialized grains of footage from the 1986 event, investigating the augmentation and removal of original time, and creating new patterns of movement and rhythm by re-arranging those moments across the multiple channels of the performance space.

It operated in a sense like a reactor, converting the ecstatic synthetic gloss of Jean Michel’s original show into a new, refined product of pure pixel notion and light. It distilled the essence of pure commemoration, fusing the layers of 1836, 1986, and 2009, in the plasma of spectacle. Historical carbon catalytically cracked into an event that apogeed with a burst of fireworks, then dissipated, wafting away like smoke, remaining only as memory.

291 The respectacle fused live fireworks, with those on the screen from the original Rendez-Vous Houston event. photo by Deborah Stratman.

292 Simparch worked day and night on the respectacle platform in the shed at CLUI Houston. It will be converted into the Tex Hex Water Unit, a self-contained living video barge.

293 The respectacle platform being prepared for the event at CLUI Houston's dock, and catching trash flowing down the bayou.

294 Jesse Stiles prepared the video and audio for the event, in his perch atop the shed at CLUI Houston.
295 The folding screen being attached to the platform.The Déjà Rendez-Vous event marked the end of the CLUI’s year of programming in Houston. The event was co-sponsored by the Mitchell Center for the Arts, and was held as part of the Systems and Sustainability symposium at the University of Houston. The other co-sponsor was the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which commissioned the performance platform for this and future public events along the Bayou, as the first in a series of art and events called Confluence: Points of View on Buffalo Bayou, a multi-year contemporary art project that will introduce innovative public art within the environs of Houston’s historic waterway.