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Creating “Big Bambú”: An interview with rock climber Katherine Tong June 15, 2018

By Kerry Ingram
Tags: contemporary-art, mike-doug-starn-big-bambu, bigbambumfah, starn-brothers

FOR BLOG POST ONLY - Big Bambu, Katherine Tong

Katherine Tong, Houston-based rock climber (and MFAH member!), working on the installation Mike + Doug Starn: Big Bambú, on view this summer.

The installation in progress for Mike + Doug Starn: Big BambúPhotography © Mike and Doug Starn

Creating a one-of-a-kind structure using some 3,000 bamboo poles is a monumental undertaking. But the group that constructed our summer installation, Mike + Doug Starn: Big Bambú, was up to the task—with some help from a few Houston-area rock climbers.

In the past weeks, Museum visitors have likely seen Big Bambú  taking shape in the Law Building’s massive Cullinan Hall. Now that the exhibition is open, visitors can walk from the second floor through a pathway inside the sea of bamboo down to the ground level, which is also available for you to explore.

A group of New York–based installers, who have worked on other Big Bambú projects with the Starn brothers, teamed up with the Houston-based crew that includes four women from a local rock-climbing club. I chatted with one of the rock climbers, Katherine Tong, about creating a unique work of art in her hometown.

What has been the process for installing this work of art?
The Starn brothers provided us with a blueprint, a model, and an overall vision—with guidance throughout. But what’s really neat is that they gave us a lot of creative freedom, which was fun.  We worked with the artists’ installers, who are experienced with creating Big Bambú projects. They gave us their perspectives on how they’ve done this around the world. It may have looked like chaos while we were working on it, but the poles have deliberate thought and purpose to them. It really is carefully and meticulously crafted—with love!

Usually museum installations are created by staff from the preparations department, but Big Bambú is very different! Why do you think the project required the help of rock climbers?
To move around and create such a large bamboo structure, you have to be able to balance in strange positions. You need good communication with the people you’re working with, which is a big part of rock climbing.

What was your favorite part of the process?
I was so excited when the Starn brothers’ staff reached out to our rock-climbing club. I’ve been coming to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, since I was a kid. I used to visit pretty much every Thursday to bring my grandma, and I’m a member now, too! I’ve seen such cool installations in this space, like Kusama and Pipilotti Rist, and the chance to be a part of something here is very special. To me, the most fun thing in a museum is something that’s interactive—that’s why I loved Soto’s Houston Penetrable!

What do you think people feel when they experience Big Bambú?
I hope it’s a sense of peace and joy, and wonder and playfulness, as they get to join us and play in our playground!

“Mike + Doug Starn: Big Bambú” is on view in the Law Building through September 3! Read the visitor guidelines and get tickets.