“This Thing Called Life” marks the first time the artists’ ongoing “Big Bambú” project has been reconceived for a museum’s interior

HOUSTON—May 23, 2018—In June, Mike and Doug Starn’s internationally acclaimed and ever-evolving Big Bambú project opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Engulfing two levels of the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe–designed galleries with a monumental wave of bamboo, This Thing Called Life is the fifth consecutive exhibition in the Museum’s summer series of immersive art installations.

With This Thing Called Life, the Starn brothers introduce important changes to their ongoing Big Bambú project, for the first time reconceiving the performative work as an indoor installation accessible to the public. A wave of bamboo—consisting of nearly 3,000 poles lashed together in a spontaneous matrix—will rise 30 feet from the main level of Cullinan Hall to the balcony of the Upper Brown Pavilion above, dramatically uniting the two levels of Mies van der Rohe’s landmark building. Visitors are invited to cross a bridge of bamboo that winds from the balcony into the wave’s curl, then onto a path deep within the roiling sea of Big Bambú. The path continues to flow down to the floor of Cullinan Hall, where visitors can wander through the bamboo eddies and currents at ground level. The sea has long been a part of the Starns’ lexicon, for them an emblem of great age, yet continually new and changing.

This Thing Called Life is an evolving project developing through May and early June before visitors’ eyes. On May 1, the artists’ studio team of professionally trained rock climbers began performing the site-specific structure, lashing the bamboo together in a process of philosophical engineering the Starns call “random interdependence.” The sculpture is built from within without scaffolding, as aloft climbers add poles to achieve the 30-foot-high wave. Visitors to the Museum and to the Museum’s website, here, can witness the daily evolution of the installation.

The Starns, who are widely recognized for their conceptual photographic work, have created three gigantic photographs that they will install on the walls of Cullinan Hall as the sculpture nears completion. Depicting previous incarnations of Big Bambú on an immersive scale, the gargantuan prints are sculptures in themselves, with a heavy physical presence. Folding and draping off the wall and ceiling, the prints are meant to look extemporaneously installed, implying the process is not yet complete, akin to Big Bambú and This Thing Called Life. On June 10, 2018, the exhibition will fully open to the public.

“I had the pleasure of collaborating with Mike and Doug Starn on their first public presentation of Big Bambú in 2010,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH. “Now, eight years later, I’m thrilled to work with them again as they transform the iconic interior of Mies van der Rohe’s Cullinan Hall into a fluid, pan-dimensional site, transforming our experience of entering a Museum.”   

As Mike and Doug Starn have said, “In the ocean, you’re surrounded by a medium so heavy and forceful, it can overpower and sink you—or all that power, the power that is old as forever, can pick you up and take you for a ride! Big Bambú is a demonstration of the invisible architecture that exists in the world. Every culture has been built with random interdependence. We maneuver through everyone else’s world, we gain footholds on circumstances out there, and we surf the invisible structure of life.” 

“An intensely joyous artwork, This Thing Called Life celebrates freedom and the essential spirit of cooperation,” added Alison de Lima Greene, the Isabel Brown Wilson Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at the MFAH. “While it will fill our galleries at an exhilarating scale, visitors will find that it is also an intimate work of art, one that on every level engages audiences of all ages.” 

The History of Big Bambú
Big Bambú originated in 2008 in the artists’ studio in Beacon, New York, where it remains an ever-evolving project. The first public manifestation of Big Bambú was commissioned in 2010 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for its rooftop garden. With more than 600,000 visitors, it was the ninth most-attended exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum’s history. Subsequent installations followed at the Venice Biennale (collateral exhibition, 2011); Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2012); Naoshima Museum, Japan (2013); Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2015); and Ordrupgaard Museum Sculpture Park, Copenhagen (2018). For each incarnation, the Starns adapted the work to the site, creating new narratives and reflecting local history. To date, Big Bambú installations have been experienced by more than two million visitors.

About the Artists
Mike and Doug Starn (American, born 1961) are brothers and collaborators who first received critical acclaim in the mid-1980s for their conceptual and physical approach to photography. Assaulting the conventions of the medium, they tore, torqued, and intentionally distressed photographs, integrating process and chaos, resolution and interdependence. In the years that followed, their practice became increasingly interdisciplinary, incorporating photography, video, painting, sculpture, furniture design, and architecture. Their first museum showing was at the 1987 Whitney Biennial, and they have since been featured in exhibitions worldwide. Additionally, the Starns have received many honors, including two National Endowment for the Arts grants, the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Fine Art Photography, and a NASA artists-in-residency. Among their most-recent commissions are a monumental glass-and-metal sculpture on the plaza of the Princeton University Art Museum (2016) and a 90-foot-long glass wall facade for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow (2017).
Website | www.dmstarn.com
Instagram | @dmstarn

Admission Information
Visitors need tickets to enter the exhibition when it opens on June 10. Daily admission prices are $18 for adults and $13 for seniors (65+), college students (with ID), youth (13–18), and military (with ID). The exhibition is free for children 12 and younger, and for MFAH members. Tickets also provide access to the Museum’s art collections.

Due to the nature of this exhibition, special guidelines—including height and age requirements—apply to experience it. Please visit www.mfah.org  for details before your visit.

About the MFAH
Established in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States, with an encyclopedic collection of more than 65,000 works dating from antiquity to the present. The main campus comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo and opened in 2000; the Caroline Wiess Law Building, originally designed by William Ward Watkin, with extensions by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed in 1958 and 1974; and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1986. Additional spaces include a repertory cinema, two libraries, public archives, and facilities for conservation and storage. Nearby, two house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi—present American and European decorative arts. The MFAH is also home to the Glassell School of Art and its acclaimed Core Residency Program and Junior and Studio Schools; and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art.
1001 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77005 | www.mfah.org | 713.639.7300

Organization and Funding
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Generous support for this exhibition is provided by:
Jereann and Holland Chaney
Minnette Robinson

Media Contact
Laine Lieberman, publicist
llieberman@mfah.org | 713.639.7516

General Media Inquiries

Miranda Proctor
mproctor@mfah.org 713.639.7554