Mike and Doug Starn have reconceived their ongoing Big Bambú project for Houston, filling the Museum’s austerely graceful Ludwig Mies van der Rohe–designed galleries with a monumental wave of bamboo. An installation of some 3,000 poles lashed together, This Thing Called Life rises 30 feet from the floor of Cullinan Hall, cresting onto the balcony of Upper Brown Pavilion. Visitors are invited to cross a bridge of bamboo that winds from the balcony into the wave’s curl, then deep into the Big Bambú sea. The path extends to the floor, where you can explore the bamboo eddies and currents at ground level.
The sea has long been a part of the Starns’ lexicon: an emblem of great age, yet continually new and changing. Taking inspiration from the architecture of nature, the Starn brothers began to use bamboo in their studio in 2008. Their first public installation—on the roof of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010—was experienced by more than 600,000 visitors, making it the ninth most-attended exhibition in that museum’s history. They have since created other iterations of Big Bambú around the world, but This Thing Called Life is the first public staging indoors, in active dialogue with an existing structure.
The artists have been widely recognized for more than three decades for their conceptual photographic work, and this installation features three gigantic photographs of previous Big Bambú incarnations. Folding and draping off the wall and ceiling, these huge prints attest to the ongoing nature of Big Bambú, a process that never comes to rest, akin to life itself.