Gaia’s MARSHLAND at Rice Gallery

Gaia, MARSHLAND, 2013 Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas Photo: Nash Baker ©

Gaia, MARSHLAND, 2013
Commission, Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, Texas
Photo: Nash Baker ©

Baltimore-based street artist Gaia‘s new installation at the Rice Gallery provides an engaging counterpoint to Gonzo 247 & the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau’s insipid mural billboard.

My favorite part is walking along the walls and looking at this outsider’s rendering of our fair city. The glass and steel which reflects back the brilliant skies of this ephemeral city as a fluid, distorted mirage, shifting and warbling and breathing as the viewer speeds by past glass monoliths on elevated freeways, ever dynamic, are captured in a rush of psychedelic skeletons against the back wall of the gallery (anchored with the brick-and-mortar Antioch Missionary Baptist Church — the oldest African American Baptist church in Houston — in the lower left corner). The right wall features images of birds, symbolizing immigrants and transplants, and text from distant places evokes those migratory birdsongs, while the wall on the left depicts the wood frame of a house under construction — another familiar symbol of this ever-shifting metropolis built upon ever-shifting marshland.

The center of the installation features arches to represent Rice University, and within the arches are the floating heads of various Rice University students, staff members, and faculty, which the artist has called “a chorus of voices.” This center column/floating head bit, however, is where the installation begins to fall apart, for this viewer. I don’t find it nearly as compelling as the three surrounding walls. It seems like a bit of an afterthought, or as another viewer put it, “Celebrating diversity without any critical edge is a form of complicity in bad power. Like Condoleeza Rice.” Immigrants and transplants (the people bringing “diversity”), in other words, can just as easily (more easily) plug in to and reinforce existing systems of oppression and disparities in power as they can overturn or dilute them. More “diversity” does not automatically mean more justice.

Given that caveat, and looking beyond the weird floating heads among the columns, I would so much rather see Gaia’s murals adorning a historical and well-traveled public space like Market Square than that thing Gonzo threw up.

Here are some more images from the installation. If you look around the floating heads, you can see more of the walls behind them that I found much more interesting.


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