Ryan Perry, Kelly King, Ali Naghdali, Gabi Hulet, Fabian Vargan, Christopher Sperandio.

Houston Mobile Art Hits the Road

These days, being mobile is where it’s at. And “it” is art.

Two Houston-bred transit-based art projects are getting ready to roll. Cargo Space and The Trailer both depend on renovated, re-purposed vehicles to take their art to diverse yet specific places, aiming to balance spontaneity with predictability and harness the momentum that comes with hitting the ground running.

But just how does this kind of art get moving?

As 50% of the internationally-recognized collaborative art duo Kartoon Kings and 100% assistant professor of painting and drawing at Rice University, artist Chris Sperandio’s immeasurable creativity needed some breathing room. From that need, Cargo Space emerged – a Rice University transit bus turned arts-related land research vessel. The bus functions as a flexible tool for use; where it goes and what it does is entirely up to the people on board.

“There is so much distance between us and rest of the world. There simply aren’t enough artists visiting this part of the country,” says Sperandio, referencing Houston specifically.

A large portion of the project’s geographical and conceptual mission is to conquer that distance through travel and teamwork. Sitting at Houston’s Black Hole cafe, fueled by coffee with a side of bacon jam, Sperandio showed me the plans for Cargo Space – art and research collaborations in Houston, and across the U.S, citing inspirational points of reference such as Jacques Cousteau and Calypso, retiree RV owners, and alternative shelter. After a brief aside about our mutual fascination with houseboats, he posed the question: “What can other arts organizations do knowing that a bus full of artists and researchers are headed their way?”

In anticipation of the possibilities, Sperandio and a group of volunteers are busy transforming the Rice bus into the Cargo Space: gutting and outfitting the bus with room to sleep six, a top and rear deck, fresh water supply, silent generator, workspace, wi-fi, along with other basic necessities, the progress and customizations of which can be tracked on the project website.

Eventually, Sperandio wants to give Cargo Space a 21st century Knight Rider-style brain so that it can “talk” about its systems, adventures, and people on board through ID tagging, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

Though Cargo Space is funded in part by the Humanities Research Center, Rice Office of Parking and Transportation, and the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts, Sperandio is master of this domain. He explains that much of the inspiration for the project came from, “…not asking permission and not having to wait in line; the other people have to catch up. Cargo Space helps us do that.”

Not only will people have to catch up, but they will literally have to get on board. Houstonians have the chance to do just that, witnessing Cargo Space in all its mid-renovation gutted glory during the January open house-type event, Are we there yet? at Rice Gallery.

The Bridge Club Performance Art Collaborative, The Trailer: mobile performance project, interior view with taxidermy cat and exterior view at Sam Houston State Park.

Equally itinerant is The Bridge Club, a group of four women, living in four different places, working together for seven years, who have recently renovated one 10′ x 7′ 1969 trailer to resemble a Victorian domestic interior. With that many numbers, the odds for success must be in their favor. A sparkling crystal vintage chandelier can’t hurt either.

Annie Strader, Christine Owen, Emily Bivens, and Julie Wills each consider themselves object makers whose shared interests in activating objects, married with ideas of experimental performance, gave birth to The Trailer. The project has recently received an Idea Fund Award. They are currently steering the project toward audiences that don’t normally experience contemporary art, facilitating interactions with numerous people, places, and things, through one essential quality − mobility.

“We think it’s interesting that someone from a small town could encounter us at a state park or truck stop and track us on our website, while someone in a major city who might encounter us at a contemporary arts venue could do the same,” explains Strader, Assistant Professor of Art at Sam Houston State University.

At each site, people have the opportunity to provide responses to a series of intimate object-focused topics such as, “Tell us about something you inherited” or “Tell us about a trip you took and something you brought back home.” (I should mention that The Bridge Club performances do not typically involve dialogue, which makes these interactions all the more curious.) People can also respond and participate in other ways on the website, as well as keep track of The Trailer as it travels from place to place.

Audience responses contribute to how The Bridge Club collects objects for The Trailer installations and performance activities. Instead of reproducing someone’s memory, the result is an exquisite corps-style sequence of events wherein any alterations to the project are dependent on objects and information gathered previously.

“We want to highlight intersecting personal and cultural histories, as well as regional or local peculiarities and ideals,” she says.

The Bridge Club is planning a mini-tour for The Trailer, March 21-23, and is currently scouting art and non-art locations in Houston and beyond (they are also open to invitations). Over the next few months, The Trailer will be around town doing pop-up performances, so keep an eye on their website and Facebook page. They may even send you a postcard.

Nancy Zastudil is an itinerant curator who can’t seem to stay away from Houston.

Cargo Space unveiling
Sewall Hall/Rice Gallery
Thursday, January 31
8:00pm to 10:00pm