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I Made This Cha Cha -
By Fernando Brave, Cite Magazine

 Dean Ruck and Dan Havel joined me one Saturday morning to discuss their latest project, Fifth Ward Jam, an effort sponsored by the Houston Arts Alliance and the Fifth Ward Redevelopment Corporation. HAA's Artist Neighborhood Project seeks to spur catalytic change involving public art of temporary nature. My interview with them is like thier work, textured, and filled of wormholes, twists and tunnels that open up sightlines into their creative process.


These artists see theirr projects as challenges, typically setting out on a quest without fully knowing where it will lead. By approaching projects this way Ruck says, they experience some discomfort, one that fades away with every stroke of work. But for this area of rich Blues and Jazz heritage, the idea of a communal stage set in at inception. Through sketches and models the outcome was visualized and later tested via photomontages in communion with diverse settings such as landscapes and urban settings.


For the implementation of the project, the duo utilized an abandoned house found over a mile away from where it now sits. Materials salvaged from dilapidated properties, voluntarily delivered by others or scavenged from heavy trash, were stockpiled on site. The building permit, a recurring component of their work, was intricate. In this case, a special permit was engineered by the City, one that listed the structure as a house to be relocated while simultaneously describing the object being delivered as a sculpture. "Somehow - the artists say - the house magically ceased to be to be a house during its journey."


Havel and Ruck are gleaners, "opportunists" says Ruck, adding that their work is a reaction to what is in front of them. Tying the project to the musical heritage of the Fifth Ward was crucial. The project, by all means a social experiment, is like music. Havel's discipline of early research and exploration combined with Ruck's intuitive approach directly connected to the creative process of assemblage worked like clockwork.


The combination of chutes, tunnels and sightlines results in a coherent organic form. The forces of movement seem to be tearing the object apart in many directions. Perhaps this stretching, twisting, and pulling of the materials that conform the piece relate to its musical origins. While observing the completed piece, the principle of multiplicity proposed by Deleuze in his theory of rhizome becomes morphologically exemplified. The transference that occurs between exterior and interior and the way materiality and de-materiality occurs delivers one rational organic whole.


 Local resident Sherman Miller approached the artists for work upon their arrival. Miller somewhat reluctantly accepted the hourly work without seeking to understand what he was embarking on. The spontaneous assistant did not buy into the concept until later in the process, says Ruck. In turn, Miller was "home base" for the artists; people know him, which gave their presence some desired legitimacy. The catalytic transformation sought by HAA's program is evident in the transformation it caused on Sherman Miller. Like a pilot fish, Miller has symbiotically become an integral part of the installation. Both coexist, exchanging signs of absolute interdependence with each other. Noticing this, I realize that the work has succeeded.




Artists turn bungalow into 'Fifth Ward Jam' installation

By Lisa Gray | Houston Chronicle, September 30, 2011

One night in December, house movers plopped the beat-up bungalow onto the empty double lot at 3705 Lyons.

They didn't appear to have done a good job. The little pink house sat both backward and crooked on the bedraggled lot. The front door only sorta-kinda faced the back fence.


But the neighbors didn't complain. The Fifth Ward is full of weird empty houses on weedy lots. Then, early this summer, a couple of white guys showed up. First they pried off the portico that once sheltered the house's front door. Then they started generally smashing the place up, gutting the interior walls that held it up and replacing them with a thicket of wooden supports nailed at bizarre angles. One day, Sherman Miller, who lives across the intersection, ambled over and asked the guys what they were doing. They said something about making the house into art. So he asked if they had any work for him. He thought they were crazy. But they paid in cash.


Inversion's cousin

Six years ago, the white guys - Dan Havel and Dean Ruck - smashed up a couple of other bungalows, and in the process, created Inversion, one of the most astounding of pieces of art that Houston had ever seen. A giant horizontal vortex, made from the bungalows' own wood siding, seemed to rip through the houses - a sight that literally stopped traffic on Montrose Boulevard.


It was public art that the public loved. People who never set foot in galleries asked their neighbors whether they'd seen it. Parents snapped photos of their kids crawling into the funnel's mouth; dog owners snapped photos of their mutts peeking out the little hole at its tail. Pranksters stuck Realtors' signs out front. Inversion appeared on Christmas cards, newspapers, magazines and the TV news. And naturally, it was a Web sensation. But it was easy, too, to read meaning into the spectacle. Montrose, like other neighborhoods, was gentrifying fast. Its bungalows and other old houses were disappearing; townhouses and highrises seemed to appear overnight, out of nowhere. The time-space continuum seemed in flux. The past was being sucked into the future. A vortex was ripping through.


You were free to decide whether that vortex was good or bad. Obviously, the Art League of Houston - which had commissioned Havel and Ruck - thought it was great: The Art League was about to replace its cramped pair of bungalows with a brand-new building, one with galleries designed to be galleries and classrooms designed to be classrooms. Inversion was intended as a way to send the old, not-quite-right houses off in style, a temporary way to connect to the public, an artful way to make way for the new art space.


It worked almost too well. After the better part of the year, when the Art League finally demolished the work that was always supposed to be temporary, some Houstonians were sad or angry; they'd wanted Inversion to last. The Art League responded by naming its new coffee shop Inversion. And now, embedded in the reflective window facing the parking lot, there's a big photographic image of Inversion The longer you look at it, the stranger it seems: a permanent picture of a temporary artwork; a shiny, glassed-in window celebrating a rough wooden hole; an unchanging snapshot of something all about change.


Wooden chaos

Fifth Ward Jam, as Havel and Ruck call the piece they recently finished, isn't at all a copy of Inversion. Jam is made from one bungalow instead of two, and it has multiple vortexes, not just one. In front of all the wooden chaos, there's an area that could serve as a stage. But anyone who remembers Inversion will immediately recognize Jam as its kin.

The main difference, really, is the site: The Fifth Ward is wildly different from arty, gentrifying Montrose. In the past decades, change has crept in, here and there - a new-ish apartment complex sits directly across Lyons Avenue from Jam - but the neighborhood remains much the same: mostly African American, mostly poor. Weedy lots and vacant houses are problems here; gentrification and whirlwind change are not. Ruck and Havel scrounged much of the stuff they nailed onto the house. They reused much of the house's own pink siding. Other inch-thick bits of flotsam and jetsam came from the city's ReUse Warehouse, which recycles building material that would otherwise end up in a landfill.


But the big stuff they needed to create Jam - the money, house and real estate - came from official sources: the Houston Arts Alliance and the Fifth Ward Redevelopment Corp. "Dean and I were asked to 'revitalize the neighborhood,'" Havel said, staggering back and rolling his eyes: That's a lot to ask from a piece of art.

But on that recent Monday evening, before Jam's official debut on Oct. 1, the artwork was at least enlivening that stretch of Lyons. Cars slowed down so drivers could get an eyeful; bicyclists stopped; drivers asked questions. Recently, Havel said, a Metro driver stopped his bus to take a photo.


But will people leave the street to come hang out there? Jam is supposed to last about two years before time and termites take their toll. In that time, will its newly, lightly landscaped lot function as a little park, as the Arts Alliance and CRC hope? Now that they've built it, will people come? Havel likes imagining Jam's stage taken over by politicians or preachers. He likes the idea of kids investigating Jam, trying to find out where its vortexes lead. And he likes the idea that people might hang out at the park's round white concrete picnic tables, the kind that grandmas have in their backyards.


But most of all, he likes the idea that Jam might be taken over by a new generation of Fifth Ward musicians: rappers or anyone else who could use a free stage. He loves the Fifth Ward's rich music history - loves knowing that Lyons Avenue, in the '40s and '50s, had a legendary music scene. Peacock Records recorded R&B and gospel greats there; among them, Lightnin' Hopkins, Texas Johnny Brown, Big Mama Thornton, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. The record company's sister club, The Bronze Peacock, hosted acts like T-Bone Walker and Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Havel is thrilled that the Jam's opening celebration included a scheduled performance by Texas Johnny Brown, once Peacock Records' house guitarist.


Inversion's vortex seemed to whip Montrose out of its past and into a future that was arriving all too fast. Jam's gentler vortices connect Fifth Ward's past to its present - and its future. "Do you still think we're crazy?" Ruck asked Miller. "No," Miller said. Then he paused a couple of seconds to think. "Well," he corrected himself, "maybe half crazy."

Havel Ruck Projects, Ripple, 2018, Cherryhurst House,

by Donna Tennant

Ripple, on view at Cherryhurst House through Jan. 1, 2019, is the latest and perhaps the most ambitious deconstruction/transition project by the Houston-based artist collective Havel Ruck Projects.   For more than 20 years, Dan Havel and his partner Dean Ruck have embraced structures which seem to be at the end of their life, breathing into them a new context and vision to create compelling “swan songs.” The temporal quality and public aspect of Havel Ruck’s work is the common element behind their collaborations. Though not preservationists, they value the craftsmanship revealed as the layers of history and time are peeled back.

The pair’s latest project began with an ordinary bungalow located in Houston’s Cherryhurst neighborhood, which they were to transform into a memorable immersive environment (the artists were selected for an artist’s residency at Cherryhurst House in the summer of 2017). Cherryhurst House, open by appointment and located in a private home in Houston, was inspired by founder Dallas McNamara’s desire to encourage the interactive artistic process and site-specific experiences. The artist-in-residency program began in 2012, and Havel Ruck Projects is the fifth to date.

Over the course of seven months, Havel Ruck used drill saws and other tools to carve out sections of the house’s sheet-rocked shiplap walls, hardwood floors, and ceilings. “Ripple” describes the swirling cut-outs, many of which resemble ripples in a body of water. Other shapes are incorporated as well, particularly variations on the oval, the spiral, and the arabesque. Some ripples begin on the ceiling, continue down the walls, and wind across the floors. The carving and cutting is extensive but avoids any loss to the structural integrity of the house. Large openings in the ceiling reveal the underside of the roof, while narrow cutouts in the floor allow glimpses of the substructure. The effect can be disorienting, especially in areas where Havel Ruck have sliced spiral shapes into the floor, pried up those sections, and supported them with wooden beams.

Ripple is essentially a three-dimensional sculpture executed with amazing attention to detail. The exuberant, asymmetrical forms create a sense of movement and instability. In daylight, the large wall cutouts allow light to flood the space and frame views of the exterior environment and outside activity. Walking through the house, one also glimpses the feet, head, or shoulders of visitors in adjoining rooms. The overall effect is both astounding and stunning.

Ripple is much more than creating negative space—it is also a major assemblage. In the bathroom, for example, the tub is a receptacle for scraps of wood arranged in a spiked pattern. This concept of additive areas began in the front room, when Havel and Ruck started kicking odds and ends into what was once the fireplace. They jammed open cabinet areas in the kitchen with pieces of mangled sheetrock and continued until, according to Havel, they “ran out of cubby space.” Various forms that have been cut from the house are attached to windows and glass doors in response to nearby negative areas.

Havel Ruck have been deconstructing buildings since O House in 1995, when they transformed a condemned structure into a walk-in camera obscura. Ripple is their twelfth project and perhaps the most complex due to the extended time frame available to them. This process contrasts with their last 2016 project, Sharp, which was planned and detailed well in advance. While working on Ripple, Havel and Ruck constantly reacted not only to the structure but to one another. They worked both in concert and separately as their work schedules did not precisely overlap. Consequently some ideas began as one artist’s singular inspiration. For example, Ruck created a spiraling sculptural form somewhat reminiscent of their 2014 Art League project, Inversion, and attached it to a glass-block wall in the kitchen. According to Havel, that addition inspired him to “up his game.” Hence, Ripple also refers to a working style in which each artist’s work informs the other, much like a large “exquisite corpse” drawing.

In addition to Ripple, the adjacent Cherryhurst House gallery space offers a rare opportunity to view individual works of art by the two artists. There are shaped and manipulated found-wood wall sculptures by Ruck and mixed-media paintings on paper and assemblages by Havel. The latter, like Ripple, references past lives from the detritus left behind, composed as they are of fragments of letters, vintage photographs, games, and mysterious found objects.

Tiny and Expansive: A Review Havel and Ruck’s “Open House” by David Miller - Art & Culture

“Open House” is modest, tiny even. This project is the latest house-transformation by the two artists, Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, known for similar collaborative works since 1995. The house was brought in to its Downtown location and set on a platform. Then the artists worked a series of dramatic changes to it. From a distance, it holds its original, easily-read character, “house.” It even has white-painted trim, as if to show domestic pride, like so many houses in the neighborhoods do.

“Open House” is near City Hall, and near the Downtown end of Buffalo Bayou Park, a busy place of outdoor recreation and play, of skateboarding and baby strollers. The “Open House” location is, by contrast, subdued. It is tucked in the Heritage Society’s section of Sam Houston Park. Here, a collection of dwellings from the city’s early life is gathered oddly on a sloping lawn. The houses are disconnected from both the park’s sounds of enjoyment and the enormous blue-green glass wall of skyscrapers across Bagby street. “Open House” stands out here, an odd bird at the hinge of different Houstons.

Havel and Ruck are masters of transforming the arbitrary and interchangeable nature of Houston into specific places. Their work always touches the past, especially its most intimate, neglected corners.

Their work has a temporal nature. The works have an end date. Few pieces of their most prominent works are preserved. The medium they choose, houses slated for demolition, guarantees this. They’ve commented that memory is the best way of recording the projects. Everyone will have a different impression of “Open House.” A great contrast comes when I step through the door of the house. The inside walls have been pasted with a skin of historic photos. They fan out in a brown and grey quilt. All of the twentieth century is represented. They are a wonder to behold. Faces, groups, and places look back at me.


Dislocated from name and identity, the photos resonate with pride and struggle. These are all the shapes of the consumer snapshot, with a few more formal shots. Dan Havel tells me of the process of accumulating the pictures, which were gotten through donations and the resale shop. Then came hours spent handling the photos, spreading them in arrays on the wall, and gluing them down. “I’m still discerning all their aspects,” he said. As soon as I stepped inside, the photos called out a deep sigh in me.

They are a great inventory of what we choose to keep. You’ll recognize some. Astronaut group shots, a young Sylvester Turner at TSU, and here’s a 6-year-old Dean Ruck sitting on Santa’s knee. So many more are anonymous subjects. Here are commemorations, awards ceremonies, the Texas City Disaster, a mom with her daughter, and a grandma, standing alone in her house dress, in the 1920s. Here’s the Ferris wheel, a baby, a summer camp scene, the youthful team. I experienced the longing for recognition in faces I know, and here, those I don’t.

The house walls have been cut with a Swiss cheese pattern of holes. The outdoors is everywhere visible from within. The random holes were lined with PVC construction pipe, which you’ll recognize from its turquoise color. Craft and care ensure that the unity of the building walls hold a clean silhouette. From inside, the blue cut-outs seem to be winking in the aged brown photo skin.

At night, 1,200 watts of lighting inside will shine through the cutouts, creating a bright lantern presence for those who pass. The project is part of Art Blocks, a public art initiative created and managed by the Houston Downtown Management District. “Open House” is ADA accessible, admission is free, and it can be visited from dawn to dusk for the next nine months.

The use of the photographs is a notable shift from the previous house-transformations by Havel and Ruck. Inversion, Give and Take, Fifth Ward Jam, and Sharp explode, implode, or puncture the domestic interior of the house to produce beautiful adventures in space. “Open House” is gentler with its small holes and photographs.

I’m most interested in the next phase of life for “Open House.” I’m very curious to see how, now open to the public, it is received and even adopted by Houstonians. It shows us ourselves in a small space given for reflection, right in the exposed place of public life. How will we take it up? What Instagram selfies will it be seen in? Will it become a pilgrimage place where people bring photos to leave behind?

We all seek belonging. We seek it as much now as when we lived among kin in the village. One of the paradoxes of urban life is that we look for belonging in the anonymous places of the city. Here is where “Open House” is exceptional. It shows us ourselves in a small place given for reflection, right in the exposed place of public life. With subtle skill and restraint, the artists honor our yearning. “Open House” is clean of ornament or a marketable facade, and won’t make for a graphic at the airport. No-one will feel excluded, I believe, from taking the few steps up and inside. The artists have practiced a gentle hospitality.

I tend to want a lot from public art. But so often, a sculpture in the park has spent too much energy announcing itself to accomplish much more. “Open House” uses the least means to accomplish a lot. It serves as a threshold between city life, lived in public, and the intimate and domestic faces that we show in a family snapshot. Go see “Open House.” Plan to see the nearby Cistern, as well, with its new art installation by Carlos Cruz-Diez. In “Open House,” you’ll find deep layers of mystery and meaning that touch on each of our experiences as we live together in the city.

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