In their installation for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, “Mike + Doug Starn: Big Bambú,” the Starn brothers use 3,000 bamboo poles tied together with rope to depict a dynamic sea, described by the MFAH as “an emblem of great age, continually new and changing.” The size and complexity of the piece is certainly astounding, as bamboo stalks rise in a wave 30 feet above Cullinan Hall, a large single-room gallery space at the center of the museum, and crash into the Upper Brown Pavillion. Huge photographs of the Starns’ previous works hang on the walls around the installation, adding to the sense of immensity.
The identical Starn twins got their start in the art scene with their conceptual photography, primarily focusing on capturing light. They first began working with bamboo in 2010, with a unique installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. That exhibit alone was visited by 600,000 people. Since then, they have continued making bamboo pieces around the world.
At Big Bambú, visitors are invited to weave between the bamboo stalks at ground level before heading up to the balcony. There, visitors can actually walk on the installation via a pathway, winding through sticks before reaching ground level once again. The bamboo shifts under the weight of visitors, adding to the dynamism of the piece. Simultaneously, visitors are reminded of the strength of nature as they stand on only bamboo and string. Used to tie the bamboo poles together, the lines of string hang down from the bamboo. Some visitors took it upon themselves to add their personal marks, tying the string ends into knots and introducing an additional interactive aspect to the exhibit.
While the artists intended for their installation to resemble a swelling sea, the stiffness of the bamboo leads it to more closely imitate a forest, especially when viewed at ground level. However, sea or not, the Starns’ creation succeeds in multiple aspects. Filling the entire space of Cullinan Hall is no easy feat, and Big Bambú not only fills but also interacts with the space in a unique way through its connections with the Upper Brown Pavilion Balcony. This unconventional use of MFAH space makes the installation a must-see for visitors seeking a refreshing take on the well-known building.
The exhibit is on view until Sept. 3, 2018 at the MFAH. Tickets are $13 with any student ID, and entry requires a waiver.