One Man’s Trash Becomes Another Pair’s Public Art
By Natalie de la Garza
Despite what it may look like, Dan Havel and Dean Ruck are not in the house-cutting business.
Yes, the longtime Houstonians, who together form artist collaborative Havel Ruck Projects, are known for taking abandoned homes and transforming them into an explosion of wood shards or installing a reflective coppery tunnel straight from one side to another. But the duo says their preferred medium is simply a product of their environment, specifically the teardown houses and turnover culture of the Bayou City.
“As artists that don’t have a lot of resources, we looked around and saw that these condemned houses could be a possibility not only for material but doing site-specific work,” says Havel.
The artists currently have two very different sculptural installations on view in the city of Houston, the holey “Open House” and the swirly “Ripple.”
Both Havel and Ruck admit to “kicking around” the idea of a perforated house in the past, but it wasn’t until a casual conversation over lunch with Weingarten Art Group Founder Lea Weingarten, who works with the Houston Downtown Management District’s Art Blocks initiative, that the idea found its home in Sam Houston Park.
Through Art Blocks, the Downtown District hopes to attract more people to downtown Houston and, in this case, draw more visitors to Sam Houston Park, home to The Heritage Society, which has moved ten historic dwellings, dating back to 1823, to the park.
Learning of the installation’s placement amongst The Heritage Society’s preservation homes changed the context of the duo’s original sculptural idea, with Havel saying they “wanted to inject that history into the concept, this idea of peeking through holes into the past, peeking through holes into the future or to the present.”
The perforation views of “Open House” offer the backdrop of history, courtesy of The Heritage Society, and foreground the newer, present-day cityscape while “freeze-framing” the historical past and people of Houston in the vintage photographs that paper the walls of the installation, says Ruck.
“Generally, the figures are anonymous. At the same time, they are kind of common to all of us. It feels like we all have those photos in our past, so there’s a real familiarity to that along with some specificity to the people, places and things about Houston,” says Ruck.
Though “Open House” will be open to the public from dawn to dusk until February 2019, Havel recommends also visiting after dark to experience the piece’s “dual life.”
“When the gates close at night and it gets dark, the house lights up like a lantern,” says Havel. “You can’t get into it, but it’s very visible and it really changes the piece.”
While “Open House” sits in the heart of Downtown, Montrose plays home to the duo’s installation “Ripple,” which is currently on view at the privately owned Cherryhurst House until January 2019.
“Ripple” was a private commission and a “quiet endeavor,” according to Havel. “Ripple has a very different feel to it because it was a long, drawn-out process where it was built upon itself.”
Ruck adds that “Ripple” was “more of a progressive piece, where ‘Open House’ we had the idea completed in our head from the start.”
That said, Havel does say that they had an overall concept of what they were going to do. “It was based on the idea of dropping a pebble into a pond and watching the ripple form around that impact.”
The next step was drawing their designs on the walls, floors and ceiling with blue painter’s tape. “The blue tape allowed us to try out ideas, look at them, edit them, and then once we decided that’s what we wanted to do, we’d follow the blue tape with our reciprocal saws,” says Havel.
The blue tape also made “Ripple” something of “a drawing exercise,” says Ruck. “Because we were working off of flat walls and using that blue tape as our mark-making, in that sense it was almost a traditional art piece.”
Still, given the scale and ambition of the quite non-traditional work they do, both men value their collaboration. “It’s good to have four hands, two brains, two trucks, all of that,” says Ruck. “I think if we were working separately we’d be trying to do the same kind of ambitious projects, but it would just be twice as hard.”
(Recycling and demolition)
Havel Ruck Projects
The Heritage Society