Open Channel Flow

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Client: Houston Public Works Department

Location: Houston, TX, United States

Completion date: 2009

Artwork budget: $150,000

Project Team

Artist

Matthew Geller

Industry Resource

Andrew Vrana

Metalab

Public Art Agent

Sara Kellner

Houston Arts Alliance

Overview

Straddling the Sabine Water Pump Station fence in Buffalo Bayou Park and adjacent to a public skateboard park, “Open Channel Flow” mimics in style and color much smaller structures that dot the Pump Station landscape. A stainless steel hand pump unleashes water from the showerhead 25 feet above. Simultaneously, amber and blue beacons on top of the 60-foot structure flash, signaling people as far away as downtown that another person has doused themselves with a refreshing, albeit very brief, shower.

Goals

The Sabine Water Pump Station (adjacent to Buffalo Bayou Park) is a highly unusual site for an artwork: it’s not a plaza, an entryway, or a public park. The Pump Station’s vital human necessity is generally taken for granted by the public, most of whom wouldn’t be able to identify it if asked. This all makes it particularly attractive to Matthew Geller as a site for his work, as he’s drawn to overlooked and under-appreciated environments.

The 60-foot tall structure of 12-, 8- and 4-inch steel pipes with amber and blue beacons on top stands inside the restricted grounds of the Sabine Water Pump Station. It is a much bigger, slightly more elaborate version of other pipe structures located on the Pump Station grounds. One pipe, like the branch of a large tree, leaves the Pump Station property, passes over the Pump Station fence and ends with a showerhead 25-feet overhead in Buffalo Bayou Park. All these elements combine to create a kind of urban earthwork that is playful, absurd and as entertaining as it is functional.

Process

The project was developed in collaboration with the Houston Public Works Department and the Houston Arts Alliance. Metalab provided design development and fabrication documentation services for the structure. As construction managers they coordinated with the fabricator, the site work contractors, and installation crew.

Additional Information

I use materials from the everyday outdoor environment—anything from benches, to swings, to canopies, to water—& bring them into the realm of art. I create a level of connection to the familiar while highlighting elements of awe & beguilement, often using existing artifacts from the site and retrofitting them to create a micro public square or landmark that encourages creative patterns of use. The artwork becomes part of the community's fabric & integral in shaping the way we live in public space. The idea is to surprise while fostering a sense of community around an unlikely object or site.