Rice Gallery in Houston is a university art space dedicated to original, site-specific instillations. It is known for presenting large-scale environments that encourage direct interaction and exploration and promoting artists who use recycled and common materials. This January, the gallery has again pushed the limits of its space with an architectural marvel of an exhibition. Entitled Garden Object, the installation is by the husband and wife team of Roberto Feo and Rosario Hurtado, better known as El Ultimo Grito, which, roughly translated, means The Last Shout.
According to the duo, their work is “a return to a kind of primitivism.” They hearken back to a time before the introduction of the tools and machines that have dictated the path of modern architecture and design. Drawing upon their background in construction and craftsmanship, Hurtado and Feo use their hands to create art installations with readily available materials that are inexpensive and easy to manipulate. The formula has worked out well for them, and their pieces are now parts of the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This rugged, manually hued aesthetic is at the core of Hurtado and Feo’s artistic vision, an answer, they believe, to problem solving in the modern era. Instead of relying on the philosophy of a “finished object” and the look associated with such, the duo focuses on the imaginative yet functional aspects of construction, and its untidy odds and end. Although their completed pieces are professional enough in terms of fabrication, they still reveal uncertainty and intrigue. “We always try to reflect on what design is,” explained Feo. “For us, design is just the processes by which you materialize ideas. When you think about design in these terms, everything comes into design—philosophy, writing, everything—and the disciplines are just mediums within which you work. You no longer need to think about whether it’s art, design, a film or whatever.”
For the Rice Gallery instillation, the husband and wife team constructed a forest of pillars and benches that are framed with timber and wrapped with packing materials, such as peanuts and bubble wrap. Instead of a rigid structure planned to every cut and connection, Hurtado and Feo allowed the installation to come together in a somewhat haphazard fashion, resulting in a loose interpretation of the vertical and horizontal forms they originally envisioned. The result not only creates functional lounge seating, but also draws undulating lines across the room.
For inspiration, El Ultimo Grito looked to the soft edges and organic forms of traditional English gardens and the profane scenes and fantastical forms of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych, Garden of Earthly Delights. Hanging in the Museo del Prado in Madrid where Hurtado and Feo grew up, this painting left a vivid impression on the childhood memories of the duo. As with Bosch’s triptych, Garden Object is divided into the three sections, each expressed by a different color scheme made up of a final layer of plastic that coats the packing materials and custom stickers applied by Rice students. The first is pink and dark red with green feet, the second red and blue with yellow feet, the third blue and black with red feet. The sharply contrasting bright colors combined with the Dr. Seuss–like shapes invoke a surreal feeling, one made all the more palpable by video projections on oval screens at the tops of certain pillars that show slow motion images of hummingbirds in flight. Hurtado noted that this installation is not just a piece to look at, but a piece for people to use. The otherworldly forms provide more or less functional seating and tables, as though this is not just a garden in which to glory in the bizarre surrounds of nature, but one in which to indulge in a garden party with all of your friends. Visitors are also invited into a back room occupied by a fountain illuminated in an eerie blue light.
The greatest strength of Garden Object is the way it welcomes people to use it. The seating and tables, at once strange and inviting, ask for those who enter to stay awhile, stretch out upon their bulbous forms, and become a part of the garden.
El Ultimo Grito, Garden Object
6100 Main Street, Houston, Texas