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Art Criticism 

          I first saw Ripple on its opening night. Formally a residence in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, Ripple is a sculpture created on site by Dan Havel and Dean Ruck who carved designs into the six-room, mid-century bungalow over seven months. Ripple was commissioned after the decision to not renovate the bungalow was made. I sat in a patio chair in the backyard for a half hour watching people inside the piece interact with it, and others enter it through the open back door. Viewed from the outside, Ripple is a subtle change to the house it replaced. 

          Three misshapen circles cut into the side of the structure decoratively illumined the space over the French doors opening to a tiny terrace. As I circumvented the structure, I saw ear-shaped holes in the exterior walls, an arm of wood chips wrapped around one of its edges, and wavy cuts made through the wood siding. Looking through the glowing shapes, I saw people standing inside the structure talking in small groups, others crossing through it with an occasional shout. The viewers could be discussing paintings or moving through a funhouse. These curiosities were a mild distortion of the uniformed oddity that awaited me inside.

          Dan Havel and Dean Ruck have been collaborating as Havel-Ruck Projects since 1995. Most of their work to date has been done in Texas. A notable exception, Scatter Boats, from 2005, was erected at the Argentine Naval Academy in Buenos Aires. They work in large-scale reconstructions, often transforming properties set for demolition into works of art which sustain public viewings for a few weeks before they are destroyed. Ripple was a unique project for them. They were offered the chance to create a work that would be shown for at least a year.

          Havel told me that Ripple is the duo’s most intuitively constructed piece. They approached it partly as they approached their other collaborations; by walking through the structure, sharing their ideas of how to change it. Havel approaches the work as a draftsman. Ruck approaches the work as a contractor and prefers to talk out his ideas while Havel ‘translates’ them through drawings. 

          In the early stages of planning Ripple, Ruck told me, they used a cardboard mock-up of the house to visualize what they would do to it. In their advanced planning, they used blue painter’s tape to sketch out on the walls the shapes the cuts would make. Their design was made, reconsidered, then finalized using the tape. They worked in tandem during the months of execution.

          Ideas for the look came largely from the deluge drawings of Leonard da Vinci. Believed to have been made in France during the last decade of his life, the eleven deluge drawings are a study of the destructive power of wind and water. Their influence is evident in Ripple. What is strange is how the work was realized from their inspiration: the tempestuous power of a deluge is demonstrated as a constructive force. In Ripple, the deluge is a transformative power that reimagines the space instead of devastating it. 

          The process in developing Ripple was to make cuts through the bungalow’s walls, mainly with reciprocating saws. The cuts ribbon through the space creating a sheetrock and wood tiger stripe theme, unifying the interior by its marks of alteration. The lines, however, are uniformly dissimilar; they have different shapes and scalar qualities, and do not double. The lines turn and seem to push outward from the center of the space, suggestive of a centrifugal force stopped in time. The effect made me think of the ‘motionless veerition’ found at the end of Aimé Césaire’s poem, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. The neologism, ‘veerition,’ coined by the poet from the Latin root verri ‘to sweep, scrape, scan,’ or vertere; ‘to turn,’ which in the poem describes the passing of night to morning; a turning, or sweeping change, seen without movement. 

          Gnarly curiosities are tucked in spots all over the inside of the structure. There are oblong circles, lazy ‘X’s’ snaking across the edges of the meeting of walls, windows with spiraling wooden nests encircling them. Oval sections rising from the floor like warped formula one race tracks, sections of the house suspended from the ceiling, stubby gashes, crescents, butterfly shapes exposing brick and overhead crossbeams, sections of doors and partitions missing. The corners of connection between rooms are hallowed out and lined up, more or less, with holes cut into the structure of enjoining rooms, giving a distorted view of several rooms at once, or allowing a porthole-style view of any one of them, by changing your gaze.

          From the ceiling to the floor, lines snake over the walls, turn over hardwood floors, some spiraling, some enclosed, others thick, curved; many of them terminating in labial points. The cuts are playful; widening in uncertain directions, closing in sharp points like the corners of a mouth. Being inside the space is like seeing the effects of a tempest of creativity. Saws instead of water and wind; but the view is clear inside Ripple. 

          This clarity gives way to an enigma: the transformation of the house into a sculpture left its functionality intact. Ripple is far more comfortable than a squatter’s building. The water and electricity work. The space could be lived in during warm months with only the odd imposition made upon privacy. Havel-Ruck’s simulation of deluge transposes the value of tempestuous water, wherein the destruction is suspended and reversed: it is celebratory of water’s life-sustaining qualities. All of this change creates a semblance of purity between the intended and unintended view of the house. The space is now Ripple, it is no longer a home, but that it was a home is apparent. 

          Walking through the sculpture an afternoon a few days after the opening, I became acquainted with the building process of the house as well as the creation of Ripple. Lumber, glue, nails, brick, mortar, sheetrock, insulation, rig lighting, even dirt underneath the structure, are visible. The dominant features of the piece are the white and brown twin tone lines revealed from the cutting. Their harmonious, playful feel serves as a solution to the enigma. The site’s transformation from undeveloped property, to house, to sculpture, is an example of human manipulation of an environment for the sake of making that environment pleasurable to humans. 

          The idea for Ripple as Havel described it to me, is that of the movement catalyzed when a pebble is dropped in a pond. The action ripples outward. An image of the effect of the dropped pebble is movement in the paradoxical state of motionlessness; a sudden change creating a direction, without movement, like the ‘motionless veerition’ in Césaire’s poem. From inside the sculpture, one gets a sense of the fluid, ever turning, motionless movement. The viewer gives the work its purpose. To be inside Ripple is to witness its harmony.


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