The 11 artists participating in this month’s CounterCurrent arts festival come from all over: Tunisia, Lebanon, Germany and beyond. But one entry in the five-day event, hosted by the UH Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, is homegrown—the husband-and-wife duo of Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen live right here in Houston, in Garden Oaks. Not only that, their house is the epicenter of their artistic endeavors.
The duo, known as Hillerbrand+Magsamen, have torn off parts of their own home, cut holes in its walls, even destroyed their sofas and other household belongings in service of their work, which explores themes of family, identity and stability.
Their only problem? If your home is your work, and vice versa, how do you show it to the public? “We struggled for a long time on how to bring [viewers] to our house. Then finally, one day—it was Mary’s idea—it hit us,” Hillerbrand notes. “Instead of trying to get them to come to our crazy house, let’s bring our crazy house to them.”
Their interactive Home Balance installation, on view as part of CounterCurrent, started with a trip to Academy, where they bought a trampoline. They then set it up in various rooms of their home and filmed themselves jumping on it with their daughter Maddie, 13, and son Emmett, 9, bumping against walls and ceilings and colliding into cabinets.
The next step? Obtaining a custom bounce house, which the duo decided to use as a canvas for screening the footage taken in their home. For the installation, gallery-goers can actually jump inside it as the images play across the walls.
“The first thing that we always think of is, ‘Don’t jump in the house, don’t jump on the bed. Don’t make a mess,’” says Hillerbrand, explaining that he and his wife use their work to challenge what’s considered acceptable. “Some people say, ‘Don’t make forts.’ You’re not supposed to jump. You’re supposed to be maintained.”
Beyond that, the installation is about the way families relate to each other, how things can get off-kilter and then right themselves. “How do we, as a family, balance ourselves? How do we, as a family, maintain some kind of connection? But also through that connection sometimes [life] becomes unstable,” Magsamen says. “How do we then get stability back? It’s about play, but it also has this other conversation about family dynamics and family struggles.”
Featuring visual art, dance and theater happenings at multiple venues, runs April 12 to 17 throughout Houston. Free, with a reservation.
7 to 10 p.m. April 12. MATCH-BOX 3, 3400 Main St.
7 to 9 p.m. April 14. MATCH-BOX 1, 3400 Main St.
8:30 to 10 p.m. April 15. The Houston Center for Photography.
Visit countercurrentfestival.org for information and a full schedule.