Sticks and Stones

Watch This Thing Called Life Come Together Live at the MFAH

A livestream shows professional rock climbers assembling what is sure to be the museum's blockbuster summer attraction.

By Morgan Kinney May 23, 2018

Here’s a story for the next time you hear a random Chad griping that museums are boring: Since May 1, trained rock climbers have been swinging around the lobby of the MFAH to install a 30-foot-tall, three-dimensional matrix lashed together from thousands of bamboo poles. And pretty soon, Houstonians will be able to climb around the two-story tangle from the inside out—all summer long.

You'll recall the MFAH devotes exhibition space to one “interactive” (read: Instagrammable) attraction each summer. Last year gave us Pipilotti Rist’s dual-installation of Pixel Forest (2016) and Worry Will Vanish (2014), where museumgoers waded through more than 3,000 pulsating LED neurons dangling from the ceiling. This year offers up a freewheeling bamboo jungle gym.

New York art brothers Mike and Doug Starn bring the work—titled This Thing Called Life—as the latest iteration in their Big Bambú art series started in 2008. While the exact execution has varied across the half-dozen sites it's visited, the project's organizing principle remains constant. 

Big Bambú is a demonstration of the invisible architecture that exists in the world,” the Starns said in a statement. “Every culture has been built with random interdependence. We maneuver through everyone else’s world, we gain footholds on circumstances out there, and we surf the invisible structure of life.” 


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That water metaphor is key to the artists, who describe their bamboo contraption as a wave. It rises into a curl, and the fluidity defies any rigid form or structure. By the June 10 opening date, This Thing Called Life will transform the museum's Cullinan Hall lobby into what Gary Tinterow, the museum's director, calls "a fluid, pan-dimensional site."

If Chad asks what that means, just tell him the experience is going to "totally rule."

Big Bambú: This Thing Called Life, on display from June 10–September 3. Tickets $18. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet St. 713-639-7300. More info and tickets at

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