'Inbound: Houston' to Alter City Billboards

Images of Urban Landscape to Replace Ads on 13 Billboards

Drivers on Houston's freeways are used to seeing billboards promoting fashion, fast food, beverages and other items. Starting Oct. 26, they will have a new view of the urban landscape that lies beyond the ads, courtesy of the University of Houston's Mitchell Center for the Arts.

UH Mitchell Center visiting artist Karyn Olivier is replacing 13 billboard ads across Houston with life-sized photographic representations of what drivers would see if the advertising did not exist: sky, buildings, homes, trees and other elements of the environment.

Olivier's major public art project, "Inbound: Houston," will reveal this new view of the city

Oct. 26 through Nov. 22. Houstonians can celebrate the launch of this exciting project at a free kickoff party on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. at DiverseWorks (1117 East Freeway). The event will feature an artist talk with Olivier and billboard viewings, as well as live music and details of a special geo-caching scavenger hunt.

Presented by the Mitchell Center in collaboration with the Moores School of Music, DiverseWorks and CBS Outdoor, "Inbound: Houston" will be located along Houston's major freeways including six points along U.S. Highway 59 (Southwest Freeway), one location along Interstate 10 at Wood St. (in between Interstate 45 and U.S.59), three points along North Beltway 8 and two locations along Loop 610 North near Main Street.

"We are thrilled to present this wholly original event in Houston," said Karen Farber, director of the Mitchell Center. "Karyn Olivier will bring a totally new experience to our daily trips on Houston's freeways. What is invisible will become visible, and vice versa."

According to Olivier, the project's goal is to confront drivers with an "unsettling and uncanny" experience in which the replacement images suggest a different reality. Photos of the behind-the-billboard landscapes will vary. They will be taken at different times of the day and during different weather and lighting conditions.

"I want to see how each change affects the way people understand the pictures when the landscape is no longer the same as it is in the image," Olivier said.

"Inbound: Houston" is inspired by works such as Rene Margitte's painting within a painting "The Human Condition" (1933) and Felix Gonzalez-Torres' 1990 billboard piece detailing an empty bed (symbolic of the artist's partner's AIDS-related death). Olivier said it also uses concepts from literature, such as Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" and Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities." Both novels address false appearances and fabricated existence.

"Inbound: Houston" spurred the Mitchell Center to commission a musical score from UH Moores School composers Paul Wadle and Joel Love. A concert on November 16 at 7:30 p.m. by AURA, the Moores School of Music's Contemporary Ensemble, will include the premiere performance of Wadle and Love's compositions, featuring videos and photos of Olivier's billboards. The concert will be made available as a Podcast on www.kuhf.org that can be listened to while driving past the "Inbound: Houston" billboards.

During her residency, Olivier will also work with UH students in the Mitchell Center Mentorships course to produce collaborative projects in the community.

For more details on "Inbound: Houston" or to track its progress, visit Olivier's blog at karynolivier.blogspot.com, or visit the Mitchell Center online at www.mitchellcenterforarts.org.