Art

An Artistic Storm Fills a Formerly Abandoned Water Reservoir

Magdalena Fernández’s art installation is the first to fill the Buffalo Bayou Cistern, a formerly abandoned 1920s water reservoir in Houston, Texas.

Magdalena Fernández’s “Rain” at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

HOUSTON — The first art installation to take over a formerly abandoned 1920s water reservoir in Houston, Texas, is an immersive storm. Magdalena Fernández: Rain debuted December 10 with a video and sound work that simulates the sound of a deluge in the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern. Much as this urban space is a human-made cavern, so is the noise of the weather itself artificial, with Fernández sampling the Slovenian choir Perpetuum Jazzile’s finger snaps, leg slaps, and hand claps to generate the sonic tempest.

Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern itself only opened to the public this May, part of the redeveloped Buffalo Bayou Park on the edge of downtown that offers pedestrian-friendly walkways and greenspace around the previously inaccessible waterway. While the underground reservoir was decommissioned in 2007, and by 2010 being actively considered by the city for demolition, it was reimagined as a public resource within the park. Its new name references its resemblance to the ancient Roman cistern in Istanbul, although its 221 25-foot columns that form a matrix over 87,500 square feet are a more recent work of infrastructure.

Back in September, Hyperallergic reported on the first art to interact with the Cistern: Donald Lipski’s “Down Periscope.” It allowed visitors the park, and online viewers, to gaze into the reservoir. Lipski noted at the time, that in his initial visit to the space, it was necessary to enter “through a hatch, down a vertical ladder.” Now there is an accessible tunnel, with a perimeter walkway.


Visitors experience Magdalena Fernández’s “Rain” by moving along this perimeter, watching the roughly minute and 56-second loop of the animated abstractions as they illuminate the pillars. The event is a collaboration between the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which has the Venezuelan artist’s “2iPM009” video from her Mobile Paintings series in its permanent collection — that video provides the imagery for “Rain.”

In the museum it was installed against the walls of a gallery; here the exponential shapes, inspired by the black and white forms of Piet Mondrian’s 1917 “Composition in Line,” warp over the columns and are infinitely reflected in the shallow water that fills the bottom of the Cistern. As your eyes adjust, sharper details of looping digital animation appear, each time fading again into a deep darkness that reminds you of the subterranean nature of the once-forgotten industrial space.

Magdalena Fernández’s “Rain” at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern in Houston
Magdalena Fernández’s “Rain” at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
Magdalena Fernández’s “Rain” at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern
Magdalena Fernández’s “Rain” at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

Magdalena Fernández: Rain continues through June 4, 2017 at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern (105 Sabine Street, Houston, Texas). 

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