Take a walk on the bamboo

The Big Bambú installation by twin artists Doug and Mike Starn at the Art Garden is both inspiring and fun.

The Big Bambú installation by twin artists Doug and Mike Starn at the Art Garden is both inspiring and fun (photo credit: MIKE AND DOUG STARN)
The Big Bambú installation by twin artists Doug and Mike Starn at the Art Garden is both inspiring and fun
(photo credit: MIKE AND DOUG STARN)
There are artistic creations that move us, inspire us, thrill and even annoy us, but it is hard to imagine a work that conjures up such a sense of unadulterated fun as Big Bambú that recently opened for business at the Israel Museum’s Billy Rose Art Garden.
It is an impressive and manifold installation comprising 10,000 bamboo rods connected by pieces of colorful climber’s rope. As the structure comes into view your eyes widen and your heart rate quickens a mite. What you see is clearly not a conventional piece of construction or art and appears to have been thrown together without too much forethought.
Poles of all shapes and lengths tower up into the sky, crisscross and prod the surrounding air and, as you get closer, you begin to notice that it is not just a higgledypiggledy concocted mass but there is rhyme and reason to the affair. There are various walkways and steps that lead up and through the two helix towers, although one of the wings was temporarily closed to the public because, during the construction, a pigeon decided to set up home and even laid an egg there. The public will just have to wait a while until Pigeon Jr. hatches.
As frustrating as that might be, it’s nice to know that nature and kindness to our feathered friends take precedence over art and our own enjoyment.
The Israel Museum edition of the Big Bambú series goes by the name of 5,000 Arms to Hold You. It is the work of 52-yearold identical Jewish-American twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn and it is not the first time the siblings have let loose with a gargantuan bamboo venture. Thus far, the series has proven to be a hit with the public.
Big Bambú debuted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2010 and became the ninth most attended exhibition in the Museum’s history. The Starns were subsequently commissioned to create siteresponsive works in bamboo for the 2011 Venice Biennale, the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rome in 2013, and in the same year for the Naoshima Museum in Japan.
Each installation feeds off its environment, and 5,000 Arms to Hold You takes in the artistic energies and forms of a couple of permanent fixtures in the art garden. On one side, it snuggles up to Picasso’s Profile and, on the other side, the weird and wonderful Eos XK³ iron creation by Swiss-French artist Jean Tinguely can not only be accessed from the bamboo edifice, but the rubber bells can be rung by pulling on a rope connected to Big Bambú. That adds yet another pleasurable element to the experience.
The Starns were delighted to have the opportunity to assemble the Jerusalem edition of the series, particularly because of the vantage point of the site.
“This is an amazing spot,” says Mike as we take a breather at one of several cozy stops in the structure, most of which are furnished with cushioned bamboo benches and seats. “You see the whole of Jerusalem around you. This is probably the most amazing site we have ever built Big Bambú in.”
Bamboo is gorgeous material to work with. It is so attractive and tactile, and so delightfully inconsistent in shape and texture.
“Each piece of bamboo has its own character,” proffers Doug. “It was never about making a sculpture out of bamboo and creating an overscaled tiki hut or something.
This is very much a conceptual philosophical undertaking.”
The construction material is an important part of that and designed to impart a deep angle of life and society.
“We chose bamboo because we wanted to find a medium to actually make this philosophical architecture,” adds Mike.
“Bamboo just came to us as the right one, because each one is an individual so you think of the multiplicity rather than relating to them as just planks.”
“And also because the whole project is about life, and individual moments, the character of each pole comes forth; and because it is so overtly organic, all that explicitly resonates,” Doug adds.
Throughout my stroll through the installation with the brothers they constantly expressed thoughts in sequence, and often completed each other’s sentences. This is clearly a collaborative affair that feeds off telepathic shared synergy. Mind you, the Starns did not do all the work themselves.
They enlisted the help of 15 highly experienced rock climbers, around half of whom were local, and together they spent seven long weeks on the construction work.
“It actually went quite fast,” says Doug.
“Maybe Israeli rock climbers are more efficient than rock climbers from other places.”
The structure evolved organically. The Starns and the climbers added rod to rod without premeditated thought, and largely went with the flow.
“The project is based on our long-held philosophy that, as much as you’re making plans, we live our lives every day and we manage our lives, but it really all develops as a medium of random happenings,” says Mike. “That randomness becomes our architecture for life. We all exist in it and all move through it every day.”
Peering through the bamboo slats to the west, the tightly packed apartment buildings of Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Ramat Danya, Beit Hakerem and Nayot, I was struck by the contrast between the freeflowing unpretentious wavy undulating curves of the rods and the stock rectangular man-made residential structures in the background.
“It is not about the difference between natural and artificial shapes,” says Doug. “It is about the people, the individuals who live inside those buildings.”
More than anything the twins want us to get into their installation – literally – and get a personal handle on it.
“This doesn’t just have to be an artwork you look at on the wall,” Doug continues.
“This can be a structure that you actually participate in and go through it.”
“You could even live in it,” Mike interjects.
“It is a habitable structure.”
It is certainly an inviting structure, and you can take your time to enjoy it, and experience a sense of something like being a kid again, climbing into a tree house.
5,000 Arms to Hold You will be around until November and it will interact with several arts events at the Israel Museum over the course of the summer. From July 10, visitors can experience the work at night when it will be illuminated with lights in conjunction with Counterpoint, a multimedia event that will feature interactions between artists and visitors. And in August, the installation will comprise a good place from which to view the goings on in the annual Kite Festival.
Big Bambú Nights: Intimate musical events during the last two weeks in August.
See Museum website and Facebook pages for details.