Rachel Rossin’s 'Haha Real' in the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern

Transforming the Cistern

John Hill
6. February 2024
Rachel Rossin’s Haha Real in the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern (Photo: Zainob+Mathew Create)

The Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, a former underground reservoir that long delivered drinking water to residents of Houston, Texas, opened to the public in May 2016 as a public space and venue for art installations, following a transformation by Page and SWA Group. The cavernous space featuring more than 200 slender, 25-foot (7.6m) tall concrete columns with belled capitals is impressive in and of itself, but it's also a stupendous venue for art installations, which have been a popular draw since Rain, the inaugural installation by multimedia artist Magdalena Fernandez. The current installation, on display from February 2 to November 10, 2024, is Haha Real by artist Rachel Rossin, with an immersive soundscape by Houston musician Frewuhn. Below is a visual tour through Haha Real, featuring captions that give some additional background on the artwork and its venue.

Visitors to the Cistern's large rectangular space — approximately 1-½ football fields in size — traverse it via a perimeter walkway. For Haha Real, the visit takes 20 minutes and involves stopping at periodic “stations” where images appear on LED hologram screens. (Photo: Zainob+Mathew Create)
The high-fidelity score by Frewuhn takes advantage of the Cistern's 17-second reverberation and is combined with other sound elements, including Rossin's own childhood voice, which the tech-savvy artist created using AI techniques. (Photo: Zainob+Mathew Create)
The inspiration for Haha Real was The Velveteen Rabbit, the classic children's book written by Margery Williams in 1922 — four years before the reservoir in Houston was built — that finds the titular character, a stuffed animal, being made real through the love of a child. (Photo: Zainob+Mathew Create)
“The highly desirable state of realness is also a cycle of constant change and occasional heartbreak,” in Rossin's words, “from awareness to disillusionment and back again, with an overarching goal of remaining present.” (Photo: Zainob+Mathew Create)
Rossin's source of inspiration gives the installation an emotional core, so Haha Real is more than just the implementation of AI, virtual reality, LED lights, and other technologies. (Photo: Zainob+Mathew Create)
Other human elements include Rossin's hand-drawn animations, which she mixed via AI to further confuse the difference between reality and simulation in the installation. (Photo: Zainob+Mathew Create)

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