Patrick Renner’s Funnel Tunnel which had been part of the Montrose landscape for over a year finally came down this past Sunday. I’m not quite sure why, but this piece and I had a connection even though I was never involved in the work’s inception and only heard about it on social media. Given that I like photographing interesting events and sights around the city, I decided to just show up one lazy August Saturday evening just to take a couple of snapshots. I’ve mostly thought of myself as being one who appreciates art from a far and not too closely.
This was a picture I took:
I remember thinking the star-bursts from the lens on the tail end of the piece (affectionately known as the scorpion tail) look pretty cool. I also had my ultra wide angle with me and just for fun, I used my flash to “light paint” it with 3 bursts of flash on the inside and outside and then combine the pictures and came up with this:
I posted the pictures I took on my flickr page (just click on the link) and didn’t really think about it more until I got an email from the Art League asking if they could post the pictures on their facebook and of course I agreed. That same night I got an email and friend request from my old friend Cecelia Johnson because she saw my photos on the Art League page. It’s no surprise that she saw it there because she was an artist herself and was well known and loved around Houston. Cecelia and I were old friends and had many adventures in 80’s music. She even got me to listen to Depeche Mode and I even went to my first Depeche Mode concert with her in San Antonio in 1998.
It was not unexpected for us to lose contact from time to time, but we’d always figure out a way to find each other and catch up. For instance, before the advent of social media in the early 2000’s, I saw her business card on the bulletin board wall of Cafe Artiste, a coffee shop on Mandell street that used to be popular in the 90’s. We hadn’t spoke since we finished college so I called her out of the blue and we spoke again. Sadly, I also found out that she had been diagnosed with MS. I won’t get into the horrors of this disease and how much she suffered from it in the following years in detail (If you know of her, I’m sure you have already read stories on her), but she always found a way to create her art and deal with it and perhaps due to my own selfish defense mechanisms of not wanting to accept reality, never actually realized how sick she was.
A month after our latest “catching up” through facebook, I found out that her condition had worsened, and she was diagnosed with yet another ailment (EDS) to the point where she could no longer walk or even use her hands to type and might not even live to make it past the week. It was heartbreaking news, but she would still manage to update us on facebook through voice dictation software.
Around this time, I got another email from the Art League asking me if they could print the photo I took so they could use it as a backdrop to the 2013 Contemporary Art Show which I was happy to oblige and as a thank you, I got tickets to the show. Here I was Mr. “appreciate art from a far” going to the fancy high dollar art show. I liked it so much that I went back on their last day and while I was taking some snap shots of things I found interesting there, all of a sudden I saw Cecelia with a walker taking pictures with her phone! I thought she would be in bed at home, but here she was frail but proud with a shiny walker.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the art show chit chatting and looking at art and I proudly showed her the picture I took. Cecelia herself was a photographer but had to stop due to her illness but like she always did, she found a workaround and instead of using her heavy DSLR, she would use her phone to take pictures. She also handed me her phone and I took some pictures of her and a few selfies (I probably ruined the selfies since I can’t pose. Cecelia was one of the first people that I showed my first DSLR to so I was proud that we had come full circle and she was complimenting me on my photography and would always cheer me on when I posted things.
Sadly, Cecelia passed away almost exactly a year later, but I couldn’t talk about the Funnel Tunnel without mentioning her. If I had not taken the picture of the Funnel Tunnel that night, it wouldn’t have been posted on facebook, she wouldn’t have seen it and contact me, and I wouldn’t have been invited to the art show and run into her and we wouldn’t have gotten to talk and spend more time together and for that I am grateful. It turns out that public art creates community and brings people together. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
After my triumphant public debut at the contemporary art show, I decided I wanted to be part of other Funnel Tunnel related events. Because of that, I went to the lighting ceremony and because of the popularity of the art piece, the city had given them an extra year to be on display! I didn’t have my “good” camera as it was being repaired but I still like the pictures. It was also during this event that I met Mr. Patrick Renner himself and to my surprise, he knew my name!
Finally, this past Sunday, the time had come for the Funnel Tunnel to hit the road and go to Louisiana. I was sad to see this beautiful and colorful piece of art come down in just a few hours with nothing but the skeleton left.
I don’t know what will replace the Funnel Tunnel, but I really hope that it will be something equally as great and encourage more public displays of art. Houston deserves it. So with that, farewell Funnel Tunnel and thank you Patrick Renner and the Art League of Houston for sharing it with us.