On Tuesday, February 26, beginning at 7 a.m., The Art Guys walked the 29.6 miles of Little York Road, the longest street in Houston. Otis Ike, director of the upcoming film “Architecture in Crisis,” was hired to drive the support vehicle and brought along his cameras.
For the record, I was hired by The Art Guys to pick them up at their respective homes, drop them off at Little York Road and Mesa Drive, and pick them up at Jasmine Creek Lane and West Little York upon completion of their performance. I would also like to state that back in January, Jack Massing picked me up at my house and took me to his secret fishing hole in Galveston Bay and we did not catch any fish. I will not let this affect my interpretation of what I witnessed on Tuesday, February 26.
On the night of the 25th I was incredibly anxious that I would oversleep, leave the guys hanging, just another let-down in what has been a period of hard times for the duo. After a restless night, I managed to get out of the house at 5:30 and load the guys up by 6.
I knew Jack was a marathon runner but I did not know Mike that well, just that he was in recovery from cancer. Jack mentioned how in years past, a TV news crew would have been there, and a writer from one of Houston‘s daily papers.
When we got to Mesa Drive at 7 a.m., there was an unknown well-wisher in a Jeep and their friend Everett Taasevigen, who was there to take a few ceremonial Art-Guys-start-their-walk photos. Jack was spry, dressed business casual; in contrast with Mike, who looked like a bank manager whose car had broken down.
There was a real sense that none of us knew what was about to transpire; just that it had to be done. After a little pause, The Art Guys assembled and launched down the shoulder of Little York. I did not have much of a game plan. I got in my van and headed down Little York too, passing The Art Guys and looking for a spot to pull off the road and grab a few shots of them.
As I photographed, the reality of this walk began to set in: These two men were going to be together on this road for the next 30 miles, no family, groupies, no curators . . . just a raw, unfriendly path, a pile of recent frustrations, the fact that this was going to be physically brutal and uncertainty on how the day would play out. Yet you could sense as they passed that this walk was exactly what these men needed.
The introductory leg of the road took them through a cultural mix of working class neighborhoods. I met people in the gas station parking lots where I stopped to record, and would have to explain that these two white guys in suits were The Art Guys and they were walking all of Little York Road from east to west, and I was making a movie about it.
Having to explain the project in its most basic form allowed me, early on, to see Little York Road as an intricate social passage in which The Art Guys and myself were temporary and secondary to the basic necessities of the road’s users.
Yet there was something spectacular that started to emerge as I would set up across the street or watch them pass an overpass of one of the city’s vital freeways. The Art Guys had become a moving target for me to frame the city and comment on the way that we manipulate, pave and program the earth in the name of selling shit to people in cars.
About five miles into the walk, I started to see The Art Guys as action figures: dodging cars, in constant motion, adapting to Little York and learning to coexist with its unpredictable ways. What started as project #2 of 12 projects by The Art Guys to celebrate 30 years of collaboration became two rather unique guys traversing the landscape of monolithic capitalism.
The first half of the expedition led them through corridors of strip malls; that gave way to vast sections of low income housing, which led to what could be categorized as a rural African American neighborhood between T C Jester Boulevard and Hollister Road.
They moved like two hit men on a mission, with Mike leading here and there as Jack would occasionally fall behind to photograph, gather random artifacts, tweet and answer his phone. Their performance was merging into the gravel shoulders, drainage ditches, parking lots, swaths of grass and the rare patch of sidewalk. These two guys had freed themselves of the expectations of the art world and were walking this road because that is what they said they were going to do.
The buildout of Little York changed immensely after it crossed highway 290. A brief industrial warehouse section led to an amalgamation of fenced suburban housing tracts, broken up by gas stations and multicultural strip malls with little or no program for pedestrians. Every few miles, The Art Guys would grab a Gatorade or Power Bar from my van and return to walk. I continued setting my video camera up from across the the street, shooting out the window and occasionally joining them to record hand held and grab a still. At a gas station more than 20 miles in, a jolly Sikh man joined them for a photo and for the first time I could sense the physical discomfort of the walk setting in.
It was clear they had to keep moving through this banal landscape or begin to face inevitable full-body soreness. As we moved through the final miles of the performance, The Art Guys had clearly become the catalyst for me to document a singular landscape representative of Houston’s pump-and-dump intimacy with the built environment.
They had transformed themselves into two figures crossing an incredible and banal axis. North Fry Road marked about eight and a half hours on the march. In this time two cars had stopped to cheer them on and a lady and her son joined them for a brief hug. By now their friend Everett was back for the money shot.
They were entering a predominantly upper middle class subdivision that contrasted with their starting point visually and culturally, and provided them a winding sidewalk where they did not appear too out of place.
In some way, The Art Guys were home; they were on the verge of completing a visually epic, moving engagement with their city, free of cheering crowd and art celebrity. It was an utterly pure action. In the final few hundred yards, they passed a line of cars picking up children from elementary school. A barricade and giant American flag marked their conquest. It was an epic ballet performed by two men with thirty years of interactions in the most public of forums and as Mike explained it, “we said we were going to walk the longest road and we do what we say we are going to do.” And they did.
Otis Ike has a Masters degree in sustainable design from the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.