Arts / Galleries

Houston’s Ion Building Transformed by Local Artist’s Thought-Provoking Windows — Christopher Blay & Kill Joy Keep It Innovative

An Eye On Art

BY // 02.27.24

The beauty of complex art which challenges us is simple. It changes how we see and experience the world. Two Houston artists who embody this idea are Christopher Blay and Kill Joy. Their thought-provoking art installations, situated within window displays at Houston’s Ion Building, capture mythology and folklore respectively.

Both artists created elaborate installations as part of the Ion District’s “Eye On Art Program,” which originally launched in 2022. Public art consultant Piper Faust sees these two artists as important to the elevation of art in Houston.

“Christopher and Kill Joy’s installations are a reflection of the extraordinary creativity alive and well in Houston,” Faust says. “Innovation comes in many forms, and the Eye On Art program is a testament to artists, creatives and Houston residents being an integral part of Ion’s innovation community.”

Artists Christopher Blay and Kill Joy were selected to create window installations at the Ion Building, which were unveiled in Summer 2023 and will be exhibited through March 14 at the Ion Building. (Courtesy The Ion District)
Artists Christopher Blay and Kill Joy were selected to create window installations at the Ion Building, which were unveiled in Summer 2023 and will be exhibited through March 14 at the Ion Building. (Courtesy The Ion District)

The SpLaVCe Program

Artist Christopher Blay represents a rarity in Houston’s art scene — an erudite polymath who lets his work speak for itself. Since 2021, he has worked as chief curator at the Houston Museum of African American Culture. One curatorial highlight was the Ellsworth Ausby “Odyssey” solo exhibit at the museum in 2023. Last year, Blay also led an enlightening conversation about art and the African continent with internationally renowned artist William Kentridge at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

During his Fort Worth days, Blay developed a satirical alter ego as the absurdly comical but community-minded art auctioneer Frank Artsmarter.

Blay collaborated with the Ion Prototyping Lab to construct his The SpLaVCe Program (2023) installation at the Ion Building. Earlier iterations of the SpLaVCe ship have appeared in Marfa and at the Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas. Blay describes his Diaspronaut (an astronaut-like sculpture) as an “all encompassing presence that absorbs all the souls on the ship.”

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“I’ve built time machines, satellites, space habitat bubbles, and now I’m building these ships,” Blay tells PaperCity. “And it all comes from the same place: Imagining Black people in the future. It’s not escapism for me. It’s just sort of weaving our own stories and creating our own narratives.

“We can be part of a system that imagines what we want our futures to be. But we can’t escape our past or our history. It’s intertwined.”

Artist Christopher Blay stands next to his Diaspronaut figure inside his Ion Building installation, called "The SpLaVCe Program."
Artist Christopher Blay stands next to his Diaspronaut figure inside his Ion Building installation, called “The SpLaVCe Program.”

Interpreting Blay’s installation as a paean to afrofuturism is one possibility, but Blay nevertheless sees the artwork as mythological in nature. He also considered his own personal connection to Liberia while conceptually developing the project, as his father came from the Kru tribe and his mother from the Grebo tribe in Liberia.

“The ship combines narratives of mythology, such as the mythology of the Kru tribe,” Blay says. “These tribes were there long before Liberia was founded as a country. It has that kind of stain of colonialism.

“I try to weave that narrative of who could have been enslaved, who could have been part of that journey. The ship is timeless: present, past and future are all intertwined. Sometimes, I wonder if some of the passengers — souls on the ship — are the souls of people we read about in the news.”

Taking On Heavy Subject Matter

Creating artworks that reflect a socially-conscious approach and challenge the status quo is Filipino American artist Kill Joy’s raison d’être. Her work addresses heavy subject matter, including the detrimental impact of colonialism, environmental decline and working class struggles.

Artist Killjoy's Ion Building installation <em>Creation, Current, Solution,</em> 2023. The installation includes animatronic puppets made of painted cardboard. (Photo by Marc Furi Creative)
Artist Kill Joy’s Ion Building installation Creation, Current, Solution, 2023. The installation includes animatronic puppets made of painted cardboard. (Photo by Marc Furi Creative)

Kill Joy, known primarily as a muralist, was recently selected as a featured artist for Houston’s own Meow Wolf, the immersive art wonderland. She lives by the mantra: “My art practice comes from the school of life.” Yet, Kill Joy is also inspired by disparate sources.

While living in Mexico for five years, she developed an interest in graphic arts collective Taller de Gràfica Popular (TGP). Reading Arundhati Roy’s influential “The Pandemic is a Portal” essay encouraged Kill Joy to incorporate the concept of a portal into her work. Embracing the Philippines as a familial homeland is also a source of inspiration. Last year, she visited Buscalan, a mountain village situated within rice terraces of the Philippines.

“The kind of communities I worked with comprised of peasant farmers, fisher folk, people who have been displaced by the government,” Kill Joy says. “It’s always an issue of land.”

Constructing elaborate window displays by using moving animatronic puppets made of painted cardboard became a way for Kill Joy to honor Filipino folklore. The puppets become active between the hours of 5 pm and midnight. The building process was a collaborative community effort led by the artist.

Artist Killjoy's Ion Building installation <em>Creation, Current, Solution</em>, 2023. The installation includes animatronic puppets made of painted cardboard. (Photo by Marc Furi Creative)
Artist Kill Joy’s Ion Building installation Creation, Current, Solution, 2023. The installation includes animatronic puppets made of painted cardboard. (Photo by Marc Furi Creative)

“I called the piece Creation, Current, Solution (2023), and those words stand for what each window represents,” Kill Joy says. “The story is divided into three parts. Creation is a creation story. We are these mythical beings, and life could be so much more outside of the capitalist structure we’re imprisoned under.

“The Current piece stands for the current political situation that I’m addressing. The third window Solution is the solution I and communities I’ve discussed this piece with see as a way out of the current political situation.”

Artists Christopher Blay’s and Kill Joy’s “Eye On Art Program” window art installations will be exhibited through March 14 at the Ion Building. The building is located at 4201 Main Street. More infomation can be found here.

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