There is a strange phenomena in the art world, where in many instances, the created work begins to reflect current issues that may not have been part of the original aim of the project. I feel like this was the case with the Creek Monster Habitat (CMH) installation for this years Creek Show, where the intent to draw attention to ecological themes related to Waller Creek began to highlight deeper issues of homelessness and displacement in Austin. Especially the need for people to recognize the term “homelessness” as somewhat of a misnomer.
It really wasn’t until we got to our load in day on site that I realized the “habitat” we were highlighting is much more than a home for flora and fauna residing in and around the creek. As I watched people, who obviously lived along the creek, walk up from the wooded trails, past our installation, and out into the city beyond, The idea of habitat became much more far reaching. All of a sudden, the habitat we were calling attention to was also a home for human beings.
With this realization, it began to feel somewhat surreal to be setting up an art installation celebrating the development of a park that surely will have consequences on land values near its boundaries. Unfortunately, displacement is not restricted to homeless populations, blue collar workers, or even affluent tech entrepreneurs, and as Austin continues to attract more and more wealth, it will become progressively more difficult to find affordable housing. Maybe I am overthinking things, or looking too deep into the meaning of the CMH, but in reality, this is what art is all about. Finding personal meaning in the unexpected. In this case, being in such close proximity to the creation, setup, and execution of the Creek Show event provided me an unforeseen perspective on the idea of habitat extending to the growing homeless population in Austin.
I’d say it was the first night of the event, as I sat huddled near the warmth of the command station on site that I realized just how metaphorical the CMH had become. No longer was the habitat simply a final stop for the annual Creek Show. Instead, the installation represented a social commentary on the common idea of home, and place, as being something other than a habitat. But isn’t that was a home is? A habitat? And isn’t it true then that a person residing along Waller Creek, or even on the streets of Austin, should have their place of residence respected just as someone who might live in a brick and mortar?
These are very complex questions, and I can see how they could be easily misconstrued. I am not picking sides, nor am I trying to make any grand statements on the solution to homelessness in Austin. I am simply reflecting on my experience with the CMH, and the thoughts that arose as I took part in the course. If I had to make a suggestion though, it would be this. Maybe the term “homeless” or “homelessness” is too loaded a term. What if instead we found a way to describe those who don’t live in what is normally considered a home as still living in a habitat. I mean, we talk about habitat restoration all day long in Austin, and the Waterloo Greenway is in many ways an ecologically driven plan, but there is something amiss. Personally, there is still much reflection to be done on my experience with the CMH, but I have walked away with a new respect and appreciation for all life that call Waller Creek their home.