Participatory art installation provides opportunity for reflection

By Genevieve Razim and Torie Ludwin

For the season of Lent, Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston, Texas, mounted a participatory art installation with permission from artist Candy Chang titled “Before I Die …”

While grieving a loved one, Chang bought an abandoned house in New Orleans in 2011. She covered the sides with ply-board, painted them with chalkboard paint and then stenciled row after row of the following prompt:

“Before I die I want to… __________________.”

She set out baskets of colored chalk and walked away. Soon the boards filled with hundreds, and then thousands of responses scrawled in chalk: Before I die I want to… see my daughter graduate, abandon all insecurities, get my wife back, eat all the candy and sushi in the world, be a YouTube sensation, straddle the International Date Line, tell my mother I love her, be completely myself.

Since then, 1,000-plus Before I Die walls have been created in more than 35 languages and more than 70 countries, including Kazakhstan, Iraq, Haiti, China, Ukraine, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Argentina and South Africa.

At Christ Church Cathedral, chalkboard panels were installed outside the church’s gates along Texas Avenue, one of downtown Houston’s major thoroughfares, accompanied by buckets of chalk.

Parishioners and passersby were invited to reflect on their mortality and then respond by adding their hopes and aspirations to the wall. While the panels filled quickly, rain washed away messages and left room for people to write anew.

The participatory artwork provided an opportunity for Lenten self-reflection and created a way to connect with downtown neighbors and residents.   n


The Rev. Genevieve Razim is canon for welcome and evangelism and Torie Ludwin is minister for communication at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston. A version of this article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of The Bulletin of Christ Church Cathedral.