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Simon Starling's Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA on View at the Bass Museum of Art
Simon Starling, Inverted Theme , USA (A House of a Song Bird), 2002 and Inverted Retrograde Theme , USA (House for a Song Bird), 2002, wood, tree branch, metal. Collection of Debra and Dennis Scholl, Miami Beach , FL.

MIAMI BEACH, FL. Conceptual artist Simon Starling (b. 1967 Epsom, England) explores the relationships between craft, material, technique, social history, association and memory. Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA (House for a Songbird) is comprised of two scale models of prefabricated single-family houses that are pinned to the ceiling by tree branches. They are each a one fifth-scale recreation of existing homes located outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. Built in the 1960s, these houses were part of a postwar philanthropic effort in developing countries, financed by the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation.

Overlapping traditions, geographies and historical narratives, Starling combines the modernist theories of architect Simon Schmiderer (born Saalfedlden [Salzburg Province, Austria], 1911); died Highland Beach, FL April 2001), and Austrian composer and theorist Arnold Schonberg (born Vienna, 1874; died Los Angeles, 1951) who, in both of their respective fields, created rigid systems based on modular logic which were intended to enhance creativity. The architect was influenced by the composer, and was known to incorporate his musical theories in his work.

Simon Schmiderer, a faithful modernist, was best known for his "serial" housing, his motto being "one house in one hour." He was the architect for the extensive residential building project in Puerto Rico during the 1960s, basing his designs on pre-formed, inexpensive, concrete modules with ample open windows, omitting glass to "integrate" the interior and exterior. The wire mesh around the houses represents the security measures the actual inhabitants of the project in Puerto Rico took to maintain their safety in the high-crime area, as the original architectural plan dismissed the inhabitants’ practical needs, and was comprised of all open spaces with no security. The sound of singing birds coming from inside the seemingly caged homes completes the startling visual metaphor.

The architect adapted the composer’s serialist techniques in his work, and Starling illustrates this idea into the installation by mirroring the structures. The title for the installation is derived from Schonberg’s compositional system which can be played as "original," "inverted," "retrograde" or "inverted retrograde." Aspects of inversion and translocation (characteristic for twelve-tone music) were added to offer a new perspective of the modernist idea. Starling takes Schoenberg’s ideas further by flipping the houses upside down and pinning them to the ceiling, each balanced by one thin mahogany branch.

By transforming objects and transferring them to different contexts and materials, Starling questions their original intent, bringing to light the complexities of realizing utopian aspirations in the modern world.

Simon Starling: Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA (House for a Songbird) is on view to the public in the Henri and Flore Lesieur Pavilion July 15 – September 13, 2009.

Bass Museum of Art | Simon Starling | Simon Schmiderer | New York | Miami | Puerto Rico | Rockefeller Foundation |

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