Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art is on view at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
from September 18-December 31, 2011. This exhibition features thirteen artists and collaboratives who merge performative strategies and architectural subject matter to explore the active, unfixed nature of our built environment and the psychology of space.
The group featured in Temporary Structures approaches architecture in the broadest possible terms of shelter, defined spaces, and cultural symbolism, in addition to its specific histories. Video, sculpture, installation, and performance will converge to address the architectural "body" and "stage" by featured artists Vito Acconci, Ant Farm, Mary Ellen Carroll, Kate Gilmore, Liz Glynn, Gordon Matta-Clark, Mary Mattingly, Sarah Oppenheimer, robbinschilds, Alex Schweder La, Ward Shelley/Douglas Paulson, Mika Tajima, and Erwin Wurm. In December deCordova was awarded a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for Temporary Structures-an exciting vote of confidence for the direction of the institution and curatorial vision.
We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.-Winston Churchill
Over the past 50 years, architecture's agency in society has emerged as a growing concern for contemporary artists. Be it the white-cube space of the gallery, the historic walls of a specific site, or the loaded evocations of Modernism embedded in glass and concrete surfaces, artists and theorists agree that there is no such thing as a neutral environment-every space speaks.
Dina Deitsch, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art says, "DeCordova is located in one of the most architecturally rich areas in the northeast. We are just around the corner from Walter Gropius's 1938 home, a key example of Modernism in the United States, and Walden Pond, site of Thoreau's now legendary cabin-two structures of radical change that make clear the social power of architecture. In planning this exhibition, it was important that the Museum's own distinctive spaces became an active participant with the works."
In the aftermath of recent man-made and natural disasters, from 9/11 to Katrina to recent events in Haiti and Japan, we have held collective witness to the unreliability of architecture to protect and shelter. Buildings are viewed as active agents within our social lives, informing and performing human behavior, changing states, and telling histories. The artists in this exhibition infuse performative strategies-all of which are time-based and thus, temporal (or temporary)-to destabilize the notion of fixed architectural space. This follows an understanding of performance in which the ability to perform gender or identity is a social construction that can be destabilized and is not, as assumed, a stable entity. By applying such notions of mutability and destabilization to our built environment, the featured artists in this exhibition present a collective notion of the changing, almost living, nature of architecture.
Featured projects include Vito Acconci's Instant House, 1980, one of the artist's first participatory sculptures. Instant House marks Acconci's interest in making social and political work; when "at rest" the panels appear as four American flags splayed on the floor of the gallery, and when the swing is activated by the weight of a body, the walls rise up into Soviet flags, shifting the national and cultural identity of the participant and the structure.
Berlin-based artist Alex Schweder La presents a new work, Roomograph, an inflatable room-scaled installation that "photographs" itself and those who occupy it. "In this way," explains the artist, "the architecture itself acts as ephemeral performance documentation that allows occupants to visualize their performance in the space. Then, as the work changes, their image and the architecture's image fragment, disperse, and mix together with a loss of visual distinction."
Gordon Matta-Clark's film Clockshower, 1973, will be on view with his more iconic films Splitting, 1974, and Bingo/Ninths, 1974, and represents one of Matta-Clark's most daring performances: the artist climbed to the top of the Clock Tower Building in New York and washed, shaved, and brushed his teeth on the face of the clock.
New York-based artist Sarah Oppenheimer has created a new work specifically for deCordova's unique architecture-a building that is designed to face outwards into the Park with numerous windows and cut-aways between the indoors and outdoors. In D-010200, 2011 Oppenheimer cuts and then twists a section of the Linde Gallery wall, allowing otherwise impossible views from the stairwell and glass curtain wall into the gallery.
For Temporary Structures, artistic collaborators Ward Shelley and Douglas Paulson will be performing a high stakes building game that will result in a complex sculptural installation, Grow or Die. Starting days before the opening of the exhibition, Shelley and Paulson will be building a continuous elevated catwalk that begins in the lobby, travels up the Grand Staircase and ends near the 4th floor café. Like the childhood game of trying to make it across the living room without touching the floor, their performative installation has a clear objective and set rules. The objective is based on the idea that life forms must grow in order to survive, and because the built environment has become our natural environment/habitat, we too must grow, or die.
Temporary Structures will be accompanied by a full-color catalogue, featuring guest essayists Neil Leach, architectural historian and theorist and Professor of Architecture at the University of Southern California, and Giuliana Bruno, Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. The exhibition is organized by Dina Deitsch, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art.