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Corcoran Gallery of Art presents Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro: Are we there yet?
Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, Washington, D.C, 2011. Photo: Tony Brown.

WASHINGTON, DC.- This winter, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design presents Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro: Are We There Yet? the first exhibition in the United States of the Australian artists Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro. Commissioned by and created especially for the Corcoran, the exhibition is the third in the NOW at the Corcoran series, a program dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging and mid-career artists. The exhibition’s highlight, a gallery-transforming installation on the Gallery’s second floor, draws from American history, literature, pop culture, current affairs, and the architecture of the Corcoran to explore the symbolism of space exploration and the paradoxes of food consumption.

Occupying two spaces at the Corcoran, Healy and Cordeiro’s project consists of a site-specific, gallery installation, Are We There Yet?, and a number of wall works constructed from Lego that continue the series Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Why (2010–11). Both portions of the exhibition refer directly to American history, literature, pop culture, and current affairs, exploring the symbolism of space exploration and the gulf between aspiration and reality. Their materials are the “readymades” found on our supermarket shelves and in toy stores, repurposed in the context of the museum. Are We There Yet? is a fanciful meditation on space travel, coming 50 years after the first human journey into outer space and the more recent shuttering of NASA’s space shuttle program.

“Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro’s projects are innovative and complex undertakings, and we are delighted to be presenting their work for the first time in the United States,” said Beatrice Gralton, Evelyn S. Nef associate curator of contemporary art, the exhibition’s organizer and curator. “This particular project explores the symbolism of space travel alongside the reality of consumerism. Healy and Cordeiro create art that examines the human experience, and it is layered with references to film, art history, literature, and pop culture. It’s been a privilege to learn about their working process and explore timely issues with them as they prepare this bold and thoughtful installation.”

The artists stated, “Much of our work explores the models in which we live. Just as when we go on a camping trip we must analyze what is considered essential to take with us, we must do so on an even more acute level when thinking about space exploration. This kind of thought must necessarily challenge our ideas of what is important for human happiness and survival and what is not.”

In the central installation, the gallery floor is covered with a reflective surface that references the final film sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The gallery evokes the bedroom of an astronaut as well as the solar system, as symbolized by hemispheres made of food supplies. The products comprising the installation, including cans of soft drink, boxes of cereal, and salty snacks, were selected on the basis of published sources of the most popular grocery items in America. Through this research, the artists quantified the amount of food necessary for an ‘everyman’ astronaut to undertake a 520-day journey to Mars and back: at 3,800 calories per day, a total of 1,976,000 calories. “Our work investigates the fundamentals of life,” said the artists, “And it just so happens that certain objects are used to symbolize particular concepts. Large quantities of products in this instance, in a Pop aesthetic, will visually convey what it takes to get to Mars.”

In addition to Are We There Yet? a number of new works from the series Where We’ve Been, Where We’re going, Why (2010–2011), are on view in the Corcoran Atrium. Constructed from Lego blocks, these large-scale wall works are based on photographs from the from the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The works from the series are pixelated, abstracted arrangements of lurid color and shiny surfaces. According to Gralton, this series is “a disquieting reminder of human loss in the pursuit of knowledge. Unsettling, humbling, ambitious, and spirited, these works illustrate the crux of Healy and Cordeiro’s practice.”

The artists state, “Many of our past works have been concerned with deconstruction: analyzing the matter of an object through the deconstitution of its original shape and subsequent reconstitution into a different form. We are interested in Lego because it is an analogue of the modern house brick. The Lego brick, unlike its architectural counterpart, has the element of changeability and movement integral within its design. Working with the temporal qualities of Lego, we are able to build the unbuilt.”

The nonperishable grocery items will take four weeks to assemble and install in the gallery space. At the close of the exhibition, the items will be distributed to local food banks and other organizations.

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