Gregory Williams selects a portfolio of artworks that examine the porous boundaries between interior spaces and the world beyond.
Staff -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
The history of film is rife with scenes of rooms that morph to mirror the stress, psychological or otherwise, experienced by their inhabitants. From The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to The Matrix, the tilt of walls and the height of ceilings have been manipulated to imply a shift in consciousness, often to the detriment of the characters' sense of well-being. When the buildings they occupy begin to lose solidity, we can be sure that trouble is brewing or a narrative transformation is imminent.
Artists have similarly toyed with the constraints of architectural space, never more so than during the relatively recent explosion of installation-based practices. Today it is widely accepted that paintings hung in tight rows no longer define the norm in contemporary art. Instead, the artwork has long been able to respond directly to the form of the vessel that houses it, either entering into a charged dialogue or actually taking on the room's unique structural qualities. As the physical boundaries of museums and galleries have routinely been tested over the past few decades, the list of artists' primary materials has grown to include such things as drywall, nails, plywood, and joint compound.
This development has had anything but consistent results. The following pages will give an idea of the diverse ways in which artists have examined and stretched the parameters of the interior realm. Beginning in the late 1960s, Robert Overby took topographical readings of walls by covering them in latex and peeling off the resulting skin-like sheets to re-hang as dirty "paintings." Francis Cape has limned the insides of museums and galleries with his wood surfaces that both merge with and remain distinct from their more permanent supports. In each case a process of identification between object and environment is enacted, only to be partly rejected.
Other artists have conjured surrogate spaces that reside within a host. Kathy Temin's felt panels tease by allowing the owner to imagine a personalized arrangement of furniture without being able to remove the plastic wrap. Ernesto Neto works in a biomorphic mode, constructing inviting caves made of stretchable fabric that welcome visitors into their supple folds. And Cadence Giersbach permanently brought glimpses of surrounding gardens into the windowless cafeteria of a public middle school in Queens, giving the students an artificial room-with-a-view.
Perhaps most typical, however, is a blurring of the line between inside and outside. Whether we consider Rachel Harrison's photographs of hands touching an alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary in a New Jersey home window, Olav Westphalen's packaging of the volume of air held within a bathroom, or Liz Deschenes's conflation of image and backdrop, both categories are activated. The walls become unstable; they bear traces of fantasy and generate confusion over the border between the indoors and the world that it simultaneously embraces and denies. Clearly there is energy to be tapped in these threshold regions.