Out of Site: Fictional Architectural Spaces
June 28 – October 13 2002
We have fully entered the information age. Technological innovations-the Internet, electronic mail, virtual reality, cyberspace, digital gaming, advanced design and engineering programs, complex computer graphics, robotics, and wireless communication-are spawning new kinds of experience. While digital technologies broaden the scope of our capabilities and speed of access to information, the world is seemingly becoming a smaller place. An increasingly global economic system and population growth have given rise to unprecedented levels of international travel, migration, sub/urban sprawl, colonization, and trade. Digital culture and global markets participate in the deterritorialization of space. Boundaries between interior and exterior, local and global, have blurred, giving way to hybrids of all kinds and permanently altering the way we experience and understand space. Out of Site posits that this profound shift in the understanding of perspective and spatial relationships is as consequential to artistic production as was the discovery of one-point perspective for the early Renaissance painters or multiple perspective for the cubists.
Out of Site takes fictional architecture as its premise. The artists exhibited here use architectural constructs to investigate the ways in which digital technologies, virtual reality, and global expansion have impacted representations and articulations of space and perspective. The sites presented are marked by skewed and multiple perspective, compressed space, morphing geometry, rotating scale, layered topography, hypertrophic growth, unexpected hybridity, and immersive environments and acknowledge the adaptability and flexibility that increasingly characterize architecture. Access to new, more sophisticated design programs have profoundly affected urban and suburban configuration. As the architectural theorist Anthony Vidler surmises, today’s experiences of occupying space are reflected in an architecture of shifting scales, transmutability, and a process of dismantling. The fantastic architectural forms presented here-some optimistic and transcendent, others paranoiac and frightening - are as multifarious as the culture that has spawned them.
The spaces depicted are fictional in the sense that they do not refer to existing sites; yet, they are manifestations of very real navigations of space. The use of the term “fictional” is deliberately aligned with the claim of such cultural critics as Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio that we can no longer distinguish the “real” from the “virtual.” Traditionally considered oppositional, today virtual and real space influence each other to such a degree that a binary discourse is no longer adequate to expressing the phenomenon. Including paintings, drawings, and sculpture, as well as digital prints and 3-D animations, the works in Out of Site address the integration of the virtual into the social, and range from depictions of futuristic science fiction cities to digitally rendered hyper-real interiors.
Entering the exhibition through the stairwell, visitors are immersed in Stephen Hendee’s Silent Sector, a site-specific sculptural habitat made of modular multiplaned crystalline forms lit up with primary colors, a hybrid space indebted in equal parts to the natural and the digital. Patrick Meagher’s UnitBead 2.0 is a virtual cityscape whose topography is modeled on the shapes of Styrofoam packaging materials downloaded from the web sites of leaders in the technology industry-Macintosh, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Toshiba. Projected on the wall, these forms are stacked and juxtaposed to one another, individuated, and interrelated so that the resulting buildings may be flat and frontal or floating on a distant horizon line. In this infinitely diverse user-navigable piece, no single experience can be reproduced as visitors move amongst the sites as if on an architectural tour. Haluk Akakçe examines the anxieties of urban space in his two-channel digital projection installation, Still Life, an animation replete with the continual transformations and mutations of the city. From an empty office in a towering skyscraper to a psychologically charged hybrid of business and domestic space, interior and exterior eventually come into impossible synch when a house covered in glass rotates suspended in the air, reflecting the autumn landscape around it.
Craig Kalpakjian’s corporate office interiors are uncannily familiar, yet close examination reveals that these hermetic, pristine spaces are slightly askew. Created entirely on the computer using design programs favored by contemporary architects, virtual space is presented here as something tangible. Also responding to vernacular architecture, Kevin Zucker’s elegant paintings of the banal interior environments of public spaces-hotel ballrooms, check-in lines at airports and train stations, backstage dressing rooms-critique the austerity and presumed autonomy of modernist painting and architecture. Referencing the organizing principles of modernism, Zucker ultimately defies seriality and rationality by highlighting awkward perspectives and embracing a neo-baroque sensibility with, for example, the excessive detailing of an oversized chandelier. Narrowing our view to the precise areas of apparently much larger spaces-a corner, part of a floor and wall, a section of a tub or pool-Cannon Hudson presents strangely inviting interiors full of disconcertingly skewed perspectives. Punctuated by the detailing of tiles, bricks, and textiles, as well as bizarre, yet rhythmic bands of color, these paintings compress space to a point that is both pleasurable and uncomfortable.
Space is sculptural for Ricci Albenda, something that can be grabbed, manipulated, and re-presented as altered reality. His works engender a visceral experience of the body’s relationship to space, in that they shift and morph depending on the viewer’s position in the gallery. Produced in an elegant font developed by the artist, the word “people” appears dozens of times, in a variety of sizes, dispersed across a large gallery wall. Interacting directly with the architecture of the space, People Pattern, through its changing scales and perspectives, points to the realities of navigating an overpopulated cityscape.
Although all of Out of Site alludes to the body’s relationship to architecture, only the work of the collaborative Aziz + Cucher (Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher) explicitly takes up accouterments of the human form. In Aziz + Cucher’s Interior series, stairwells, corridors, and confined interiors appear to be covered with human skin, manifesting a cyberspace where conventional distinctions between body and place give way to what architect Marcos Novak calls “liquid architecture,” in which the body continually changes and adapts to new articulations of space.
Several works in the exhibition examine urban and suburban growth through distinctive topographies. Nina Bovasso’s decorative conglomerations of shapes and lines are precarious, absurdist cityscapes where hypertrophic growth can, at any moment, turn destructive, since the addition of one object too many may cause the whole structure to topple to the ground. Matthew Northridge’s version of urban sprawl, New City, is reminiscent of an architectural model. Including more than three thousand pieces of cut masonite covered with imagery from found printed materials-magazines, books, catalogues, postcards-Northridge’s Lilliputian city exerts its territorializing impulse to cover all available space. Sven Påhlsson’s 3-D animation, Sprawlville or Life at the End of the Highway Ramp, takes us on a disconcerting journey through a fictional suburban landscape filled with modular, homogeneous housing, shopping malls, and a complex infrastructure of highways and parking lots. Using digital modeling programs and rendered in seductive saturated color, Pahlsson’s virtual environment captures the contradictory essence of the suburbs, for it is visibly artificial and nondescript and yet enlivened by the constant motion, bright colors, and enticing lights of a site where human activity is teeming.
Composed of intricate shapes carved into the surface of sky blue Polystyrene, Shirley Tse’s Polymathicstyrene is a meandering topography. A horizontal sample of landscapes and cityscapes changing over time, this initially abstract sculpture includes countless references to architectural forms and natural habitats. Tse’s childhood years in Hong Kong instilled in her a fascination with the global trade economy and its transient nature wherein malleability and flexibility are made possible in part through the invention of a variety of plastic packing materials. Julie Mehretu’s Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation is an astonishing amalgamation of disparate elements moving in a determined processional through time and space across the canvas. Using both quotidian and historical visual references-airport terminal maps, floor plans, subway and highway systems, columns, architectural ruins-Mehretu’s topography is layered, morphing, and fluid. Her work mirrors a society in flux where a hybridization of past forms is reconfigured into what has been described as contemporary historical painting.
While the content of Adam Ross’s paintings is aligned with contemporary science fiction, the formal qualities are grounded in the history of the modern utopian impulse. Responding to artists such as Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitsky, Ross uses repeating idealized geometric forms to create highly stylized, austere futuristic cities, emitting saturated hues characteristic of digital culture. Dannielle Tegeder’s seemingly abstract paintings are intricate depictions of underground worlds devised as safe havens after biological or chemical catastrophes. Taking her visual cues from a bevy of available sources-architectural blueprints, plumbing and heating systems, military reconnaissance maps, aviation routes, disease migration maps, and the like-she creates a network of interconnected systems.
The proliferation of digital technologies (and the tangible experiences that result) coupled with the relentless expansion of urban centers and suburban outgrowths are cultural phenomena ripe for investigation by artists. The works in Out of Site challenge the assumed binaries between reality and fiction, utopia and dystopia, local and global, interior and exterior, responding to the world in which we live and offering clues to what the future may hold.