February 7 – March 2, 2012
Reception: Saturday, February 11 from 4-6 p.m.
The Tremaine Gallery at the Hotchkiss School, 11 Interlaken Rd, Lakeville, CT
For further information, please visit www.hotchkiss.org/arts, or phone (860) 435-4423
Read a review of the exhibit by Leon Graham
View installation images
We live our lives in an environment of constructs. The buildings we live in, work in, go to school, shop, and worship in – they are all more than simply a collection of concrete, wood, steel, and glass. These structures have the power to influence, reinforce or challenge our cultural values and identities. When we observe these constructions closely, we seek to penetrate the quotidian facades and see ourselves, in all our humanity, mirrored back at us. This exhibition examines, through photography, the relationship between the individual and his or her designed environment. Combining works representing both real and imagined architectures, the more than thirty photographs on view touch upon issues of power, property, materiality, value, artifice, and reality. Viewed together, these photographs exist somewhere between fact and fiction – space and place become concepts to play with, they become the territory of symbol and metaphor.
At its core, a construct is a fabrication of thoughts, words and images. Architecture and, indeed, photography itself are two constructs – both are vital parts of the infrastructure of social thought and products of the cultural, economic and political context in which they are produced and consumed. Photography, perforce, is the observer, but here, in a gallery space – itself a construction – it is also the observed.
Architecture is more than the designing of a space; it is about making the imagined real. As such, it is riddled with contradictions; some build with the intention of creating spaces that inspire, or unite, whilst others create structures that can imprison and exploit. The buildings we create are not only an extension of our values and identities, they also reflect our priorities, ideals, and even our flaws. We want to see life ordered – structured – so we construct repetitive patterns and grids to assure a sense of harmony or safety. And yet within us there exists an equal fascination with chaos, destruction and ultimately, liberation. We can revitalize, resurrect, and preserve what is good, and improve or destroy what is not.
We live in an age where technology allows us to be anywhere. What then does it mean to be somewhere? What does real space mean? It is quite easy to ignore the buildings that surround us: what is familiar does not need to be constantly questioned. Fabricated aims to demonstrate to viewers the personal significance of the buildings and spaces that encapsulate their daily experience. Even places that might seem trivial – the remnants and artifacts of buildings long gone – are, in fact, intensely steeped with meaning.
Fabricated presents work by Leigh Merrill, Livia Corona, Jeff Brouws, Laura Glazer, Jim Kazanjian, Xavier Delory, Randy Fox, Edward Burtynsky, Ber Murphy, Susan Wides, Richard Edelman, Wendy Burton and Travis Shaffer.
To inquire about a purchase please contact Melissa Stafford at 518-526-2999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A note: While there are both benefits and drawbacks to viewing works of art online, if you can, I highly recommend seeing the exhibit in person – the chance to look closely at these photographs, to really study the them, is a wonderful experience.
Livia Corona’s series, Two Million Homes for Mexico, focuses on the surge of mass-scale neighborhood developments in Mexico, exploring their role in the ongoing transformation of the ecological, social and cultural landscape of the nation. This project, consisting of images, films, texts and interviews, also reveals broader trends in the way we inhabit the world today.”In 2000, Mexican presidential candidate Vicente Fox Quesada proposed an unprecedented plan to build two million low-income homes throughout the country during his six year term. On the eve of his election, Fox proclaimed, “My presidency will be remembered as the era of public housing.” To enact this initiative, the federal government agency INFONAVIT ceded the construction of low-income housing to a small group of private real estate investors. Then, almost overnight, grids 20 to 80,000 identical homes sprouted up, and they continue to spread in remote agrarian territory throughout the country. To encounter these developments by land, by air, or even via satellite imagery, evokes a rare sensation. These are not the neighborhoods of a “Home Sweet Home” dream fulfilled, but are ubiquitous grids of ecological and social intervention on a scale and of consequences that are difficult to grasp. In these places, urbanization is reduced to the mere construction of housing. There are nearly no public amenities—such as schools, parks, and transportation systems. There are few commercial structures—such as banks and grocery stores. Yet demand for these low-income homes continues to increase and developers continue to provide them with extreme efficiency. During Fox’s six-year presidency, 2,350,000 homes were built, at a rate of 2,500 homes per day, and this trend is set to continue.” – Livia Corona
Leigh Merrill’s Streets project — images that waver between reality and fantasy — arose from her ongoing interests in regionalism, and more specifically in the cultural signifiers of particular places. “While exploring the urban environment of the San Francisco Bay Area, I became fascinated by its complexity. Motivated by curiosity about the architecture that surrounds us and how it reflects larger ideas of beauty, class, romanticism and even perfection – I started to photograph homes, and eventually photographed thousands. I then digitally assembled and reassembled these photographs to create new images; each is typically made from several photographs of individual houses combined with tens to hundreds of smaller bits and pieces from other photographs of houses in the region. At first these images might look plausible; but closer inspection reveals that they are fabricated, and in fact illogical.
These fabrications highlight how our built environments themselves are composites of multiple architectural and landscape styles. These real/unreal images raise questions about the visual cues, barriers and borders that are created in city settings. In White Street, for instance, the structures are all one color, suggesting issues of community, zoning, and exclusion. Some of the images show pocket lawns, the narrow strips of grass between sidewalks and driveways. Too small to function as more than a token of the idea of “lawn,” they underscore the desire for a sense of space and land ownership. Similarly, topiaries evoke landed estates or royal gardens. In an American residential landscape they can imply a desire for wealth or luxury, and also provide clues as to the owners’ sensibilities. In Bushes, I engage this issue by creating a street with three homes, each with symmetrical topiaries in their front yards, ornamented to varying degrees. Also in this photograph, the street has been composited from digital files to create what looks like a Rorschach inkblot pattern in the cement — a metaphor for the unconscious desires embodied in and revealed by our anthropogenic environments.” – Leigh Merrill
The following is an excerpt from an interview between Jeff Brouws and Joerg Colberg (read the entire interview here):
Joerg Colberg: Something else that I often think about when viewing photography like yours is the somewhat uneasy relationship between the contents of the photos and their beauty. When you create a photo that is aesthetically very appealing, but that shows something that is not appealing at all, does that create a problem for you? How do you deal with this?
Jeff Brouws: This is a dilemma I use to tussle with mentally but it’s no longer an issue. Walter Benjamin believed that photography was a form of mystification, (which I also take to mean had the ability to “beautify”). Paraphrasing an essay by Susan Linfield called The Treacherous Medium she quotes Benjamin as saying ” it (photography) can endow any soup can with cosmic significance…” (I’m assuming Andy Warhol read that essay!). If someone coming into a gallery situation, or looking at a book, can get into the work because they initially find it “beautiful” or “mystifying” that’s ok with me. That’s a pathway into a deeper conversation. You have to provide entry somehow. The act of photography in a de facto way segregates a segment of reality, reorders it and most of the time renders what’s before the camera as something beautiful. It’s an inherent quality we can’t escape. Even Lewis Baltz’s San Quentin Point is unabashedly beautiful, but obviously that wasn’t his intention. I also think of Pauline Kael’s essay in The New Yorker from the late 80s about Sebastiao Selgado, where she criticized his work for aesthetisizing human suffering. She clearly misunderstood this basic quality of the photograph.
A photographer can (over time) develop an enlarged, almost Zen-like definition about what constitutes beauty; and beauty often transcends and transforms the bleakest of subject matter. Or maybe it’s a question of aesthetics: the subject matter is awful before us, but as formalist animals we fashion something beautiful from something unpleasant – a glimpse of the sublime, perhaps? Ugly, beautiful, mundane: these are just words and constructs ascribed meaning over time. Artists get to subvert, invert and transform those meanings. After all is said and done I think a beautiful photograph of unappealing subject matter still registers as unattractive to the majority of the audience. A slim minority “get it.” I only say this based on people’s reactions to what I’ve done. My sense of what’s beautiful is radically different than most people’s aesthetic. Understanding that helps me move forward.
Below: One of the solutions to inner city housing problems, or so thought the Federal government, was to erect public housing, like the Robert Taylor Homes on the south side of Chicago. This was low-income public housing based on Le Corbusier’s Radiant City concepts. These concepts, when interpreted by city planners in the 1940s and 50’s to house the urban poor, produced results that were the opposite of his intentions. Bastions of segregation, the high rises were horrible, dangerous places to live. Contemporary urban housing has moved toward a mixed race, mixed income, single-family dwelling paradigm, with predictably better results for everyone.
In many of the struggling inner cities of the Rust Belt, the make-shift storefront church is a common sight. In the decaying, desperate and fading old business districts of former economic powerhouses like Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland, salvation is in short supply, but luckily there are many prophets, prophetesses, reverends, brothers, sisters and high priests ready to offer it up for the taking.
I’ve literally photographed hundreds of these institutions, and most seemed to have opened and shut rather quickly. Many of these churches were opened in rapidly failing buildings that give the appearance of being barely sustainable. Yet, time was taken to plaster words of fire and brimstone, along with promises of deliverance, on the crumbling walls of these blighted temples. Often times, there are faded, crooked pictures of the church leader or some even-more-holy individual that are now left to peer out on to the streets, as they bake in the sun and sustain water damage. – Randy Fox (from ‘Wandering And Photographing America’s Rust Belt: Storefront Churches’ – read more here)
In the series, Fermé le Dimanche (Closed on Sundays), Xavier Delory digitally manipulates architecture in a subtle way – reality and absurdity merge together as Delory plays with shopping structures that look like churches.
Have our shopping malls become our new temples? Has the religious cult been replaced by the cult of consumption? Do these new places of communion and their catchy slogans supplant our ancient monuments and their divine words? This fiction is not very remote from the frequent use of the religious symbol by the commercial. Our commercial culture sucks the lifeblood from our collective memory, emptying it of all it’s meaning, keeping only it’s shell. Does this all prove that our society has cut itself off from its history? – Xavier Delory
A neighborhood transformed by development is the central theme on this ongoing series. Living and working in and around Long Island City’s defunct factories and industrial yards, where buildings are being raised and rebuilt into luxury co-ops at a head-spinning rate, I witness the methodical eradication of a working class way of life. I find myself dismayed by the quick progression of high rises that are erupting skyward along the waterfront; quickly, inevitably, obliterating the view of Manhattan beyond. And yet I find myself drawn first visually, then socio-politically to the power these monoliths project set beside the defunct factories and old tenements: immense size versus fixed-income strongholds, and new possibilities versus old ideals.
For me, these images function not only as a record and homage to a vanishing place and time, but as metaphors for the workingman’s dilemma. They search for a dialogue between subjugation and advancement and seek to illustrate the often un-sung sacrifices that are made in the interest of progress. – Ber Murphy
Around the geological forms that inspired the first visitors to the Hudson Valley, a palimpsest of historical, socio-economic, and philosophical stories has developed. Upon moving to Catskill, NY, I began to pull apart these layers. I questioned the fantasy of pure Nature that has continually clouded perceptions of the Hudson River landscape. Where the growth of heavy industry during the 19th century had deforested entire regions, artists of the Hudson River School would paint tree-covered hillsides. I confirm that these illusions, which helped to form the mandate of Manifest Destiny, are still propagated. As city dwellers escape to the woods upstate, industries ship materials downriver, and land is cleared to sustain the market for quaint rural homes, forming a complex loop. Alongside an idealization of the landscape, new developments overlay aging infrastructure, resulting in an accumulation of contradictions. – Susan Wides
Above: Two bland, 50-story towers in White Plains distort both the surrounding sprawl and the landscape it obscures.
Below: The metal stumps of the former GM factory and the deer that are passing before them are both by-products of development and industrialization. Lacking predators, deer have become a scourge in suburbia. At home in their new ecosystem, they disallow any attempt at defining a boundary between natural and artificial.