Tag Archives: found objects

Harvesting a Home

fitting d into omEveryone makes moves in their lives, and, in a mobile society, changes in their living accommodations. There was, at one point, a period in my life when I made a series of seven moves in eight years – relocations that made me a citizen of four different states, and they weren’t all contiguous. Ultimately, I ended up buying a house in one of them. Well, not really a house – yet.

It was originally a house (built in 1873) turned into an office building nearly a hundred years later, and then turned back into a house once more – by me. Not your typical house, though. Rather, a strange hybrid of a house and an art piece. Arslocii, indeed. As it stood, it was contained space and not much more. Everything that makes it a house of note now is a result of my direct response to its houselessness and the denuded nature of is office-ness: beige walls, beige floors, fluorescent tubes and stark, detail-less spaces. It was so nondescript that I felt a mandate, an imperative, to take it as far from blandness as was possible. Far over to the other side.

Twenty-seven years later, it is as unique and one-off as the nest of an Australian Bowerbird: an assemblage of found objects meant to attract the eye … in his case, of a mate. My mission was to embellish the place to find its soul, or to restore it. In many respects, it was like building a stage set about houseness, or my dream version of what it could be, put into a tangible form – and on the cheap. It progressed naturally, building one project upon another, and finding my own place in the creation of the form. Whatever complex layering resulted, it reflected the multidimensional layerings of me as an artist and a human being. My house and I are one, difficult to separate. But separate we must.

For, after years of unrest and unsettling neighborhood events, a culmination of disillusionment and dissociation, it became clear that this house is not in a good place – not for me anyway. And that there is another location that can potentially create placeness for now and for the future. And it is hundreds of miles from this house. I have found another house there, in this new place, and it is nothing like the one I helped to create here. Nothing at all.

My dilemma now is in trying to salvage what I worked half a lifetime to build, and to attempt to fit it into and onto another house that is so completely different from this one: sort of made from scratch and customized into an artistic assemblage. The only thing the two might have in common is that the new one, although not stripped of detail, has such indistinct or poorly rendered detail that it, too, is open to interpretation. Plus, this second one is much smaller. In the new structure, the struggle will be one of physical matter more so than conceptual matter; bringing forth a challenge of material limitations rather than cognitive ones.

I liken it to building a first prototype of a robot – a kind of manufactured living thing – an endeavor that is successful, but nearly three decades later, it is sadly stuck in its time and limited by its creation date. In other words, stuck in its place. The urge is to make it again, an updated version using some of the same parts and more hindsight. As a second generation, it will have recognizable traits, but it will move beyond the original exercise, becoming a more integrated whole. That is the hope, anyway, for this experimental house-innards transplant process. As I harvest the very seeds that I planted a generation ago, will both patients survive? Will I? Who will end up the monster, the creator or the created?

The doors, the lighting, some walls and even floors are going to find their way to this new home. It is an organ harvest, house to house; taking the essence away from the original and re-creating a revised version. The staging is terrifying, the removal and replacement are difficult to imagine, let alone orchestrate. I think about it every day, this square peg fitting into a smaller hole. Can a cathedral be scaled down to fit within a parish chapel? I have three or four notebooks filled with measurements, ideas, lists and questions. Can placeness result; that is, true placeness? The best of one combined with a better place could achieve the desired end. Wish me luck.

in the box

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Up Against the Wall

What sort of ego – or utter lack of it – causes someone to create a haunting bit of art and not sign it, or give any indication as to who made it? And what sort of reticence, or shyness, or insecurity – or, perhaps, even contempt – would make one create a public space, redolent of an irresistible and memorable placeness, that nearly everybody cannot find and few will see?

As all eyes in this city (and, it seems, of the entire art world) are on the reopening in new digs of the renowned and yet famously odd Barnes Foundation, and as most articles written about the event mention the collection’s idiosyncratically masterpiece-festooned walls (the inestimable pieces displayed as if merely web-page thumbnails) – as this is going on, our minds wandered to a quieter place, just across town, where other walls make their own odd magic, outdoors and mostly, as good sleight of hand always is, out of sight.

It is down an alleyway that you must go, or, more likely, stumble upon, accidentally – a cobblestoned byway you would probably not even think to walk down as you ambled near the Philadelphia waterfront. And, even if you did happen to let chance and curiosity rule your wandering, sans tourist map, if you didn’t happen to turn and look in the right direction at the right time, or were distracted by a couple of cute Colonial-era buildings or their facelifted and gentrified neighbors, you could easily miss this odd and wondrous spot, which we spotlighted (ALERT: shameless promotion ahead) in our book Hip and Hidden Philadelphia.

What you will see – if you are lucky – and resembling a found-object assemblage, is part of a complex of old commercial buildings dating back to 1759 and continuously occupied by a metal manufacturer/distributor for three centuries until some of the buildings became residences and artists studios, in 1986. But, during that time – possibly in the 1960s and ‘70s – someone looked at this inset area, this car-park opening begging to be a courtyard, and had a vision as to how to make a space into a place. He or she began applying stone and terra cotta and cast concrete reliefs & sculptural decorative pieces all over the bare, stuccoed facade – architectural design elements rescued from demolished office and theater buildings around town and attached there, with no knowable philosophy or reason behind it except a pure attempt at creating a placeness-filled mews, redolent of history and misty-past endeavors. The space feels as if you’ve come upon, or, after passing through some time-travel portal, awakened in an ancient amphitheater, or place of the gods, and that yours will not be the only surprise visitation. Though in no way museum-like, it has something about it – a something of having been saved, yet of something appropriated and removed – of the feel that one experiences in the presence of the Elgin Marbles. 

So many of the applied items look to be about music and/or theater; they could be (or we would like to imagine them being) relics and remnants, heroic or celebratory portraits of the now-unknown performers of their day (whatever or whenever that “day” might have been, if indeed there was ever such a what or when), or the deities overseeing creative invention among humans. There are also quite a few lion heads, giving the place an aura of power, and of kings. Mixed among the faces are moldings, wall caps, and many other figurative pieces  – the effect being like entering an old mask shop that has amassed an antique collection of bygone importance. It is, we imagine, what it must have been like to be the first modern archeologists to uncover Pompeii.

But this is the vision of someone who must have known that this would not be seen by many, but who felt compelled to do this, and in the process created a placeness unique to this city, a cloistered place, knowing but compelled by instinct, captivating for its purity of purpose and its gift to the unsuspecting.

To paraphrase Robert Frost, good walls make good arslocii.

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