featured gallery for April 2001

Out of the Corner

"Consciousness of being at peace in one's corner produces a sense of immobility, and this, in turn, radiates immobility. An imaginary room rises up around our bodies, which think that they are well hidden when we take refuge in a corner. Already, the shadows are walls, a piece of furniture constitutes a barrier, hangings are a roof. But all of these images are over-imagined. So we have to designate the space of our immobility by making it the space of our being."
Gaston Bachelard
The Poetics of Space

The boundaries between our bodies and the structures that are meant to contain and protect them are often experienced as fragile and porous. This fragility both provides pleasure and creates anxiety, and it determines how we dwell in and on our bodies and homes. Bachelard's words came to mind when we saw the work of Russ Hansen in the extensive slide files at Visual AIDS. In Hansen's "Roomscape I" and "Roomscape II" (both 1979), the interiors consist of Cubist-like layerings of shadows and rectilinear forms, with the relatively vague suggestion of human figures occupying the flattened-out space. These people, only partially delineated, merge with and disappear into their surroundings, seeming to exist in a symbiotic relationship with the built environment. The two untitled self-portraits of Nelson Rodriguez (both circa 1993-96), though maintaining elements of Hansen's figurative abstraction, place Rodriguez's body on more or less equal footing with the rooms it inhabits. With his face obscured and a towel barely covering his genitals, the artist seems to be composed of rectangles and circles, the basic components of any traditional edifice. In a different sense, viewed as a feminine silhouette through a patterned curtain, Rodriguez becomes a shadow that is as much a part of the room as the barely visible lines of a window frame behind him. With Mark Morrisroe's "Fascination" (1983), we return to Bachelard's notion of immobility in one's corner. The artist is seen lying on his bed, his arm raised vertically in a protective gesture: the parakeet he holds is being held out of reach of the cats on the bed. Here the artist's own corporeal existence is momentarily devoted to the architectural function of a safe haven.

Although Stephen Varble's 1973 photograph of his "Attic Clouds" performance gives little sense of the event's original context, the image itself speaks to the kind of humanoid/architectural connection we found in the works of these artists. Varble is wearing a thick gown made of what appear to be mounted slides strung together into a loose fabric. Most of his physical features are buried under the stratum of photographic transparencies. Ian Moyer's "Stairway" (1998), on the other hand, lends a surreal-looking, biomorphic fluidity to the rational geometry of a classical interior. Likewise, Robert Miles Parker's pen-and-ink drawings depict buildings that pulsate like the bodies they house. His "Grolier Club Library" (1993) resembles Moyer's elastic banister, with the furniture, light fixtures, and book cases all on the verge of dissolving into a gelatinous mass. Similarly, when Parker steps outside to record the façade of an apartment house on "West 90th Street" (1993), the walls' solidity is called into question.

But the suggestion of architecture as something organic, and therefore subject to the aches and pains of our own frail frames, is offered in a more comic vein with Parker's 1992 portrait of the Guggenheim. Frank Lloyd Wright's icon is suddenly found to be unstable and rather top-heavy. The foliage in the upper right corner of the image resembles falling bricks and cement, as if the museum were beginning to crumble from lack of upkeep. Finally, it is Angel Borrero's 1973 ink-on-photograph depiction of a scene of desperation that most forcefully poses the issue of a link between people and their buildings. Two skyscrapers are inundated with pleas for help by their office-worker inhabitants. However, we are also tempted to read these apparent prisons as bodies themselves, crying out for assistance, love, or simply attention.