Thursday, March 09, 2006

Limning a House

My architect friend Paul opened an exhibition this evening. Two artists from Berlin were invited to join Paul and his friend David to present and discuss their respective partnered works. Paul and David had created a multi-media project 10 years ago by slowly deconstructing a dilapidated and condemned house. They filmed and photographed the project as they cut out pieces of the walls and floors eventually causing one half of the house to fall into the other. The two Berlin artists were sent photos of a local Toronto office building and they used these to create a virtual exploding, fragmenting or splintering of the building running in an animated loop.

The two projects ostensibly meet at the nexus of the concept of deconstruction. Derrida was of course mentioned and discussed by the panel and audience. Deconstruction is a parasitic act in that it requires something constructed upon which one can perform the act. Most art is of course considered to be of a creative and constructive nature, requiring no such beginning point. In this sense it seems that only the Canadian project was a deconstruction since the virtual rendering was not an unraveling of anything at all but a creation from start to finish.

Can the physical unbuilding of a house be considered an act of deconstruction in the Derridean sense? Only metaphorically it seems and only as a way of limning the way in which something can be laid bare and brought closer to its so-called essense by peeling away its surface layers and breaking it into pieces. The whole is often said to be greater than its constituent parts but these projects highlight the possibility that something can be invested with even more value in the process of its unravelling. The surprising perspectives afforded by each cut of a wall or ceiling help to bring forth or un-cover the being of the house. These hidden aspects are revealed and released from the constancy of the seemingly soldified being of the house.

Through this process of unbuilding we can catch glimpses of what it is essentially to be a house. By removing a piece of the roof we are brought face to face with one of the essences of a house: that of shelter. Partially collapsing a room results in one wall remaining 8 feet high while the oppsosite wall shrinks and disappears. What does this inform us about the intended functionality or purposes of spaces?

This unbuilding house works as a form of performance art for those who happen upon the project during its progress. The person who randomly happens upon the house in one of its progressively slanting states is treated to a delightfully disorienting image. The neighbours have a different experience. They can follow the process over a more protracted timeframe. As the house is slowly moved closer to oblivion the passerby acknowledges more fully the existence of the house. Ironically they come to acknowledge its existence as it is moving through the process of ceasing to exist. What may have been mostly unnoticed by the neighbours over the years comes startlingly to the forefront as they pass by each day to note a new development in it's demise.

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