In 1968, before they married, my parents traveled across the American Southwest to make a 20 minute educational film called Living Structures. They visited communities old and new, from the abandoned cliff dwellings of Chaco Canyon, to suburban ranch houses, Indian Reservations and Paolo Soleri's Arcosanti. The film culminates with a survey of communes then under construction, showing footage of suntanned hippies eating communal meals of brown rice and vegetables atop the geodesic domes they were building. The narrator proclaims, “People make their homes in houses. A house is a stage from which a man launches his dreams.”
Though the thermal systems and building forms they experimented with were recombined in new ways, this footage shows us that gender roles remained, for the most part, modeled on the communalists’ 1950’s upbringings - women cooked and managed small children while men worked on the buildings. “A house is a stage from which a man launches his dreams.”
I thought of Living Structures and the varying meanings of the house this weekend, because I was one of 22 artists asked to exhibit work in SourMILK, a show curated and produced by Christine Stiver and Ben Quesnel. The exhibition was envisioned as an artist-led “renovation” of an empty home in Greenwich, Connecticut. Sited for demolition after the show, Quesnel was able to work with a local developer who owns the property to gain access to the house before it is leveled for redevelopment. We could say that the house thus became a place for artists to launch their dreams, but I would argue that the resulting exhibition and event was more about the house’s own dreams of itself, its many lives and the lives it has sheltered.
Artists from New York and Baltimore were given nearly free reign over the house, a 19th century gambrel-roofed structure with a recent unpermitted addition that would ultimately be its downfall. Cited by the city, the owners had to stop the unsanctioned construction and the house ultimately ended up in the hands of the current investment group, which will demolish the house and begin redevelopment of the parcel next month.
It is in this unfinished portion of the house where Quesnel and Stiver placed three of my Ghost Houses. These large drawings of single-family homes are rendered in india ink on transparent silk organza. I choose silks in light, beigey pastels as the ground for these images, referencing popular stucco and siding shades of California subdivisions near the turn of the millenium. Though my references lie across the country from the New England town where they now flutter among exposed stud walls, it could be said that all American suburbs have modeled themselves on these early bedroom communities of the eastern seaboard.
At SourMilk, the Ghost Houses are visible through a large hole cut in the kitchen cabinets for this purpose. Though viewers cannot enter the space to be among them, it is as if we can witness the belly of the house, its bones exposed like Jonah’s whale, dreaming its own successive facades.
Beyond the unfinished addition, in accessible portions of the house, artists have displayed paintings, video, sculpture and site-specific installations. Most of the kitchen floor is occupied by Charlie Cunningham’s giant, overripe banana. The adjacent dining room has a low table set with Simone Kearney's chunky reimaginations of flatware and utensils, as if waiting for hungry giants. Upstairs JD Raenbeau’s my-little-pony-themed bathroom waits for viewers to pose with his interactive sculptures, With My Hair up to Heaven, in a golden jacuzzi tub.
During the opening of SourMilk last Saturday, attended by nearly 300 guests from Greenwich and beyond, viewers participated in a hybrid event: part art fair, part open-house, part-farewell ceremony for a home that has stood for a century and will soon be no more. When night fell, the garage was filled with Holly Danger’s panoramic video projections while some joined in singing hymns (including Amazing Grace) with Ada Pinkston in her installation that looked like the fragmentation of the American dream: juxtaposing images of people experiencing homelessness sleeping in ATM vestibules with layouts of slave ships in the middle passage and aerial views of suburban cul-de-sacs.
As songs wafted through the bright painting-based installations of David Humphrey and Dominic Terlizzi (who had cut and mosaiced a round hole in the wall of the room where his paintings hung), many members of the Flynn family, that had lived in this house, took in the scene with varying degrees of bafflement and delight. Kyle Browne had collected objects from the house and yard and made an installation in the basement stairwell that included a family portrait provided by the Flynns. Tzirel Kaminetzky’s layered paintings of fragmented intimacy hung in the living room while Huiqi He’s surrealist comedy looped in the bathroom. Jacquie Stryker’s seed papers had been planted in the yard in hopes of a future victory garden.
It seemed that the contributing artists had uncovered and manifested, as Bachelard puts it, the “psychology of the house”, it’s simultaneous solidity as a sheltering body, its remimagintation through shifting occupants, and its impending dissolution.
SourMilk will be on view at 73 Orchard Street in Greenwich Connecticut through October 27th. Contact Contact: Ben Quesnel and Christine Stiver at email@example.com for inquiries. Demolition will begin in early November.
Curated and produced by Christine Stiver and Ben Quesnel.
Mia Brownell, Joe Bun Keo, Jennifer Coates, Jim Condron, Charlie Cunningham, Holly Danger, Alex Ebstein, Alexandra Hammond, Huiqi He, David Humphrey, Aaron Johnson,Tzirel Kaminetzky, Simone Kearney, Martin Kruck, Joanne Leah, Adam Niklewicz, Jeff Ostergren, Ada Pinkston, JD Raenbeau, Jacquie Stryker, Dominic Terlizzi, James Williams.
*Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1994 Edition. 17