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STRANGELY FAMILIAR: FINDING PLACE IN NONPLACE BY MIA JOHNSON A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulllment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Barry Freedland Sarasota, Florida April, 2009
ii Table of Contents Abstract...iii Introduction..1 Section 1: The New Suburbia...4 Section 2: Objects...7 Section 3: Structures................................................................................14 Conclusion.........25 Plate List.....27 Bibliography.......34
iii STRANGELY FAMILIAR: FINDING PLACE IN NONPLACE Mia Johnson New College of Florida, 2009 ABSTRACT There is no denying the United States of America is a suburban nation. At this point in time, over half of the American population resides in areas dened as "suburban" by the census. As the suburbs continue to grow, so does their inuence on society, culture, and our personal lives. However, despite its ubiquity, suburbia remains an under-examined force, and is generally portrayed in one of two ways; as a utopic middle class environment, or alternatively, an isolating and dangerous nonplace, characterized by it s homogeneity and conformity. The truth obviously lies somewhere between the two. "Through my work I hope to transcend this utopia/distopia binary, by creating structures, sculptures and drawings that are simultaneously critical, empathetic, and celebratory of the suburban environment. All of my work is made from everyday suburban materials, which I have used to create a defamiliarized suburban neighborhood. "In my research I have considered and been inspired by various artists who similarly examine the suburban environment and its contents. Among them are
iv Tara Donovan, Tim Hawkinson, Larry Sultan, Teddy Cruz, Chris Burden Andrea Zittel, and Robert Smithson. In addition I have used the writings of urban theorists Robert Fishman, and Philip Kasinitis to better understand and represent the complexities of suburban place. Barry Freedland Division of Humanities
1 Introduction There is no denying that the United States of America is a suburban nation. According to the 2000 census, more Americans live in the suburbs than in rural areas and cities combined. As Americans have moved further and further away from the urban centers that were historically the countries social, economic and cultural hubs, drastic changes have occurred in the nation s economy, landscape and demography. As the suburbs continue to expand and thrive so does their inuence on the shaping of society, culture and our personal lives. However, As Karen Gysin writes, "Despite its sheer ubiquity and inuence, the American suburb remains a critically under-examined force in shaping American cultural life."(Blauvelt 2) Historically the suburbs have been an environment used to symbolize both the best and the worst of modern society. Suburbia is generally portrayed as a "middle-class domestic utopia,"(Blauvelt 11) or alternatively, an isolating and dangerous environment characterized by its homogeneity, and forced conformity. In general these conceptions of the suburbs have been formed by it s portrayal in popular media, mostly in the form of television, lm, magazines, newspapers and music.(Blauvault 11) Early postwar network television shows such as Father Knows Best and later sitcoms such as The Brady Bunch and The Cosby Show are perhaps the best examples of this positive portrayal, while lms such as The Stepford Wives Blue Velvet American Beauty, and most recently Pleasentville and Disturbia are representative of the negative depictions.
2 Suburbia has always faired far better on network television than it has on lm. Perhaps this is partially due to its historical exaltation by pop culture and demonization by academia. In general the attitude toward suburbia from academics, artists and architects has been quite negative, the standard position now being that suburbia is beyond redemption. Cities are seen as a place of cultural progressiveness (think bohemia), while suburbia is viewed as one bereft of intellectual and artistic possibilities.(Solomonson 18) The suburbs have, in general, been neglected as either a source or site for positive creative endeavors. This neglect is especially true in terms of the art world. Sadly, one dening feature of the # burbs is their lack of museums, galleries, public art, and critics. Perhaps the low-density form of the suburbs is the main reason for this perceived absence of creative individuals. Or perhaps, as theorist Robert Fishman writes in Megalopolis Unbound, the lack in demand for art spaces is a direct result of the changing accessibility of art itself. "Inevitably, the central city will continue to shelter the dominant institutions of high culturemuseums, concert halls, and theaters, but in our electronic age these institutions no longer monopolize that culture."( Fishman 415) Perhaps this lack also has to do with the aforementioned stance held by so many stogy and powerful art critics that suburbia is a wasteland of tasteless and valueless monotony and mediocrity. The fact that little critical attention is paid to suburbia does not mean that there is nothing creative being produced within it. After all, the Mac was invented in a suburban rec-room, and the term "garage band" is now ubiquitous.(Blauvalt 15)
3 I am not intending to provide solutions through my work, nor am I attempting to reconcile the "good" and "bad" portrayals of the suburbs. Instead, I intend, though sculptures, structures, and drawings, to present suburbia in a way that transcends this longstanding utopia/distopia binary, by exploring the struggle between the individual and the mass-produced suburban environment. By using defamiliarized, everyday suburban objects, I intend to create a nal installation that is strangely familiar; that both criticizes and revels in the suburban condition. While themes of alienation, isolation, conformity and rampant consumerism do present themselves in my work, I hope to create pieces that go beyond one-liner political statements and instead explore our complex relationship with massproduced suburban place. In addition to these more ubiquitous themes, I also intend to address issues of escapism, temporality, and transition as well as the more comforting and attractive aspects of suburban existence. While different pieces in this exhibition address different issues within the suburban environment (for example, housing, consumerism), I think that they are all united in my reappropriation of objects of mass production. Before I discuss my own pieces, I think that it is necessary to give some background on the suburbs, so that the viewer can better understand the subject of my work. Section 1: The New Suburbia
4 Suburbia is a place that is plagued with very real and very serious problems, particularly in relation to race, class, gender and the environment. From white-ight to gentrication, to the spatial separation of women from the workplace and the isolation of the elderly, to the problematic economic climate it proliferates, suburbia is abound with areas for critique, especially given it s inextricable link to suburban sprawl. In his article "Suburban Aesthetics is Not an Oxymoron" Jon Archer sites Deloris Hayden! s Critique of sprawl as one that succinctly epitomizes the opinions of many. Hayden (as quoted in Archer) writes, "(sprawl is) socially destructive. It intensies the disadvantages of class, race, gender, and age, by adding spatial separation. Sprawl is politically unfair as well as environmentally unsustainable and scally shortsighted." (Archer 137) I completely agree with these views. However, I think that seeing suburbia only through this lens is a problematic and conservative approach. The fact is, the suburbs are evolving. The suburbia that exists now is a far cry from Levittown or the cozy bedroom communities of the early 20th century. Though these early neighborhoods have forever changed the way we engage with space in this country, the suburbs of today are continuously redening what it means to be a suburbanite. In fact, the very term "suburb" no longer sufces to describe these decentralized "new cities". Fishman writes, "The # new city of the 20th century is not some fantastic city of towers out of Fritz Lang s celluloid Metropolis (1926)... It is, rather, the familiar decentralized world of highways and tract houses, shopping malls, and ofce parks that Americans have built for themselves since 1945."(Fishman 397) There are a plethora of terms used by
5 planners and sociologists to describe this new form of suburban living, these suburbs of suburbs, among them: "exurb", "nonplace", "spread city", "technoburb", "megaburb", etc. However, since there is no single term yet in use, I will continue to refer to these places as "suburbs". These new "suburbs" differ in many ways from their American origins. For instance, the landscape of suburbia is quite different today than it was in the 1950 s. In many cases the early suburbs built on the periphery of cities (innerring suburbs) are now becoming part of the urban fabric, while outside of these even larger suburban communities continue to grow exponentially. Huge changes in the suburban economy have taken place, in terms of manufacturing and employment. In Megalopolis Unbound Fishman points out that, In 1990 Census gures show(ed) that... 38% of the nations workers commuted from suburb to suburb, while only half as many made the suburb to city trek." In addition, "the industrial park... has displaced the old urban factory district as the headquarters of American manufacturing." and, "more than 57% of the nations ofce space is now located outside the central cities.(Fishman 397) Suburban demography has also undergone an extreme transformation within the past 50 years. Suburbia s residents have generally been depicted as middleclass, white, two parent, one point seven child families. However, as Andrew Blauvelt points out in his article Worlds Away, statistics reveal that 27% of suburban occupants are ethnic minorities, 29% of suburban households are
6 adults living without children, many gays and lesbians now live openly in suburban communities, and for the rst time more people are living in poverty in the suburbs than in the city.(Blauvelt 12) I give this background in order to communicate to the viewer, the superpower that suburbia has become. The question is no longer whether it should or shouldn t be, but is now, how we handle what we have haphazardly created. There is more work being done everyday to ameliorate the problems that have been caused by suburbia and sprawl. Movements like New Urbanism, New Suburbanism, and Smart Growth are all working in conjunction with planners, politicians, and architects to not only make existing suburbs more livable, but also to help curb the negative effects of sprawl in the future. The suburbs are still new, and their fate has yet to be determined. As more and more intellectuals, artists and architects come from the burbs, I think a more realistic understanding of suburbia will become apparent. In this thesis I am primarily concerned with the relationships between suburban aesthetics (or as some would argue, lack thereof), mass production and selfhood. Much of the academic derision aimed at suburbia and implicitly, its residents, stems from what suburbia is made of. Namely, mass produced and standardized housing and objects. It is these suburban materials and structures, which I am interested in, and which I have used to create my work.
7 Section 2: Objects Mass production and the suburbs are inextricably bound. Suburbia, as we know it, was only able to evolve with the mass production of cars, the tract home (which I will discuss at length, later), and consumer goods. These three occurrences, particularly consumer culture and automobile dependence, are obviously not exclusive to suburbia. Nor do I mean to say that they exist as a direct result of the suburbs. Certainly there are political, social, and economic functions that create and support these which extend far beyond master-planned communities. However, all three of these categories can be found in almost any community that lies somewhere between city and country. "There has been much attention paid in academia to the production and consumption of goods that, as Archer writes "...demonstrates how they are in general instrumental to the very real articulation of identity, selfhood, and the relation of self to society."(Archer 139) To many critics, the mass production of goods has been seen as working against "authentic" forms of selfhood and identity. The idea being that an "authentic" representation of self through objects is not possible when the only goods available to the consumer are massproduced. "Chain stores (which are also inextricably bound to the suburban environment) are frequently demonized as harbingers of this phenomenon. However, as Virginia Postrel writes in her article In Praise of Chain Stores in addition to making products more affordable, "Chains make a large range of
8 choices available in more places. They increase local variety, even as they reduce the differences from place to place. People who mostly stay put get to have experiences once available only to frequent travelers, and this loss of exclusivity is one reason why frequent travelers are the ones who complain."(Postrel 71) While I think that Postrel s analysis of chain stores is a bit shallow and oversimplied, (for example she ignores their negative effects on local economics, and avoids talking about the problematic production of many consumer goods which they supply), I am interested in her analysis of the relationship between the individual customer, and the commodities. Rather than seeing the consumption of mass produced objects as an erosion of authentic selfhood, Postrel acknowledges that individuals are able to ascribe their own meaning and relationship to these items. As Archer writes, "in articulating selfhood through the practices of daily life, consumers bring with them the potential to # ascribe different and # inconsistent cultural meanings to all sorts of products. Advertisements don! t transfer meaning directly to consumers. Instead, consumers are aware of the meanings that they are being # sold, and they also are able to vary, multiply, ignore, and undercut those meanings, depending on their own interests and circumstances."(Archer 139) I am interested in the ways in which individuals are capable of re-appropriating mass produced materials into forms of self-expression. "This celebration of mass production can be seen in the pop art movement of the 1950 s and 60 s. Pop art artists such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg attempted to confound ideas about the relationship between high art and mass
9 production by removing these mass produced materials from their context as commodity goods, and instead presenting them as art objects meant for contemplation. Warhol! s aesthetically pleasing reproduced images of soup cans, and Oldenburg s series of giant soft objects, are two iconic examples (Fig.1). "In more recent years, objects of mass production have become an increasingly present medium for contemporary artists. I am particularly interested in the work of Tim Hawkinson, who uses everyday-often easily purchased materials, to create pieces which often evoke themes of identity and time. For example, he has constructed self-portraits out of balloons (Fig. 2), and skin out of crumpled cardboard boxes and tin foil. In many sculptures Hawkinson limits himself to one or two materials, forcing them to transform into his greater piece, while simultaneously making their specic, mass produced qualities plainly obvious. Tara Donovan, like Hawkinson employs everyday objects of mass production in her work. Donovan assembles everyday materials (toothpicks, straws, plastic cups, twist ties) in, as Lilly Wei writes for Art in America "such prodigious quantities that, eventually, an aesthetic transformation takes place."(Wei 2) Donovan uses thousands (sometimes even millions) units of a single mass produced object, and arranges them into works that more often than not resemble some kind of natural landscape. Layers of tarpaper resemble a volcanic landscape; straws, a cloudbank (Fig.3), and plastic cups begin to resemble a glacier. Donovan is interested in "remanufacturing the manufactured". As I have mentioned previously, this
10 principle is something that I have considered a great deal in my work. Not only in how it pertains to the creation of art objects, but also as it pertains to the construction of identity within the consumer (and suburban) society. "Another artist whose work I am conceptually quite interested in is Stefanie Nagorka, who uses home improvement warehouses such as Home Depot, or Lowes as the site and subject of her work. Nagorka constructs geometric sculptures out of stock items in the aisles of these stores. In her Aisle Studio Project series she uses cinderblocks, bricks, and planters among other objects to briey create impermanent sculptures (often resembling towers), which are dismantled by the staff almost immediately (Fig. 4).(Blauvelt 202) "Nagorka s sculptures can be seen to communicate both a celebration of this commodity culture as a site for creativity, as well as a comment on the struggle for personal expression within it. Something that all of these artists have in common, is their personal re-manufacturing of mass produced goods, which thereby rebrands these objects as vehicles for self expression. "I similarly attempt to incorporate this concept into my own work. One sculpture of mine, Cinderblocks is made from 20 cinderblocks, covered in silver foil tape. The tape is rubbed into the block, in order to make the texture of the concrete readily apparent. At rst glance the objects look as though they may have been gilded with silver. When arranged next to each other, light refracts off of the surface of these blocks making them shine as the viewer moves around them. My intension with this piece was to create semi-precious looking forms out of ordinary, suburban materials. By doing so, I hope to (like the artists above)
11 present these objects as mass-produced pieces that have been transformed into art objects. I do intend for there to be something ironic about this piece however, as the forms are in fact made out of cinderblocks and tape, and this cheap, apparent materiality is something that they can t escape. The form of the cinderblock particularly, grounds the objects; as it is something that we recognize as distinctly un-glamorous. "In Untitled (guns), Untitled (chicken and teeth), and Untitled (water balloons) I am similarly exploring the relationship between identity and consumer culture. Untitled (guns) consists of a glistening pile of candy water guns placed on the oor on top of a large light-box. "The guns are all a similar yellow color, and are cast from three different toy gun molds, some of which are more realistic looking than others. The guns closer to the top of the pile bend and droop, robbing the symbol of its power. I consider this piece to be a criticism of the way in which violence is perceived and treated in the suburban environment. By taking these culturally loaded objects, and turning them into sickeningly sweet, overly aestheticized commodities, I am directing attention to the suburban notion that violence is something that happens elsewhere, outside the walls of gated communities. By making these objects simultaneously attractive and repulsive I also hope to draw attention to the tension between this image of suburbia and the glamorization of violence that is also so present in the pop culture of suburban residents. "In Untitled (chicken and teeth) I am again defamiliarizing two suburban objects with the intension of bringing to light the struggle between mass
12 production and selfhood. This sculpture consists of three casts of a chicken purchased from Publix, situated next to six casts of children s vampire teeth. "These objects are all cast in the same white, pigment-less wax. The objects have a quiet and slightly ephemeral appearance. The chicken parts, while looking slightly grotesque, have an almost cloud-like posture against the wall. While the forms do read as a chicken, they are abstracted to an extent that their source is not immediately apparent. The teeth casts, which emerge out of circular plaques are a bit more obvious, however their viciousness is calmed by the subtlety of the wax. When viewed as a unit, the combination of these pieces wants to read as a comment on the predatory nature of consumer society. However, this violent reading of the work is subdued by its passive materiality. Here, I am attempting to undermine these symbols of gross consumerism, and instead force the viewer to see these objects as both a bit threatening and simultaneously controllable. !Untitled (objects) is a sculpture that consists of designed objects I have collected, arranged, and then covered in hard, yellow candy. In the nal installation of this piece I used an exercise bike, a lawn chair, an old hair dryer, a food processor, a wafe maker, an imac, a toaster, a Polaroid camera, a typewriter, a Radio Flyer bike, and an old television. When installed, these objects appear quite strange. When coated in candy, many of the objects become slightly distorted from the heat. The slightly sickening smell of burnt sugar hovers around the objects, and a buzzing sound is emitted from the television, which is left on, running static under a thick yellow glaze. When
13 viewed the mass is incredibly attractive and visceral, and at the same time slightly dangerous and grotesque. The objects, some of which are recognizable as objects of desire in the not-so-distant past, are simultaneously destroyed and preserved. In an article for the Journal of Performing Arts Lisa Jaye Young writes: There is a gap between the concept of the advancement of technological progress and it s actualization. Objects such as a simple kitchen appliance or an automobile becomes obsolete, either temporarily forgotten or replaced by superior ones. The time in between such an object! s active employment, with either cultural or utilitarian value, and it s retro-action, or rediscovery, is an example of this gap. In our accelerating culture, within usually a decade or so, the object will turn up at a ea market or a second-hand shop marked up enormously in price. It is once again desirable, or in style as a nostalgic curiosity. (Young 4) "By using candy to preserve these objects I am attempting to draw attention to the temporary and nicky nature of our attraction to them, as over the course of days and weeks the sugar begins to crystallize and turn from something attractive and clear, into a sticky opaque mass. Section 3: Structures
14 If the objects that one owns can be seen as a form of self-distinction and expression of identity, then perhaps the house can be seen as the object invested with the most power for self-expression. American architects and designers in particular have always believed that the look of a house is meant to express the character of the residents inside. In 1855 Henry Ward Beecher wrote, "A house is the shape which a man! s thought s take when he imagines how he should like to live. It s interior is the measure of his social and domestic nature; it s exterior of his esthetic and artistic nature. It interprets, in material forms, his ideas of home, of friendship and of comfort."(Archer 137) In the time Beecher was writing this, most houses in the US were built individually. As archer writes, "A given house could be regarded as a work of craft, which often was presumed to have the potential to embody the character and facilitate the personal interests of the person or family who inhabited it."(Archer 137) However, as aspects of the house manufacturing process became more and more mass produced and standardized, and the resulting houses became less distinctive and more accessible to the average American, the house as a commodity became (theoretically) less capable of expressing the character and interest of it s residents. "In short, the standardization and commodication of the house led many to doubt its capacity to serve adequately as a register of individualized American selfhood."(Archer 136) However, the idea of housing embodying the values of those inside, has not been abandoned. Instead, the inhabitants of the suburban houses are assumed to have adopted the mass produced values that their houses would be
15 seen to represent. Many of these critiques focus on the physical, mass produced appearance of suburbia. For example Malvina Reynolds s popular 1962 song "Little Boxes" is a perfect example of the assumed relationship between the appearance of suburbia, and the identity of its inhabitants. Reynolds s song (most recently made popular by the satirical television show "Weeds") goes like this: "Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky, Little boxes, little boxes, Little boxes, all the same. There's a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one And they're all made out of ticky-tacky And they all look just the same. And the people in the houses All go to the university, And they all get put in boxes, Little boxes, all the same. And there's doctors and there's lawyers And business executives, And they're all made out of ticky-tacky And they all look just the same..." The song continues on to further generalize suburbia s inhabitants and their petitbourgeois lifestyles. "In contrast to Reynolds s depiction of the inhabitants of suburbia photographer Bill Owens series of black and white photographs "Suburbia" presents suburbanites as individuals functioning within a suburban contexts. His photographs, which were all taken during and after construction of the iconic post-war suburban development Levittown, depicts inhabitants going about their daily routines. Most photographs have captions beneath them, many of these captions quotes from the residents. For instance, one photograph depicts a
16 (white) mother, father and son, rolling out sod in their front yard. The quote beneath it reads: ""I bought the lawn in six foot roles. It s easy to handle. I prepared the ground and my wife and son helped roll out the grass. In one day you have a front yard."(Blauvelt 110) "At this point, Owens photographs do appear a bit dated, and in some ways reinforce stereotypes about suburbia s residents. For instance, most of the subjects photographed were white, and most of the quotes used were taken from the male "head of household". However, Owens! photographs are interesting, because they portray the mass-produced suburban environment as a site not only for creativity, but also individual expression and community life. "Two more current photographers, Larry Sultan and Laura E. Migliorino similarly photograph suburbanites within the context of their homes. Sultan s images depict interiors and exteriors of suburban houses which are being used to shoot pornography. Sometimes the space is the primary focus of the photograph, while the actors are partially obscured, though their activities still evident (Fig. 5). "Other photos, are portraits taken of the actors. Migliorino s images depict portraits of suburban residents superimposed over their homes, and their surrounding neighborhood. Her subjects are mostly individuals and families who do not t the suburban stereotype, like black families, gay and lesbian couples, mixed race families, singles, etc. These two photographers, like Bill Owens
17 challenge the idea that the values and character of suburban residents is somehow connected to their mass produced environments. "Artist/architect Teddy Cruz is another whose work challenges standard use of the suburban environment. Most of the work done by Estudio Teddy Cruz (Cruz s rm) takes place near the border between San Diego and Tijuana. Cruz has spent decades analyzing the ow of people, products, and services between these two border cities, as well as the patterns of habitation that occur in each place. Cruz writes, "This ow is manifested, in one direction, by the informal land use patterns and economies produced by migrant workers moving from Tijuana and into San Diego. But, while the "human ow" travels northbound in search of dollars, "infrastructural waste" moves southbound to construct an insurgent, cross-border urbanism of emergency."(Archer 120) By "infrastructural waste" Cruz means the used infrastructural elements that can be salvaged from the destruction of San Diego s "Levittown" or it s rst ring suburbs, which are slowly being demolished. Estudio Teddy Cruz! s work generally facilitates the re-use of these elements by the residents of Tijuana! s slums (Fig. 6). "On the opposite side of the border, Cruz works with Tijuanian immigrants to develop micro-policies in conjunction with community agencies that "can act as an informal process of urban and economic development for the neighborhood, and empower (it) to become a developer of alternative dwelling prototypes for it s own housing stock."(Blauvelt 121) Most of these policies have to do with nding ways to create multi-use structures within suburban enclaves, which can better adapt and support the lifestyles of immigrant families.
18 Like Teddy Cruz, artist Chris Burden uses art to challenge existing rules and regulations regarding use of Suburban Space. In particular Burden s structure Small Skyscraper challenges residential building codes in Los Angeles County. Critic Bill Wheelock writes, "Given an inch he took a mile, packing a comfortable, modern residential dwelling into an area just barely within the law. Restrictions stipulate that outbuildings such as clubhouses and sheds should not exceed 400 square feet, or 35 feet in height. So naturally he maximized this, constructing a four-story, 10-by-10-by-8-foot stack of rooms, with a roof deck."(Wheelock 2) Though this structure has yet to be erected on site, Small Skyscraper challenges the nature of certain housing policy while simultaneously using a normal residential plot as a site for creative expression. Like the artists discussed above, in my work, I hope to remain critical of suburbia, while simultaneously using it as a site for personal expression by working within its boundaries. Like Owens, I intend to draw attention to everyday creativity, and like Cruz and Burden (though my work exists only in a gallery space) I hope to re-imagine the function of suburban materiality. Summerhouse is a rectangular shack-like structure that is built out of 21 inatable bright orange, transparent pool rafts. The structure is rectangular and rests on a foundation of cinderblocks. Inside of the structure there are walls (also made out of rafts) that form a very small entrance room which then opens into a larger, enclosed space. A single, low watt light bulb hangs in the middle of this larger room. Inside the structure, the plastic smell of the rafts is strong, and the layered effect of the saturated orange plastic is visually overwhelming. Inside the
19 viewer becomes isolated from the surrounding gallery space; the gures on the outside of the structure are quiet and distorted. There is only room inside for one, at the most two people to t comfortably. I do not intend it to be a comfortable space to stay in. Winter Retreat is another shack-like structure, this time constructed from thick, white, styrofoam panels. The shack has a rectangular doorframe in the front and two square "picture windows" cut out of each side. The inside of the structure is covered in white Christmas lights. The Christmas lights, make the structure incredibly hot inside (it is in effect an incubator), and glow eerily through the openings. I chose to pair these objects because in both of them I am attempting to explore ideas of escapism. Both of these structures reference the idea of "holiday" as an escape from suburban life. Summerhouse looks as though it could blow off the cinderblocks and oat away, and the contrasting solidity of winter retreat, gives it a fortress-like appearance. With these structures, I hope to draw attention, like Andrea Zittel, to the tension between our need for personal mobility, our need for escape-and our need for comfort and security. Andrea Zittel has manufactured small habitable dwellings throughout her career. Her structures address issues such as the tension between the individual and mass production, the creation of identity through consumer practices, and the tension between our increased need for personal mobility and our need for comfort and security. They focus on "the extent to which one's living environment and possessions concurrently reect one's beliefs and modify one's
20 behavior."(Yepelli) Zittel! s A-Z Escape Vehicles (Fig. 7) are small enclosures that resemble small rvs. The interiors of these structures were each customized by their owners, (one was a "Cornell like" box ofce, one was a blue velvet reading room, one was a sensory depravation chamber). These Escape Vehicles, though mobile, were intended to be parked in or around the clients home, and were meant to function (as is alluded to in their title) as a means of mental and physical escape for the client. She has stated that she views some of her objects as "cures", and that they work the best in a "crisis event"(Vischer 2). It is no surprise then, that Zittel s work is often criticized for being overly preachy. After all, with her tiny structures she appears to be promoting a very specic type of lifestyle. However, there is a self-conscious irony in her work, which makes it decidedly post-modern. Zittel plays with the fact that each of these objects which seemingly promote anti-materialist ideals, are themselves beautifully crafted and aesthetically pleasing objects. In addition, each object that she has manufactured proudly bears the stamp of A-Z administrative services. The "utter practicality"(Yapelli) of Zittel! s designs, is often very humorous. Most of them would not be comfortable to permanently inhabit. In one early unit Zittel created in which a kitchen surface slid away to reveal a bench with a hole in it, intended to be used as a toilet. By refusing to mass-produce her designs, Zittel knowingly keeps them art objects, meant for contemplation. She acknowledges wealthy art collectors are her main clients, not people who could really use a home. They are designed as escapes from everyday life. In Zittel s view, in order to use an escape vehicle one must
21 have possessions and obligations to run from. It seems that to Zittel, her client base is yet another part of the commentary. In Tape House 1 and 2, I created two, similar house-like structures out of pvc and nylon agging tape. The tape, which is generally used at construction sites to demarcate pipelines, is wrapped around the pvc layer by layer creating panels, which appear both solid and fragile. Unlike summerhouse and winter wonderland the forms of Tape House 1 and 2 resemble a very simplied version of a suburban home. They are approximately 10 feet high with a slanted roof. In both structures, the roof is solid as are three of the walls, the fourth left open. I used two kinds of agging tape, one opaque white and yellow safety stripe, and one translucent neon yellow. The roof of one structure is made with opaque tape and as the viewer s eyes moves down the structure the opaque tape slowly and asymmetrically blends with the translucent tape until the bottom of the structure is entirely made of neon yellow, in the second structure, this pattern is reversed. Light shines from above the piece casting linear shadows inside the structures and when inside glimpses of the surrounding gallery can be seen through the gaps in the tape. Both structures contain the domes of old streetlights, which emit a glow from the bottom of each structure. The houses are never completely still, and though they appear solid from most sides the viewer is always aware that the walls are comprised only of thin plastic strips. Like summerhouse and winter retreat Tape House 1 and 2 look aesthetically pleasing and inviting from the outside, but upon entry, are slightly
22 uncomfortable. Inside, the stripes and bright colors confuse the viewer optically and the smell of the plastic is a bit overwhelming. In all of these structures I am using familiar suburban objects to create de-familiar spaces. All of the structures appear inviting from the outside. I want them to have a commercial aesthetic, and to be striking and exciting to look at. However, because of their one to two person scale, and the rather uncomfortable sensations surrounding the viewers once inside, the structures also have an alienating and isolating effect. I think that the ways in which these structures provide a critique of the suburban environment is obvious. On one level they reect the tension between the attraction to suburbs and the subsequent alienation, loneliness and isolation that an individual can feel in them. If houses are supposed to represent or reect the character and values of those inside, then the fragility of these structures could be seen to represent the fragility of the inhabitants selfhood. Also, a very obvious critique can be seen in the use of materials. Tape House 1 and 2 are made out of caution tape, and summerhouse while perhaps constructed of a friendlier material emits an almost cautionary orange light. Winter retreat, is almost impossible to stay inside, because of the light and heat emanating from the festive lights. The tension and irony in these pieces however comes from their triumphant assemblage. Though they appear fragile and temporary, and are made from cheap mass-produced materials, the structures proudly occupy their space, and this somewhat undermines their cautionary materiality. The rafts and
23 the agging tape both evoke memories of childhood fun-houses and playgrounds through their colorful, visceral, materiality and their smell, and there is something strangely familiar and perhaps oddly comforting about them. Like Zittel, I am hoping to use this irony in order to highlight the tension between mass produced space and the individual. "There is no doubt that these structures appear unstable. Summerhouse undulates and wobbles when the walls are brushed, and the thin strips of tape comprising Untitled (agging tape) are constantly uttering, from air conditioning or from bodies moving in and around it. It is my intent to create structures that appear dynamic, structures that could evolve easily. For instance, summerhouse could be easily expanded with the addition of more rafts, or immediately deated. The forms of Tape House 1 and 2 could be drastically altered simply by attaching some of the rows of tape to another object, or simply by slicing them. With this aspect of my work I hope to draw attention to the evolving nature of suburbia. Not only in the sense of it s slowly evolving demography, or its constant growth, but also (especially given the current state of the economy) the cycles of abandonment and re-inhabitation that occur within it. The exhibition appears a bit like a shantytown, and it is no coincidence that shantytowns are now popping up across the US like wildre. By referencing this environment, I also hope to highlight a general, apathetic, suburban attitude toward what is happening "outside" the suburban situation. "In Tar Pour I am again attempting to draw attention to the evolving nature of the suburbs. Tar Pour consists of a pile of brand new moving boxes cascading
24 off the wall and into the gallery space. They somewhat resemble a natural rock formation. Roong tar is poured over the boxes, dripping down the sides. This piece is a reference to artist Robert Smithson s series of earthwork pours. Some of these were done on a small scale, using barrels of glue, others on a large scale, pouring truckloads of asphalt down the side of a hill. Smithson is interested in placing his work in nonsites, by which he means anonymous, placeless natural environments. In my work, by removing suburban objects from their natural setting, I am attempting to use the white box gallery space as a similar nonsite. "In his work, Smithson was exploring themes of temporality and entropy. By using this similar process on moving boxes as opposed to a natural site, I am attempting to highlight the change and decay, or the entropy, within the suburban environment. Conclusion "Through my work, I intend to explore the struggle that exists between mass produced suburban space and the individual. By doing so, I hope to have created work that transcends the existing historical binary in the current representations of the suburban environment. While my work does appear overtly critical of suburbia, I attempt to undermine and challenge this primary
25 reading, through the use of irony and my obvious enjoyment and attachment to the mediums which I am using, namely, suburban objects of mass production. "During and after my exhibition I was asked many questions and received many comments regarding my work which lead me to believe that the exhibition communicated these intensions very successfully, particularly among people my age, and those who had grown up in a similar suburban environment. People were particularly interested in Summerhouse, Boxes, Untitled Objects, Guns and my 2D work (which I did not discuss in this paper), which leads me to believe that these pieces were perhaps the most successful. "One potential problem with my work, is that it fairly generationally bound. As many of my peers have grown up in newer "exurbs", I think that it is easier for a younger audience to understand not only my attempts at irony, but also connect with my sincere and somewhat nostalgic attachment and appreciation of the new suburban environment and the objects that exist within it. I think that it may be easier for older viewers to read my pieces as simple political statements that depict suburbia in a stereotypical way, as an overwhelmingly glossy and attractive environment which masks the alienation and isolation experienced within it. I hope to combat this by creating an installation that presents suburbia as not only strange, but also strangely comforting, and strangely familiar. """"""
26 PLATE LIST Fig. 1, Andy Warhol, Soup Cans 1962. Silkscreen on canvas.
27 Fig. 2, Tim Hawkinson, FAT HEAD BALLOON SELF-PORTRAIT 1993. Studio clothing, latex, air, basketball hoop. Fig. 3, Stephanie Nagorka, Aisle Studio Project 2002.
28 Fig. 4, Tara Donovan, Haze 2003. Drinking straws.
29 Fig. 5, Larry Sultan, Cabanna, 2002. Chromogenic print. Fig. 6, Estudio Teddy Cruz, Tijuana 2004.
30 Fig. 7, Andrea Zittel, A-Z Escape Vehicle Owned and Customized by Bob Shifer 1996.
31 Fig. 8, Chris Burden, Small Skyscraper, 2003.
32 Bibliography Archer, John. "Suburban Aesthetics Is Not an Oxymoron." Worlds away new suburban landscapes. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2008. 121-46. 2005. Fishman, Robert. "Bourgeois Utopias: Visions of Suburbia." Readings in Urban Theory. Ed. Susan S. Fainstein and Scott Campbell. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2002. 22-31. Fishman, Robert. "Megalopolis Unbound." Metropolis Center and Symbol of Our"Times (Main Trends of the Modern World). New York: New York UP, 1994."395-417. Kasinitz, Philip. "Introduction." Metropolis Center and Symbol of Our Times (Main "Trends of the Modern World). New York: New York UP, 1994. 387-94. Postrel, Virginia. "In Praise of Chain Stores." Worlds away new suburban "landscapes. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2008. 69-72. Solomonson, Katherine. "A Conversation with Andrew Blauvelt and Tracy "Meyers." "Worlds away new suburban landscapes. Minneapolis: Walker Art"Center, 2008. "Urbanism and Suburbanism as a Ways of Life: A reevaluation of Denitions." "Metropolis Center and Symbol of Our Times (Main Trends of the Modern"World). New York: New York UP, 1994. 170-95. 1991. Wei, Lily. "Materialist." Art in America 2003rd ser. 91: 100-04. Wheelock, Bill. "Chris Burden." ArtUS (2003): 2-4. "Worlds Away and the World Next Door." Worlds away new suburban "landscapes. Ed. Andrew Blauvelt. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2008."10-16. Yapelli, Tina. "New York: Andrea Zittel at Andrea Rosen." Art in America (1998).
33 Young, Lisa Jaye. "Spiritual Minimalism." Performing Arts Journal 53 (1996): 44"52.