Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mad Homes

Yesterday, a group of us gathered at the school to work on organizing our storage space. We'd originally underestimated how many units of shelving we would need, so much of our stuff had been piled on the floor where the new shelving needed to go. The plan for the morning was to remove all the stuff that had been living for the past month where the new shelves needed to be, put it in the "Cloud Room" (perhaps some day I'll get around to explaining that name) organized by "type," assemble the shelves where they need to go in the storage room, then return the stuff, now categorized, onto the shelves.

Categories are hard. How about that role of fine mesh? Years ago I'd seen some very cool human torsos made from the stuff and bought it with the idea of trying to sculpt something cool from it myself. It wasn't an activity, as it turned out, I enjoyed doing, so it found its way into school, where I've always thought of it as an art supply. But, you know, 3 years later it hasn't been used for art. Maybe it belongs at the workbench. Or it could be used for dramatic play. Or we could make sifter from it for the sensory table. See what I mean? Categories are hard.

This post is about people making cool stuff. I suppose they call it art, but it could just as easily be called play, or tinkering, or experimenting, or . . . well, it's hard to categorize.

These are some people who've taken over 4 houses on the verge of demolition or relocation in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Seattle and they've done some Fred.

For instance, Julia Haack, has made this impressive thing that she's imposed on an evergreen shrub in the front lawn of 711 Bellevue Avenue East.

It looks like a giant version of an architectural feature that might have fallen off the house two doors down, cobbled together entirely from salvaged materials.

Why don't more people have things like this in their front yards? Seriously, it's way cooler than a lawn and probably easier to maintain.

Of course, maybe people would worry that it would detract from the house itself . . .

. . . which in this case might be a good thing. But what the hell did Laura Ward do?

Ack! She peeled the skin right off that old, neglected house. Laura used latex rubber to make a mold of the house, peeled it off, then sewed it back together, hanging it from an armature in the front yard. What a cool thing to even attempt.

What a lot we can learn about that house, seeing it like this, lit at night from within, miniaturized and draped there, a skin that may or may not survive the house itself, a reverse ghost of 711.

The air reeks of rubber there on the front lawn, a smell which I thought was the oder of something burning or burnt, like maybe this cool thing that Meg Hartwig made.

She drew on all that wood with fire, or intense heat at least. I had a wood burning set as a boy, so it must have been something like that. It's impossible to show the whole thing at once with the pictures I can take with my iPhone, but there is this cool stuff at the top of a tree that she's made a part of it.

And there are these flood gauges. She even used a torch to burn the ends of the branches of the barren bushes that might have once taken leaf here in the front of this Mad Home.

Why isn't this what yards look like? Why isn't this what we're all doing with all that ground around our houses? Why aren't we all making even cooler stuff instead of mowing and pruning and raking.

I do know why, inside, we don't have wolves popping out of slots in the living room floor like the ones Allan Packer made. It would be rather startling and a bit of a hazard to have cartoon canines popping out at us, driven by motors one can peer down to see in the basement. I suppose I'd be forever tripping over his nose, slopping my ramen onto the sofa.

If there was a sofa instead of this buzzing saw spinning through the floor . . .

. . . or this crazy bird swinging from the ceiling from one room to the next through a bodily shaped hole in the wall (I love how he even cut through the baseboard); swinging from the light . . .

. . . into the black lit dark on the other side of the wall.

I like that you can go upstairs and see how the bird works, with it's motor and fan to keep it from overheating.

And this piece, that was apparently a moon that was to rise and fall from attic to basement, but was unplugged and hanging over its slot on both the days I went to visit.

No experiment is a failure, only a data point.

Back outside, the boys of SuttonBeresCuller (these guys are amazing; if you're only going to click on one of the links here, this is the one) has used 12,000 feet of ratchet straps to bind the two neighboring houses together.

What fun this must have been to do, especially for the family with a young son that is living in one of the houses as the show goes on.

I saw one woman navigate through this tangle, like a jewel thief dodging infra-red alarm beams during a movie museum heist. Cool. I'm particularly fond of how the straps were integrated into the other cool stuff  I saw inside one of the houses, made by Jason Punccinelli and Elizabeth Potter. See how the straps come right through the wall . . .

. . . and hold up this sagging nude?

What am I looking at here? Holy cow, this is cool! Maybe you can see the optical trick better in this next picture.

She's painted on the floor and the walls, but it makes your eye see her sort of slouching down the stairs. I would really like to try making something like that!

In the next room, a living room, they made a strange sort of puzzle, with painted glass orbs on pedestals in the dark.

Walking around, you sense that there is something there.

Until you get around to here, where it starts to make more sense.

I almost got her together . . . 

. . . but not quite because I really think the perfect vantage point is somewhere within the wall.

And upstairs, inside, the straps make a maze of rooms.

These are houses. People once lived here. If one of these is really going to be relocated, well then, we can assume folks will live there again.

I understand tables and chairs and beds, of course, but I'm thinking about those things a little differently now. I'm thinking about houses where the art hangs on the walls.

Next door, Troy Gua has wrapped the house in plastic.

Maybe this is the one that's going to be picked up and moved. It looks ready for transit.

From the inside, looking out, I'm surprised by how that looks and how it makes me feel.

And there up at the top of the column, those curly-cue decorative elements look like something you might recreate larger and put on an evergreen shrub in front of 711 Bellevue Avenue East.

Luke Haynes has covered the interior walls, ceilings, and floors with used clothing he's sewn together.

There's an intimacy about this house, wrapped in plastic with its clothing on the every surface, puzzled together.

It's almost like seeing something that's not ready to be seen, as if the people who live here have just moved in, or are just moving out, and they're not quite ready for visitors.

But you're here anyway, walking on their clothes.

This temporary, site-specific exhibit, one that will presumedly be dismantled along with the homes (actually, I'll bet Luke's happy he doesn't have to un-install all this himself) is here until August 7. I'm going back then to examine the dirty foot trails people have left on the floor.

Upstairs, where they belong, are the undies, there on the wall without a drawer in which to hide.

Amanda Manitach's four slide projectors flash words on a wall in the front bedroom . . .

While in the back bedroom, Allyce Wood has woven shadows of the people and pets who she imagines once lived here from string.

Of all the cool things I found in these Mad Homes, this is the technique I'm most inspired to try myself . . .

. . . which likely means that there are many balls of string and many little nails destined to one day be categorized in our school's storage room. Where to you put string? Art? Outdoor? Office supplies?

And through all the windows you're reminded that this place is packed up to move.

 Around back, past The Ouchy Couch . . .

. . . there's a fourth house hidden from the street, only accessible by a narrow driveway. I can imagine that the people who will one day live here, will be happy to have 723 re-located, if only to give them a little breathing space. Here Ryan Molenkamp has installed a strange spiky river of paper on the wall and sculpture jutting into the room.

For want of a better word, we can call what these people have done "art," and it is, of course. But passing through these spaces, thinking about these people working together, side-by-side, laughing, swearing, grunting, sweating, people together experimenting with paint and tools and wood and rubber and fire and machines, people making all this cool stuff in places no longer mundane . . . Is it art? Or science? Or math? Or history? Or PE? It's all here. You can't categorize these things people do when they play.

And that's why we play, because within that category we find the whole world.

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Aunt Annie said...

Tom, what about a storage category called 'random stuff for rainy days'? It's amazing how something random can inspire kids with cabin fever to create something new...

Lifting Chains said...

Really amazing and scary mad homes.

Straps said...

This is amazing and very unusual at the same time