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Back to Reviews 97

Technological Sublime
installation view, 1997

ArtNet Worldwide 1997

Technological Sublime
installation view, 1997

michael merchant
and stephen brower

at TZ'Art

by Peter Fend

As I have proposed to review only art shows dealing with architecture, or what could be better called "Architecture Shows," this was a natural.

One could not call this exhibition anything but an architecture show. None of the objects presented have meaning except as they bear on questions of House, Site, Building, Container or, if you want to raise smiles, Architectural History.

There is what might be called a video sculpture, but it's really more a guide to sexual orientation. It's a boom-box-sized model of a standard `50s house, with building elements exposed, much like what might be shown in a real estate sales office, EXCEPT that all of this sits on top of a `50s-style TV playing movie footage of a man and woman within a car. He drives; she, quite pneumatic, moves from seat to seat.

The car, like a cage, like a moveable house, rocks about. An esthetic from the `50s becomes very clear: house, with happy bodies inside; car, with happy bodies inside; a comfortable sexual norm pervades it all. This is a situation that people will yearn to be inside of: like well-cut clothes, or a cozy bedroom, with His and Her roles very clear. This is not the sexual fashion today. Does Merchant try turning the wheel of history, again, through habitat fantasies?

The painting by Stephen Brower facing the street, with a very long cutaway model of a Quonset hut used for storage in front of it, does not function as a painting. It functions as a theater-set backdrop that says "Sky." Sky, in turn, says "Air." Air says greater and lesser pressure, pneumatics and breathing.

Upon entering the gallery you first see, tethered to the floor at three points, a mini-blimp by Michael Merchant. Mini outdoors, but very maxi inside the space. We cannot call it a sculpture. Who would want it in a collection by itself? But we can call it a statement. On the walls all around are blow-ups of antique picture postcards of ideal sites, often with idealized buildings. A collector could dedicate a whole room to the exhibition, or at least an image or two of inflatables together with that blimp, and that assemblage, possibly even the whole room, would be an Architectural Statement.

This statement, which the objects and photos all lead up to, is that architecture, being something you inhabit, is something you breathe. It is inhabited by elements that are more or less inflated, and more or less permeated, or more or less sealed. The interior of the Quonset hut is of course stuffy, with dead air, and the cutaways don't change that sensation a bit because we know they are just illustrational; the sky, by contrast, makes any passerby take a deep breath. Inside, the scenes of Niagara Falls make us respire (oh, the invigorating air!); the model of the exposed-beam house makes us feel cozy without feeling stifled; and the road scene on the TV seems remarkably airy, well-respired; the blown-up landscape postcards, like the scene from near Utica, induces not a sensation of There but a nostalgia for Us As We Have Been, Healthy.

We leave reminded of the first obligation in any built situation: Our Bodies as they Breathe, Pump and Move. The blimp functions as do we in the space: blown up, elastic, in a dynamic state, poised. Building from these understandings will yield, of course, very different results than those today -- hopefully, in brand new constructions, brand new forms of building, which help achieve the fantasies evident in the postcard pictures, enlarged for the show, from long before.

A maxim might be gleaned, worth citing to those architects now seeking -- in vain, given the lifetime of buildings -- to build monuments: seek not to build a timeless structure, but to satisfy, with brand new efforts, our timeless needs.

PETER FEND is a New York artist.

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