“ENTRE NOUS” at Bad Reputation, Los Angeles
With works by Tom Burr, Robert Bittenbender, Claude Cahun, Vincent Fecteau, Ian Markell Vernon Price, Johannes Paul Raether, RIA-B, Willem de Rooij, Ser Serpas, Susanne M. Winterling
Edgar Allan Poe, Deep Purple, and Haus Salve Hospes Backyards
Sometimes, particularly in the suburbs, or in those areas on the very fringe of urban areas which can’t properly be called suburbs (or in certain small towns …), large green hedges surround lush green lawns, separating the street from the backyard, the sidewalk from the patio, the pedestrian from the lawn-chair lounger. Often these hedges are planted or trimmed relatively close to the ground so that simply the idea of a separation is enacted by relatively low- slung ribbons of green. But just as often they are grown to greater heights, rising seven, eight, or nine feet from the earth and more, effectively obliterating the ground-level views from one side to the other. Gazing through the hedges remains the only means of visually transgressing such a lofty and well-designed wall of foliage, finding the holes within the yellowed and thinned portions of the hedge and peering inward, into the hedge, and then through to the other side.
If a hedge has a certain bulk to it, a depth of a few feet or more, and if it has matured enough to allow for some larger yellowed and thinned patches to develop, it may be possible to enter the hedge itself and to find repose there, however briefly, between the lawn and the sidewalk, or the lawn and yet another lawn. (I’ve done this myself many times, although not in recent years … the hedge I most often explored was a hemlock hedge, which was adjacent to a stand of mountain laurel, and there were endless depressions, cavities, and channels within the foliaged structure where I could find space in which to reside.) Within a hedge there’s a peculiar in-between sensation (as I remember it), a hovering in the middle of two distinct zones, which were intended to be partitioned off from one another, however gracefully, by the presence of the hedge. (The hedge behind the Haus Salve Hospes has a wild, uneven quality to it, with shoots and branches jutting out in all directions. Clearly at one time it was a tamer hedge, trained to a very particular height and depth, and yet now it has grown out and spilled beyond its original geometric configuration. But the earlier design is still recognizable, and the hedge is not in such a state as to be beyond restoration. It is somewhere on a journey from its role as a formal garden wall toward a more bohemian, free- flowing existence.)
In 1846, Allan Poe writes: But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. The wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. The external world could take care of itself.
In 1981, Tilted Arc, 120 feet of Corten steel forged into a slight arc and set at a slight tilt, was first on installed at 26 Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan. Among the arguments made against the sculpture and in favor of its removal had to do with the plaza’s accumulation of graffiti, waste, and litter, apparently prompted by the presence of the steel arc. In addition, the claim was made by Judge Re, whose office was located in the office tower of 26 Federal Plaza, that an increase in the rat population had been observed since the arc’s arrival. He wrote: “We have never experienced a rodent problem of the present enormity in this area. Exterminators are called regularly, at a considerable expense, to rid our Courthouse of this hazard.” Additional claims were made during the lengthy court that the arc was particularly suited to function as a blast wall for terrorists. A federal physical security specialist elaborated that the arc would “vent explosive forces not only upwards but also in an angle towards both buildings.” In 1989 the arc was removed.
Edgar Allan Poe continues: It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell you of the many rooms in which it was held. There were seven —an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened.
Richard Serra has stated explicitly, more than once over several years, that his work has little or nothing to do with decoration, that his works never decorate or ornament the sites in which they are placed. Seen (as I did) in person, or from the many existing photographs, the arc has a highly ornamental quality to it, draped across the plaza like some long, low-slung snake. The snake became particularly mysterious at night, after the office building at 26 Federal Plaza emptied out, casting long, curved shadows across the plaza. It is then that the graffitists came out (I imagine), perhaps under the mixed light source of a full moon and the obsessively bright night-time flood lights surrounding the area, turning the minimal Corten surface into a Gothic web of words, insignias, and symbols, not all of them pleasant according to reports. (Richard Serra writes: “Several of the speakers complained about people pissing on the sculpture or about the obscene content of graffiti scrawled on its surface.”) In addition, the urine could have had a particularly ornamental effect on the Corten steel, which is designed to rust slowly to a ruddy orange as a natural result of its oxidation process.
And Poe: (…) That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue— and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange—the fourth with white— the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes were scarlet —a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illuminated the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances.
The views from the back windows of the Haus Salve Hospes stretch out across the lawns (which need reseeding), across the hedges (which needed repruning), and into the park lands on the far side of the hedges. The park lands are dotted here and there by large clusters of trees, the occasional full purple beech tree figuring prominently among them. It occurred to me that a fence might be a good idea, set parallel to the hedge, but on this side of the Haus Salve Hospes, in front of the hedge at some distance to allow traffic to flow somewhat steadily behind it if need be. The fence should be portable, I reasoned, ready to be up and moved at a (few) moments notice, and relocated anywhere else in the world where a fence might be needed. It should be made of wood, the most common material for fences that I am accustomed to (besides the classic chain-link fence, which I knew I didn’t want), and it should be completely enveloped in purple … a deep, dark, Gothic purple. (But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.)
[This text was written to accompany Tom Burr’s solo show entitled Low Slung, curated by Karola Grässlin, held at Kunstverein Braunschweig (September 16 – November 12, 2000). It was published in Karola Grässlin (ed.), Low Slung, Kunstverein Braunschweig, Verlag Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2000, pp. 12-19. It was later re- published in OCTOBER, The MIT Press, Cambridge, n° 100, Spring, 2002, pp. 28-33. Excepts from this text were also printed in Will Bradley, Henriette Bretton-Meyer and Toby Webster (eds), My Head is on Fire but my Heart is Full of Love, Charlottenborg Udstillingsby, Copenhagen, 2002, pp. 81-84.]
Gravity Moves Me
Gravity moves me. It drags me across the floor at a particular pace, and it tosses me face down on the ground periodically, pushing my cheek solidly against the floor, holding me there while I’m catching my breath, holding on to it as long as I can. From down there, I think about the floorboards I’m pressed against, about other floorboards in other rooms, and tiles, and expanses of carpet. I think about vast poured concrete spaces and asphalt-covered parking lots. I ruminate on the many low, flat surfaces of the earth, its superficial layers, its underpinnings and its coverings, its floors, sub floors and joists, its sodden mud and its cracked dirt, its wall-to-wall pile and scattered area shags.
Gravity concerns me. It ages things. It pulls on things and causes things to falter and fall. It works on objects and people the same way, the fibrous contractile tissue of my muscles comes under the same pressure as the multiple veneers of a sheet of plywood, both engineered to withstand the ravages of many passing months but both incapable of warding off the cumulative damage long term. Months turn into years, things warp, buckle and bend; slide shift and fade; slacken and fray.
(I made a sculpture a decade ago out of plywood panels trained and coaxed into a long curve and painted a deep purple, then secured with long metal stakes driven into the ground. It was made to conjure up, or act a bit like another, larger sculpture made two decades earlier out of Corten steel, a material with a much slower aging process, a more gradual admission of demise. Ten years later my purple wooden impersonator, well-traveled but somewhat world-weary, shows her age in a variety of ways across the surface of her skin and throughout her multiplied bone structure. The curve is slightly less pristine after years spent outdoors, and after other years spent having the individual parts and sections packed up in storage warehouses, waiting. But the purple remains vibrant somehow, despite the snow and the sun, and the many fecal trails left by bugs and birds and roving dogs. In a certain light, and from certain angles, she looks as young and fresh as she did a decade ago. I saw her again recently, after several years, quietly installed inside a courtyard in a town not far from Paris, her violet complexion chromatically consistent with the fallen autumn debris at her feet. I ran my hands over her volume in a moment of fleeting objectophilia, feeling her curved form, then backed away as a swarm of lady bugs began to cover the sun drenched swath of wood I was fondling.)
Gravity amuses me. Its stark, harsh message makes me stammer and laugh, and blurt out. It makes me grin. I tend to resist its pull on my face by smiling, at nothing, like an idiot or a sage. I tend to resist its pull on my body through repetitions that strengthen and stabilize the mass of my muscles as long as I can. I impersonate plywood; I try to act like steel. Frequently I give in. I rest for a while. I collapse, catching my breath and holding it, letting my body have its individual parts and sections be pushed and pulled by the full weight of gravity’s force, down to the ground. Moved by weight and mass and seriousness, I lie there, smiling for no reason. I lie low and I ruminate on the low, flat surfaces of the earth, its parquet floors and its plywood subfloors, its green lawns and its gravel drives, its wall- to-wall pile and its scattered area shags.
– Tom Burr, 2011
at Bad Reputation, Los Angeles
until 21 October 2017