Saturday, April 11, 2009

Revealing the Grid

The Weston Art Gallery seems to welcome a preoccupation with the challenge of its street-level gallery space that is nearly dominated by windows looking out onto Cincinnati’s downtown streets of 7th and Walnut. Thomas Macaulay’s House Divided: SiteSpecific Environmental Installation currently on view is another such invitation. With its maze of cardboard boxes, nearly all of them white, The Weston almost begs comparison with the CAC’s Tara Donovan, but I’ll let someone else write that review.

Perhaps my most powerful revelation as an art history student occurred when I was introduced to the grid not just as a design principle in architecture and painting, but most impressive as a concept of our living space. As a professor of art history I always enjoyed most revealing this to my students. Forcing them to recognize the tiles on the walls, ceilings and floors of the classrooms as well as the inherent design of campus buildings as nearly uniform three-dimensional grids in which they spent their days, their lives. Watching their eyes get big, I knew from that moment many of them would never see the world the same way again. House Divided wonderfully forces a similar revelation not only of the gridded space that is The Weston Art Gallery, but of how we move and live within the grid. Despite the analytical clarity of a grid we tend to be blinded to it. And like all mazes, Macaulay’s cardboard box maze forces us to move blindly through this space and in doing so reveals our blindness to the forms around us.

Similarly, the photographs of Fredrik Marsh that make up Transitions: The Dresden Project also reveal the architectural grid that constructs our living spaces. Marsh took the photographs during a residency in Dresden, Germany in 2002 and over four subsequent summers. During this time he found himself drawn to buildings that seemed to be locked in the process of reconstruction but now abandoned. The title of the show either refers to the reconstruction of these buildings or more likely to the transition to a post-Communist world. Marsh notes this transition as one that combines a grandness with decay.

While the black and white and color photographs of decaying interiors seem to present a commentary on the collapse of Socialism, these images reveal too a layering of the grid that makes up our domestic spaces. Photographs like Abandoned Apartment near Bahnhof Neustadt, 2005 presents layers of wallpaper and geometrics that make up a space now abandoned, but clearly once celebrated as expressed in the number of applications of design. Many of the photographs include and sometimes focus on doors and windows further emphasizing the gridded domestic space. Like Macaulay’s maze, these photographs invite movement into these spaces. Again, it is this layering of the grid that forces us to recognize our willingness to abandon or overlook these spaces, thus revealing our blindness.

Both shows at The Weston Art Gallery work so well together to encourage the viewer to engage both the formal and social implications of the grid.