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Slump (Building Code)
Hopkins Gallery. Columbus, Ohio 1992

 

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REVIEW:Mark Allen Svede, Dialogue Magazine, April 1994

 

Building Code

 

To encounter the installation Building Code without knowing the previous collaborative work by the architect trio Cathcart/Fantauzzi/Van Elslander, one could come away satisfied by its various aesthetic and logistical qualities. To one side of the gallery interior, 20,000 shoes constitute a primary structure, a colossal slumped ring of sandals, pumps, roller skates, sneakers, and what-not fastened together by drywall screws, its center filled with many more of the same. Just outside of the main gallery door, large piles of belts, purses, and hats accessorize this central form - so in life, so too in discard. At the rear of the gallery lies a forth heap, this of burlap sacks which once contained the shoes when they were rejected from a Columbus charity that solicits such merchandise for sale in its thrift stores. Here the smell is faintly second-hand as well.

As it happened, the central form is accidental. Cathcart, Fantauzzi, and Van Elslander had constructed a circular wall, which partially collapsed the night before Building Code's opening. All that remained of strict geometry was the string-and-pencil compass used to inscribe the original floor plan, now fastened to the gallery wall. Pregnant, volcanic, vaguely Moebius strip-like: the deformation embodies movement, process, potential. Certain details, also created by chance, possess the wit and charm of found poetry: a concentration of up-ended stiletto heels coincide with one of two peaks along the ridge of the slumping form; the toe of an athletic shoe protrudes from the bulging side, poised to kick a heedless onlooker in the shin; and a base of burlap bags was exposed on one side when the wall shifted, analogous to a rusticated foundation or, in fact, a large heel. Indeed, a disciple of Purism might declare that this installation is the platonic notion of Shoe, its rigorous, regular structure subjected to material fatigue, cupping and slumping idiosyncratically in deference to time, gravity, and internal necessity.

But all of this is beside the point; such associations, fortuitous and irrelevant. If Building Code looks to the casual observer like a rummage sale gone awry, to Cathcart/Fantauzzi/Van Elslander's way of thinking it is the notion that the people of Columbus have discarded so much in the two-week period as a result of caprice. In previous projects they have indicted the commodification of architectural form, but this is their first attempt to explicitly draw a parallel between academic architecture and the fashion industry. Few architects, even among the

iconoclastic, would posit an equivalency between shoes and bricks, but Cathcart/Fantauzzi/Van Elslander recognized similarities in their size, proportion, and eligibility as a structural module. Thus, shoes were deemed appropriate not only as a construction material but also as the paradigm of disposable culture. (Few architects build their own designs, too, and in creating their projects, the group reintegrates labor into professional pretensions.)

Cathcart/Fantauzzi/Van Elslander's collaborative work is invariable site-specific, and one can guess at their local inspiration. Intentional or not, allusion is made to the concept of foot traffic, particularly since the gallery's configuration has been altered during this exhibition, a rare concession to unimpeded circulation. Ordinarily, the floor plan of Hopkins Hall forces a disruptive, awkward progression from

the building's front to the back as one shifts left, then right, circumnavigating the gallery and it occluded position. But by opening the main gallery doors as well as a pair to the rear (typically locked), Building Code restores the axis implicit in the alignment of the building entrance and rear hallway. In the time that I spent in the space, however, few passersby's took advantage of this more direct route, the usual detour seemingly enforced by habit or the tacit sanctity of gallery space - even gallery space filled with an oddity of specifically pedestrian nature.

Building Code has a more serious problem, also stemming from context. If the work is a critique of existing architectural space - and the fact that Cathcart/Fantauzzi/Van Elslander favor the term reject over project renders most of their investigations adversarial and moralistic from the start - this rejection is ultimately slight, rather contemplative. And if the architects intend broader cultural commentary, the message is inaudible to all but those who attended their introductory lecture. It is a problem common to any politically generated work presented in isolation, especially within a gallery space. Aestheticization, if not outright fetishization, threatens to take over. Meaning is obscured, the work becomes hermetic, and its ideological genesis turns suspect. The lack of didactic or interpretive supplements is particularly lamentable in this case. Uninformed about the origin of the shoes or their metaphorical significance, the visitor is just as likely to regard Building Code as the impressive result of Imelda Marcos and Mike Kelley working in league: without wall text, something is discernable of their retrospective obsession and dispassion with, and hyper- and post-consumptive attitudes towards disposable goods. That such polarity of philosophical positions could be detected in a single work might be an accomplishment for lesser talents who value ambivalence, but the polemical statements delivered in the introductory lecture hold Cathcart/Fantauzzi/Van Elslander to a different standard.

Mark Allen Svede is a scholar of Baltic Art.