Two projects about context for RTKL offices:
This pair of projects plays with notions of how we read and react to objects depending on the context in which we find them and, by extension, the indefinite boundary between the everyday and art.
Referencing the modern gallery as the primary context for the display of art, these installations play with the grammar of the “white cube” and the elevation of objects to the status of art by locating them in a pristine context, separated from the everyday.
Brian O'Doherty's provocative essays ('Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space') speak to the conundrum that by endeavoring to make the setting disappear in favor of the art, the void becomes integral with the content itself. The content therefore relies on the context to exist in its true form. He writes: “art exists in a kind of eternity of display.”[i]
Through the juxtaposition of objects and their settings, the intention of these installations is to make viewers think twice about what they are seeing— is it art? Are objects more interesting if they are isolated and or provided the right context? Can context make ordinary objects evocative?
The installations are site specific and aspects of the work are the result of collaboration with RTKL staff.
1. Portable Gallery
Portable Gallery is located in the library area of the office. The gallery is a museum quality vitrine, effectively a Plexiglas box on legs. It’s designed to make us feel that anything placed inside it has special meaning. The box provides the context associated with art in the way white walls, floors and ceilings are associated with galleries. The portable part is the fact that the box has been and will be located in a variety of venues across Chicago. So, on this level, the context for the gallery itself may be unexpected.
The fact that a vitrine would not be out of place in a leading design/architecture firm’s office, provides an interesting twist. In fact, at RTKL, models are displayed in vitrines and the space is neutral and well lit, not unlike a gallery or museum.
I met with a group of RTKL employees to explain the concept and get them to think about the idea of elevating objects through placing them in a context associated with art. To test the concept, the team decided to collect objects that are the antithesis of “good design”. I was delighted with the team’s witty suggestion: to look no further than the desktops of colleagues— where kitsch toys or mementos could be found.
Displayed in the vitrine, these objects take on new meaning. Are they important? Do they mean more as a group, presented together, disconnected from the outside world? Do they make a statement about design, when appreciated as a collection, demarcated by their new context? The answers to these questions are left to the viewers and their interpretation of the work.
2. RTKL Lobby
The RTKL office lobby mimics the white cube – all the elements are in play from the well thought out proportions to the immaculate finishes. To test the power of context, domestic items and cardboard squares have been coated in a material abhorred by architects (a type of roof coating not unlike asphalt) and displayed in the pristine setting of the lobby.
The objects become “paintings and sculptures”, dark and textured, in contrast to the smooth white surfaces. In this instance, the metamorphosis of common objects, largely due to their setting, illustrates the spectator’s agency in the experience and interpretation of art, just as the collection of kitsch in the vitrine in the library.
Moreover, this project experiments with the further reduction of connections to the everyday, by eliminating color and destroying the function of the objects, leaving only the form to be contemplated in stark contrast to the hard, white surfaces in the lobby.
Teresa Albor, January 8, 2012
For more information about the work of Teresa Albor, please visit her website .
[i] O'Doherty, Brian (1976). Inside The White Cube: The Ideology Of The Gallery Space, Expanded Edition. Lapis Press, San Francisco & First University Of California Press edition.
[ii] This project is partially supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.