31 century museum in Chicago


Robby MacBain

Robby is recording sound of the building in the museum

Robby is recording sound of the building in the museum

I was invited by Vipash to act as a sort of artist-in-residence for the 31st Century Museum, focusing on the building the show was housed in, the Carson Pirie Scott Building. From the beginning, the most important consideration in focusing on the building itself was its history as a department store designed by Louis Sullivan. Perhaps the most notable feature of the building’s design is the way in which it is divided into equally-sized floors without a grand atrium or common area, thus facilitating it’s use as a point of sale for a broad range of items.

Nowadays, the building is used for a range of purposes, none of which bear much resemblance to the department store that existed here in the past. For this reason, I was most interested in tracing echoes of the building’s former life. I decided to take a literal approach to this by recording the sounds of activity in the building with microphones tucked inside interesting spaces like ducts and vents. I attached surface microphones to old pipes and steel support beams. My goal was to record the sounds of activity being colored and changed by the building itself. I was interested in the way that sound can reveal how something that appears passive and fixed might be more of an active and dynamic presence in our environment than we immediately realize.

Visually, I was immediately attracted to the degree of attention that went into the building’s detail. Each window molding and banister is clearly the product of skilled labor, something that we don’t generally see in the quickly constructed megastores that have replaced the department stores of the past. The difference brings up a range of questions about the world we live in today. However, rather than attempting to steer viewer’s opinions on those questions, I simply wanted to make a record of the way in which I, a member of contemporary society, moved through this building from the past.

I first had this idea while filming panning shots of the building’s spaces with the use of a tripod. Upon viewing these shots, something seemed to be missing. I realized that it was I, the person moving through the space, that wasn’t present. So, using a hand-held camera and focusing manually on whatever caught my interest, I simply moved throughout the building. The resulting images are interactions between the building, the outside environment, and myself.

Combined with the sounds I recorded, I felt that the video approached the building’s “hollowness” – its status of a container of history and context that we fill with present day interactions. By serving as a site for the confluence of past and present, this hollow space subtly influences us as we move into the future.

31st Century Museum (Laboratory) @ Chicago: Louis Sullivan from 31st Century Museum on Vimeo.

Installing the monitorHollow, 2011, installation view

Saiko Kase

Timeline View

Timeline View

There are many contradictory emotions to attend to when working in galleries and museums as an artist. While it’s wonderful to be around art and artists all day, there remains a desire to partake in exhibiting your own work. Inevitably, over time you become a helpful ghost who lifts things and paints rooms, yet somehow goes unnoticed. This is not a complaint, paying your due’s is an essential part of becoming an artist and I have come to embrace the sometimes mundane moments of gallery life. With this in mind, it was an interesting experience to participate in the 31st century Museum show working simultaneously as an artist and gallery employee. To generate ideas for the show I met with a group of work-study students from the Sullivan gallery who wanted to collaborate with me. I presented the idea that we would make work that reflected the concept of being vital yet invisible, working from the metaphor that we are like a skeleton that holds things in place yet remains un-seen.

People liked the concept and some great ideas came out of our discussions, in the end we decided on executing only a few ideas because the show had started to become full with other work. For my contribution I went around the gallery and made simple raised squares on various surfaces using the joint compound that we usually use to patch holes. My coworker, Lucas Bucholtz, worked with the students to create a grid of squares painted in various shades of flat and semi gloss white paint from past exhibitions. The resulting work wasn’t very noticeable, which was the point, but hopefully the few who did discover these faint aberrations met them with surprise. These interventions worked as devices to re-attune gallery visitor’s attention to the subtle workings of a gallery space and it’s peripheral surfaces.

Timothy McMullen

Block Party

Installation view

Installation view

Share Published on Jan 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm.
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