“Of Other Spaces” & “The New Normal”

Published in Columbus Alive, March 25, 2009

Does your spine straighten when you walk into an elementary school classroom? Do you fold your arms and dig your hands into your armpits beyond the archways of museum galleries? Does the mere sight of a portable metal barricade bring on a wave of nausea?

Those are the kinds of questions that “Of Other Spaces,” the current exhibition at CCAD’s Bureau for Open Culture, asks of visitors as they walk through its installations and photographs.

“This show is about how space affects our behavior,” said director of exhibitions James Voorhies. His curatorial choices also have an intentional relationship to cinema. “I wanted to look at how we rely on virtual spaces for our sense of reality – how we use cinema, which is this very unreal space, to describe a very real world.”

The first area in the show focuses on the kinds of spaces that most of us have strong associations with. The People’s Playground – an aluminum cast of a cross-section of a Coney Island beach by Michael Brown – is nearly underfoot at the entrance.

Three pieces from German photographer Sarah Schonfeld’s Wende Gelande series revisit sites from her early childhood in East Berlin. Her image of an abandoned amusement park with a rainbow Ferris wheel and giant model dinosaurs in an overgrown field is one of the show’s most stunning, with pictures of a decrepit classroom and gymnasium not far behind.

Local artist Mary Jo Bole’s contributions include drawings, etchings and a modified “prison sink.” They’re part of a major installation she will be creating at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, a controversial 19th century prison that kept all inmates in solitary confinement.

Bole’s work focuses on its plumbing, which employed “filth pipes,” slow-moving drainage that used human waste as a sound barrier to keep inmates from communicating with each other.

One of the most compelling spaces in the exhibit is Christian Tomaszewski’s PLAYTIME, an adaptation of the physical spaces, including furniture, lighting and sound, from two films by French director Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle and Playtime).

With the help of CCAD students, Tomaszewski rebuilt some of the uncomfortable-looking hyper-modern furniture from the sets of each movie. He also spliced sounds of whistles, people laughing, glass breaking and others from the two films, but you have to stand with your head inside of a giant clear plastic bubble in order to hear them, which may challenge your own sense of a gallery’s unwritten rules.

Of Other Spaces is well matched with the accompanying The New Normal – a traveling exhibition from New York’s Artists Space/Independent Curators International. It examines the blurred line between public and private life in the era of the internet and post-9/11 perceptions of civil liberties.

Florida art professor Hasan Elahi offers a prime example. He was investigated by the F.B.I. in relation to 9/11, but his PDA, which tracked his whereabouts, helped to clear him. Because he was told to continue to contact the F.B.I. anytime that he traveled, Elahi constructed Tracking Transience, which documents his every move and serves as both an art installation and a living alibi.

Although it might have been more resonant last year, the heart of the guest exhibition is a recreation of hotel requirements for former Vice President Dick Cheney, who declared less privacy for Americans “the new normal” in 2001. Band Rider Series: Dick Cheney by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy features Cheney’s curiously simple hotel demands, including Diet Sprite, extra lamps and a television tuned to Fox News.

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