Bodies and design, although they might conjure the natural and unnatural, respectively, are not diametrically opposed to one another. Indeed, everything in the built world was at one time conceived and created by human minds, and to be very crass, to some extent by human bodies. It follows naturally that the designed world around us is not foreign, rather an extension of human nature. Sensate: Bodies and Design in the Architecture and Design galleries at SFMOMA, explores the collection (with the help of two fabricated works) through the lens of recent debates on the relationships of body and design through photography, drawing, furniture, lighting, and sculptural interventions.
In the first gallery, the question of body and design is presented through grotesque works that conjure the body rather literally. John Dickinson's 1970s wood table, chair, and lamp are created in a human bone motif, and Aziz & Cucher's series of photographs entitled Interiors are digital prints of hallways and a staircase whose floors, walls, and ceilings are lined in the freckled and hair-growing texture of human skin. Interestingly, these works are not hung at eye level, but in accordance with the perspective they offer, so the viewer is forced to physically look up or down to visually enter the corridor upward or downwards.
Commissioned especially for the museum, P_Wall (2009) by Andrew Kudless spans an entire gallery wall with organic shapes of plaster that seem to bubble out of the smooth whiteness like tumors or mushrooms—the museum becomes the host for this gross yet beautiful parasite. The very structure of the white plaster gallery walls so often goes unquestioned and unnoticed; P_Wall insists on its consideration.
In the adjacent exhibition space, Alex Schweder's A sac of rooms all day long (2009), mechanically breathing in and out throughout the day, engages walls in a wholly different way. Playfully referencing the history of inflatable architecture, Schweder has recreated two typical American homes in clear plastic vinyl: a 900-square-foot, 1920s single-family home, and a discernibly smaller, 550-square-foot, 1950s bungalow house. The rooms of the 1920s house are stuffed into the skin of the bungalow, creating a hybrid animal that is a metaphor for restricting a past identity by new conditions. The work begins as a pile of vinyl every morning, and throughout the course of the day, fans inflate it before, cyclically, the work deflates yet again. Every day at its peak, the two bodies are jammed against one another as the larger house struggles to expand wider than what the bungalow will allow for, thereby poetically conjuring the current economic and real estate crises.
(Images: Andrew Kudless (MATSYS), P_Wall (detail), 2006/2009; plaster and multichannel audio; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Andrew Kudless; John Dickinson, Bone Cigarette Table, 1977; painted wood; gift of Macy's California; © John Dickinson)
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