Living rooms are designed and furnished for no single function -- they are forever anticipating interaction but in reality are usually unoccupied. The social and intimate spheres are overlaid here with the potential for communication and kinetic forms of solitude. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge these ambiguous zones even though we enact them in times and places in which we’re performing no defined task. What function remains in these liminal spaces?
When we consider the function and meaning of living rooms, dialectical terms come into play. People furnish these environments for interaction and potential gatherings, but often occupy the space alone. However, are you truly alone in a place in which you must constantly prepare for potential company? Similarly, living rooms, as semi-public areas of the house, are often the setting of both comfortable, voluntary common purpose and uncomfortable dischord. Unlike a kitchen, such rooms invite transitory and undefined interaction. The video artists whose works are featured here evoke the overlay of purposes at work in living room spaces. The subjects of these videos, through routine and mundane activity made public through performance, blend aspects of the domains considered inside and outside.
With no proposed theme defining our exhibit, we collaboratively generated both the topic and content of Unfunctional. We began this process by spending time in the physical environment of the Granoff landings, and discussing the meanings and qualities of living rooms. Our interest in making the name of this space take on literal and metaphorical form began with the acknowledgement that the Granoff Living Rooms both shared qualities of and differed from living rooms as archetypes.
In most living spaces of houses, objects define function. Living rooms are unique in that their function is so varied. Our lists of things that one finds in such rooms were mostly small objects, but ones that pointed to the diverse and often aimless activities taking place there. Considering such spaces, we thought of magazines, TV remotes, couches, blankets, games - items designed for comfort. This brought us to an exploration of how these furnishings are often used in other ways - for example, a couch that is used to extend hospitality to friends can also be the place where a spouse sleeps when banished from the bedroom. Similarly, games symbolize plans for interaction, but on a daily basis, people spend most time alone there or passing through briefly, in transit. As the place that is usually the first public representation of one’s house, a living room is a threshold to other spaces.
We set out to evoke the undefined physical and emotional space that exists in living rooms. Initially, we focused on the ideas of inside and outside, the boundaries that exist in between these concepts, and their blending. However, as we began to explore the varied meanings of living rooms and the objects that suggest public and private acts, we decided to direct our focus to using both video art and tangible objects to represent the comfort and discomfort that we see as integral aspects of the living room. Video art serves a dual purpose in evoking the absent furnishing of a living room - a TV set - while complicating the visitor’s experience and more thoroughly imbuing the otherwise companionable space with a sense of uncertainty.
With video art in mind, we put a call out to local artists to solicit works related to public and private spaces, and particularly how people interacted in various living areas. We did not have a firm curatorial statement at this time. Additionally, we searched online for related works. Some artists responded with appropriate pieces, but many were not quite similar to our topic or contained related topics within much longer video works. We conducted a second round of calls for submissions after March 1 when our living room environment was constructed. The heightened level of detail in our curatorial statement brought in a number of related video works. Upon receipt of each new submission, we reviewed the piece together and decided collaboratively whether or not the work fit our theme. Because of our extensive discussion during the exhibit’s development, coming to consensus was usually an uncomplicated process.
The selection of furniture and furnishings for the living room itself was also planned collaboratively. We rearranged the furniture so that the disposition of the objects within the space conformed to the exhibit’s concept. To continue our theme, with permission of the Granoff’s curators, we moved a red chair to the room and made sure that we would have access to a couch. People also must go out of their way to enter our living room now that a couch blocks its usual access point in its new configuration of furniture.
!photo 5.JPG|align=center,thumbnail!Additionally, our selection of accessories expresses how we want visitors to view and use the space. Since framed or collected photos are consistent features of living rooms, we used frames to publicly display curatorial information and put artist information in an album to reward close examination. Artist statements relate directly to their original intent for the work; rather than presenting their videos only through the lens of our exhibit, we designed this component to allow for expression of other artistic objectives and invite additional interpretations of the works.
Day by Day, 2013
4 min 32 sec
In Day by Day, Sean Mullins visually traces his own movements through a narrative of everyday morning actions from waking up to returning to bed. While no other people appear in the frames, the viewer can identify with the video’s subject because he performs for the camera acts that are common in private spaces. The planning and design of Day by Day contradict the naturalized routine pictured here, and make us question the reason behind even these familiar actions. Mullins both records and defamiliarizes his comings and goings; thus, blurring the boundaries of public and private space.
The Other Woman, 2011
2 min 20 sec
The Other Woman is composed of a still shot of a living room wall, with its familiar objects in inoffensive hues, overlaid with an audio recording of words. In similarly familiar, conversational tones, a female voice juxtaposes implications of judgment with the bland and still furniture pictured in the video. The sound creates motion and ambiguous narrative while the space itself stays static. McKee’s work makes us question the many uses of living rooms along with their layers of memory, action, and emptiness that sometimes simultaneously exist.
Human Alienation, 2012
2 min 4 sec
Human Alienation takes place in empty and still spaces, with a single subject who defines them: a woman wearing stockings on her hands and face. The elastic of the stockings stretch into her physical surroundings and emphasize the extension of her solitude by implying an unfulfilled longing. Her persona and the empty rooms she inhabits are connected by her abrupt appearance and postures as well as the highly constructed tableaux of her body and stockings. The tensions created in both the image of the stockings and her inexplicable actions incite contemplation of the functionality of the human with no predestined task and the ways in which those tasks can create a mask that block individual expression.
1 min 4 sec
This video explores the level of comfort one can have within solitude. In this video the subject must confront an image of himself and acknowledge the realities of his isolation. The reflection in the television is a constant companion within the room, but consists only of himself. As a viewer, we know he has the ability to move or change at any moment, but the subject is content to consider his own image. This work presents a more positive and humorous idea of solitude within a living space; oneself can suffice for company.
The World Behind the Looking Glass, 2012
2 min 29 sec
Henry McGowan’s video work takes place from a vantage point outside a living room, looking in. The viewer does not have access to the room inside and cannot see clearly what actions the visible figures are performing. Similarly, an overlaid soundtrack seems both menacing and ambiguous. The viewer is placed in a perspective similar to that of a voyeur, participating only as an onlooker to ostensibly private interaction. The World Behind the Looking Glass also examines the way or daily interactions often take place as a veneer covering very real danger, tension and tragedy. While we may not know the origin of the audio track, the work drives home the point that from our subjective vantage point, we may gain visual access to private space, but be barred from understanding what deeper motivations inform the actions we see.