Ever since surrealism slowly started to become a dirty word in the so-called “art world”, the trend in contemporary art has been ever more academic, analytical and detail oriented. There are, of course, many notable exceptions to this trend (Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, etc.) but you only need to chart the steep increase in students enrolled in MFA programs to recognize that the main thrust of contemporary art attempts to wrap itself in more and more sophisticated language, perhaps in an effort to earn its this established place within academia.
This side of the artistic spectrum is only one part of the picture, and still a very recent one. Dig back to the roots of art; cave paintings, ritualistic objects, shamanistic experiences, etc. and imagine the cave painter stepping away from his work to discuss with his fellow cave dwellers the solidity of his lines, the clarity of his concept, whether the work feels too “precious”, to understand how far removed this academic impulse is from the act of pure creation. The cave painter’s work is experiential. Its value lies not in the quality of the concept, but in the feelings and emotions of the viewer, experiencing it by the flickering candlelight of a smoky lamp deep underground.
This is the type of work that is on display at 1102 Taylor Street in Durham in an installation titled The Dwelling. An amusing article on the front of the house describes how two local artists, Julia Gartrell and Julienne Alexander, took shelter on the porch of the house in order to escape a sudden rain storm. Peeking through the windows they saw huge voodoo dolls, bottled specimens, collections of human hair, paintings on the floor, woven patterns on the walls. They gained access to the house as “accidental anthropologists” to show that witchcraft and sorcery was closer than we think.
This article is all the frame we need to enter into the experience of the house. It allows us a willing suspension of disbelief such as we take part in while watching a film (the Blair Witch Project comes to mind) and for a period of time we wonder at the life and motivations of this modern day sorceress. The items we are presented with vary from the monumental: stuffed burlap marionettes that you can control by pulling various cords; to the mundane: in what would be the kitchen, alongside bones, turtle shells and pieces of glass is what appears to be a jar of Cheetos. Do Cheetos have some previously unknown magical powers (other than to turn your fingers orange), or did the woman need a snack between incantations?
Every room, corner, hallway, floor, etc is filled with the record of a life less ordinary than our expectations of an economically depressed area of the city would lead us to believe. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and in a place of deprivation and economic strain, people have always found ways of trying to bend the world more in their favor. Perhaps there is a timely social message behind the installation, but I appreciate the “accidental anthropologist’s” efforts to not make it overly evident. Instead I was able to have an experience filled with mystery, exploration and discovery that left me with a desire to go make a few incantations of my own.
The Dwelling is part of the Durham Storefront Project‘s Spring display and yesterdays Solstice party was a closing ceremony. It won’t be up much longer, so for more information you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.