Three readings: Lebbeus Woods, Dennis Oppenheim, and Krzysztof Wodiczko
An installation of unfinalized work about social and institutional boundaries and thresholds
February 9–March 20, 2017
Public launch: February 9, 6:30–8:30pm
4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
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The concept of the "unfinalizable" appears in the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin's writings, and describes our unending relationship to individuals, artworks and communities. Resisting the tendency to assess individuals or artworks as finite, Bakhtin proposes continual dialogue and processes of becoming. He recognizes that we are always "on the threshold of decisions" as we mediate relationships among individuals and their social and historical realities. In particular, Bakhtin accentuates dialogue and performance as potentially radicalizing and destabilizing forces. They mark an intertwining of self and society, and artworks and socio-political realities.
Second Life also builds upon contemporary discussions of the "open work," participation, and interactivity, as well as the current geopolitics of migration and survival. In all of these contexts, relationships and life itself unfolds in time, place and through acts of understanding and adaptation. Bakhtin invokes the term "threshold" to describe moments of crisis and rupture, which create the conditions for potential transformations of self, society and history. Derived from the Latin limen (liminal), a threshold is an activity or encounter on the margins. Such experiences resist normative and hierarchical structures and can lead to profound change for individuals and society.
Our installation begins with readings of architect Lebbeus Woods' and Christoph a. Kumpusch's Tales from the Tectonic Forest (2012) in the first gallery, artist Dennis Oppenheim's Guarded Land Area (1970) and related performances in the second gallery, and designer Krzysztof Wodiczko's City Hall Tower Illumination (1987) in the third gallery. The architectural schematics in these works constitute an aesthetic of the threshold that foregrounds experiences of social and institutional boundaries and power dynamics. In situating these works in Philadelphia, New Orleans and other cities marked by periods of individual, communal and institutional division, we seek to create meaningful conversation and enact threshold experiences—psychologically, spatially, and socially.
Reading Lebbeus Woods and Christoph a. Kumpusch's Tale from the Tectonic Forest (2011)
A physical model enables the viewer to interrogate the cultural politics of the institution in which both model and viewer are sited. Floating above and merging with our long-term research on the "linear mile" and West Philadelphia, the model confronts our relationship to the socio-political spaces of Slought and surrounding neighborhoods and institutions. As Woods himself aspired, the viewer becomes an active participant in theories and practices of empowerment.
Reading Dennis Oppenheim's Guarded Land Mass (1970) and Guarded Land Area (1970)
These works interrogate the construction of boundaries and borders and the act of guarding land—both barren land and another's land. Considering these two works together invites us to consider the cultural politics of words such as "barren" and the act of "claiming" from different perspectives. This conversation is particularly relevant to Philadelphia, where in recent decades rapid development by universities and developers has redrawn the borders of neighborhoods, communities and the city itself.
Reading Krzysztof Wodiczko's City Hall Tower Illumination (1987)
This project seeks to extend Wodiczko's unfinalized proposal beyond City Hall itself. Our intention is to raise critical questions about social responsibility and encourage publics to think of art and architecture as thresholds for empathy and compassion. What are the common grounds for belonging to the city of Philadelphia? What sense of care and responsibility do we have towards one another? How can visual culture enable a sense of togetherness and bring together divided urban communities?
Generously supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Courtesy of the Estate of Lebbeus Woods, Christoph a. Kumpusch, and Aleksandra Wagner; Dennis Oppenheim Estate; Krzysztof Wodiczko.
Organized by Aaron Levy, Amy Oppenheim, Ken Saylor, Orkan Telhan, William Menking. Designed by Ken Saylor, Laura Giannini and John Greig Jr./Traction Company.
Special thanks to Katie Pfohl and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), and Caroline Kuchta, Assaf Evron, and the Spiegel-Wilks Seminar, Art History Department, University of Pennsylvania.