Domestic Spaces Challenge the Concept of "Home"

The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (DCCA) is taking on the comforts of quiet domesticity in a series of exhibitions.

By Darren White
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted May. 2, 2012

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Real Steel: New Work by the Dufala Brothers

What if, instead of baking fresh whole-wheat blueberry muffins, your oven cooked up some fresh, thumping beats? What if your deluxe master bath was made up of construction-grade ductwork and recycled aluminum, something straight out of a post-apocalyptic shantytown, its exterior twisting, winding, rusted over and appearing ready to collapse at any second?

The Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (DCCA) is taking on the comforts of quiet domesticity in a series of exhibitions that challenge the way we think about “home” and domestic spaces at large. The works seem strange in theory, but wonderfully odd and captivating in practice.

Through the use of rather lowly materials—cast-off fiberglass, recycled aluminum, seemingly discarded scraps of wood—the artists, chosen for the exhibition by DCCA curators Maiza Hixson and J. Susan Isaacs, have redefined the notions of livable space. In fact, they’ve practically torn it down.

Veering left after entering the DCCA space, you’ll encounter a 10-foot steel behemoth constructed by well-known Philly artists the Dufala Brothers. Steven and Billy Dufala are known for their absurdist, almost surrealist takes on consumer culture and the waste it produces. Their exhibition, New Work, features just this one piece, but it’s so large, overwhelming and multifaceted that it would feel silly to include much else.

The brothers fabricated a little bathroom stall that smartly challenges the convention of a bathroom as a private space. The outside, constructed with air-duct pieces and complete with an exhaust fan, chimney and awning, is pierced by a few windows that allow guests to look into the raggedy toilet and sink. They’ve used the duct pieces before, in works for shows at Fleisher Ollman and the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, but here they appear more worn in and deconstructed. Visitors play tourist, guest and voyeur all at once, and it’s a slightly alienating experience. It’s like a Dadaist drawing come to life and theoretically deconstructed.

Deconstruction happens, very literally, around the corner in Under Construction I & II . The artists here—Adam Weir, Anthony Cervino, Joe Netta, Leah Bailis, Robert Guevara, Alexis Granwell, Ron Longsdorf, Michael Jones McKean, and Yoonmi Nam—use the materials of construction, like wood, PVC piping and Styrofoam, with the cornerstones of a home, dining chairs, house plants, to create unfinished places that cast something of an alchemy over the space. Finished, but simultaneously undone, they pull the wool back on what makes a space “complete.”

Of the two exhibitions, Under Construction I is decidedly more playful. Adam Weir’s drawings of semi-constructed spaces are alive with color—beams and ditches next to potting soil never looked this good in person. The Carlisle, Pa., resident has a sense of humor that rivals the Dufalas’, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The highlight of Under Construction II is a haunting, meditative piece by artist Ron Longsdorf. “Sinking Ship,” composed of fiberglass insulation, a plain dining room chair, a wooden shipping pallet, and a dangling flood light, is almost poetic in its simplicity. One is reminded of forgotten attics at grandma’s house, memories rotting away until there is little left but a few physical artifacts, cast in a faint, dingy glow. Though it appears to be an unfinished space, it feels more complete and conjures up more feelings of warmth, memory, and even isolation, than any completed, polished McMansion ever could.

Contraption: Devices in Art introduces an entirely new aspect of absurdity to the mix. The sculptural inventions on display here reconsider home spaces and objects in fantastical ways, involving various mechanisms and electronics to make pieces that are interactive. Tyler Held’s “Cross Culture” is a standout, turning an old oven/stove into a serious entertainment system, with a speaker and sub-woofer that crank out gangsta rap at full throttle. It aggressively (and humorously) takes aim at the middle-American ideal of domesticity and comforts, turning an emblem of the docile into the object of crunk. This isn’t retrofitting—its future fitting.

Tim Eads’ “Home on the Range” is similarly captivating, using an old stage coach as a means for a crazy, electrical science experiment. The epitome of interactive, it allows one to press buttons and pull levers to watch things light up, blow up and make noise. It’s a strange mash of past and present—if only miners could have lived in this thing when traveling out West.

New Work runs through May 13; Under Construction I runs through June 3; Under Construction II runs through June 10; Contraption runs through June 24. Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, 200 S. Madison St., Wilmington, Del. thedcca.org

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1. Anonymous said... on May 2, 2012 at 05:11PM

“An all male review.

While I greatly appreciate the writer venturing outside of Philadelphia to cover the compelling exhibitions at the DCCA, it is a shame that he does not give equal attention to works by women artists relevant to his theme.

The writer engages with and discusses the work of six male artists. While he includes a list of artists in Under Construction, the work by women is never critically reviewed. There are seven artists in Contraption, four of whom are women who do not receive so much as a mention.

The writer’s oversight is indicative of women’s omission that has characterized the western art canon and routinely sidelines the work and accomplishments of women artists. While I enjoyed the article’s insights into the exhibitions, I am disappointed by what is, in effect, another instance of the marginalization of women from the greater artistic discourse.

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2. Anonymous said... on May 2, 2012 at 05:13PM

“(a continuation of the previous comment)

While I believe a writer should have the freedom to address artworks based on his or her interests, the following artists at the DCCA also deconstruct the domestic and challenge the concept of “home”:

Leah Bailis’s fragment of a house constructed out of card stock references Gordon Matta-Clark’s "Splitting" and deconstructs notions of domesticity and dwelling. Lauren Ruth’s hand-crank fountain of the backyard tinkerer’s variety alludes to sexually charged content usually relegated to the indoor, private sphere. Cynthia Norton reinterprets and puts a simultaneously playful and aggressive spin on the red prairie dress, a traditional symbol of domestic femininity. Joanie Turbek talks about consumer spending in relationship to 2x4’s and Do-It-Yourself home construction materials.

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3. Art Lover said... on May 2, 2012 at 06:03PM

“I wholeheartedly agree with the previous comment. Having visited the Contraptions Exhibition recently, I was struck by the fact that so many excellent and compelling pieces received no mention in the article. After reading the previous comment, I realized that the pieces created by women were in fact the ones absent from the review. What a shame - the women's work deserves the same consideration as all the other thoughtful pieces discussed in the review. Perhaps next time we will read a review about the "other half" of the exhibit.”

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