March 23, 2009

Further Discourse on the Hollow

Administrator's Note: Given that blog comments are sometimes overlooked, I wanted to post this one by Diane Blackwell for her insights and further discourse on last week's essay on The Hallowed Hollow.

Your article touches on two subjects, minimalist theory and the debate between art and artifact. It is stating that Robert Kusmirowski’s sculptural version of Ted Kaczynski’s, (a.k.a. the Unabomber) cabin is a minimalist sculpture because the viewer is denied an understanding of the inside and can only understand the piece “through its obdurate wholeness.” If the artistic cabin were to be considered a minimalist sculpture, it would have to be read objectively as a large cube in the form of a boarded up cabin and the interior would be merely the space formed to support the exterior walls. The viewer would be pleased for the opportunity to have the experience of an abstracted, self-explanatory, in this case cubed object. Its wholeness would be in its solidarity.

The wholeness of Kusmirowski’s exterior form is not sufficient to read his work. By referencing the artifact, Kusmirowski has asked the viewer to use a subjective approach. We cannot fully understand the piece without evaluating the meaning of the denied interior. The artist has opened the viewer’s imagination by boarding up this cabin. The viewer must assign personal experience, reach an opinion, and pass judgment about the “hallowed hollow.” The artist asks the viewer to set aside the initial abhorrence of the place, the home of a murderer, submit to natural curiosities, and ask what it’s really like to get inside. The artist is not asking us to look through the eyes of a murderer but he is challenging the viewer to acknowledge a culpability of wanting a voyeuristic look inside the cabin for a close encounter with the mindset of a murderer. The interior of the cabin and its inferences play a major part in understanding the piece whether we see the inside or not. Both the physical exterior and the personal interior are critical to understanding this work of art.

When comparing different styles, I think of two other boxes: Maya Lin's "Blue Lake Pass" sculpture that is included in the traveling exhibition, "Systematic Landscapes" currently at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Edward Kienholz's "State Hospital." Both use space to intimidate.

Lin's sculpture uses space and form to define her intent. “Blue Lake Pass” has interior space only as a result of the topography she presents. Understanding the interior space is not intrinsic to the work's meaning. It is merely a result of the theme she is presenting. Her use of exterior space does contribute to the understanding of her landscape. “Blue Lake Pass” is a large model of shapes found in nature that impede on our personal space. They ask, “What is out of place - landscapes recreated in a museum or our presence within nature?” The placement of her boxes creates an environment that can be read as topography that can be experienced. The viewer can walk the resulting passageways and become part of the rolling scene. Those same boxes though are placed close enough to give an overwhelmingly physical presence of nature. It is the distance she leaves between her sections of topography that creates a sense of infringement.

Kienholz’s sculpture uses space and concept to get his point across. “State Hospital” has a padlocked, interior space similar to the “Unicabine” in that what’s going on inside defines the piece. The viewer experiences the same sensations of revulsion and voyeurism. Where the artists differ is in intent. “State Hospital” is a social commentary about the complacency of Americans to address society’s treatment of the insane. Unlike Kusmirowski’s piece, Kienholz’s box encourages access. The viewer can enter by peeking through a barred window or by walking around the box. The “rear” exterior wall has been removed so that the viewer can gawk at a world filled with terror and isolation. We are challenged to justify this interior’s existence for we find enough to suggest that a similar room of confinement could exist. The “Unicabine” on the other hand provides a more objective commentary. No where is the viewer asked to engage in a communal sense of responsibility that as a society we could create such a monster. This room documents an environment that does not require any intervention on the part of a society. The viewer is encouraged to fantasize about a murderous madman as if watching a spectacle.

What remains constant among these artists is their use of space to create art. The box has proven versatile enough to stand alone, to offer support, or to suggest an environment. Its universality allows the viewer to accept the shape, bond with it, and move on to a larger understanding of the work - to paraphrase Morris. The artists have used the box well. It is up to the viewer to comprehend and accept the wholeness of their works of art.

Image: Blue Lake Pass (2006); © Copyright by Maya Lin.

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