Thursday, March 25, 2010

Transplanted: Quarantined

The current exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture is entitled “Landscapes of Quarantine.” The pieces exhibited are a product of a design studio organized by Geoff Manaugh, of BLDGBLOG fame, and Nicola Twilley from Edible Geography and they range from the humorous, to the informative, to the contemplative. Two of my favorite pieces were by Mimi Lien and Amanda and Jordan Spielman. Mimi Lien’s contribution was a series of four metal boxes each with a singular peep hole through which you could view a scale model of a quarantine environment. The visual distortion and limited views created by the peep hole gave the scale environments a heightened sense of isolation. One couldn’t help but think about how horrible it would be to call one of these places home. Amanda and Jordan Spielman’s NYCQ uses a series of satirical posters and pamphlets to offer helpful tips on how to both avoid quarantine and how to cope with it if you are unlucky enough to be sequestered. The imagery and graphics strike an amusing balance between propaganda and those motivational posters you see in corporate offices.

Mimi Lien's Hotel III

Selection from Amanda and Jordan Speilman's NYCQ

In terms of the gallery space, the bold move of painting the entire floor orange was inspired. The light bounces off the floor and causes the interior surfaces to emit an eerie glow. The warm color transcends the diagrammatic. It creates an environment.

As you exit, an exhibition brief makes many salient points, and the following resonated with me:

"At its most basic, quarantine is a strategy of separation and containment—the creation of a hygienic boundary between two or more things, for the purpose of protecting one from exposure to the other. It is a spatial response to suspicion, threat, and uncertainty.”
My mind transitioned from thoughts about the designs generated by quarantine to a quarantine generated by lack of design. The death of the small town in America is well documented. As the population and tax base flow elsewhere an enormous design vacuum is left in the wake. I think about my parents and friends who love living in a small town, but increasingly those small towns are void of any meaningful place. There is less money to build interesting things and more apathy to fight the nonsense that is constructed. This leads to a widening chasm between the “city” and the small town. The “city”, with its eye on urbanity and available funds to create things, tends to develop a superiority complex towards the small town, and this, in turn, creates resentment in the small town about the “city”. Each entity builds a zone of quarantine around it, mentally speaking, to protect it from the other.

Maybe this is the only way for each environment to maintain its own homeostasis? The elements that sustain them differ greatly. Perhaps there is a need for a separate branch of design professional? A branch fully devoted to the re-visioning of small towns. One willing to adopt small town ways of commerce (i.e. bartering of labor and goods, operating on limited debt) in lieu of a check that gets direct deposited bi-monthly. Are we willing to do that? Am I?

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