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Farewell to Function: Tactical Interiors


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Many of the more prominent artworks produced in the last decade or so are characterized by a recasting of what were once called installations as something closer to interiors, relegating the installation to a supportive role that places meaning in the service of activity. From an artwork spread out everywhere we turn to one that is located very precisely in the features that can be said to make up the space—the walls, the furnishings, the floor coverings, the display structures, the shelves. Whether it’s the artwork as lecture hall, museum lobby, bookshop, screening room, library, dining hall, video store, or rec room, one finds a consistent engagement with architecture’s interior spaces and conventional typologies. But this repeated rendezvous has been mostly a dance of half steps—these “interiors” don’t so much use site as setting and material as put a new skin on it. While various artists may have considered what this “slouching toward the interior” may mean for art production, few have considered the potential that may be stored in the interior itself as reflexive structure, malleable form, and analytical tool.

Jorge Pardo’s lobby at Dia or the interior of his Mountain Bar in Los Angeles, for instance, do little but reiterate his project—both in terms of the concerns that drive it and the design languages that it appropriates—on a larger scale. Perhaps these works complicate things, but only internally—that is, only in stretching the question regarding the indeterminacy of sculpture (a question that underlies his entire project) into larger architectural expanses and non-art-institutional spaces that demand more complex forms of bureaucratic negotiation, capital investment, and user engagement. The morphologies and decors employed in these spaces, however, were not introduced as another layer of variables or information—a layer that by its very destabilizing presence forces certain reconfigurations. And something similar can be said about the “interiors” of any number of artists who have been active since the early to mid 1990s.

Carsten Höller’s The Double Club (2008–9), a half-Congolese, half-Occidental bar, disco, and restaurant in London, was an interesting recent effort to test the interior as a complex structure. At the very least, it revealed an understanding of decor as bound to cultural codes as much as to personal vocabularies, of the interior as determined at an interface between external factors and “internal” languages. In understanding this, and in showing it twice and side by side, The Double Club assumed a diagrammatic function. Aside from all the eating and dancing and cavorting that took place in it, the structure itself was meaningfully employed to convey at least two different kinds of information: information, on the one hand, about Congolese and Western cultures (even if schematically), their interaction (or lack thereof), their differences, and so forth; and information, on the other, regarding the very conditions of the interior itself. The Double Club was a double diagram.

In this case, the doubling is instrumental in articulating the difference between the interior as container and the interior as self-reflexive structure. It offers a vertical diagram—or a surface-substrate diagram—confronting the look of the space with the structural conditions of the interior. It’s a diagram cast in high relief by the overlapping of two separate nightclubs. This very process of assembling—this effort to establish a system of relations in order to produce a specific morphology and identity—is twice shown and, inevitably, thematized. There’s nothing like repetition to underscore a point and introduce a moment of self-reflexive difference.

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