‘Going Home’ to the Ped Mall

Going Home Pop-up Exhibit

Iowa City Pedestrian Mall — through Nov. 15

The ‘Going Home’ pop-up exhibit runs through Nov. 15. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Over the next few weeks, as you wind through the labyrinth of fences that define the rat maze within the Ped Mall, be sure to stop at the two pop up spaces (designed by Sanjay Jani of AKAR ARchiTecture) and spend a few moments meditating on the meaning of home as mediated by four local architectural firms: CBRE l HEERY, Neumann Monson, OPN and Shive-Hattery. Each of the pop up pods provides a window and a small title and explanation. This pop-up exhibition, Going Home, both responds to and extends an exhibition by the same name curated by Vero Rose Smith of the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, which is on view at Figge Art Museum in the Quad Cities that will run through Jan. 27, 2019.

I interviewed Smith (a friend with whom I collaborate on the Read Me Weird Things book club) before the Nov. 2 opening and asked about the exhibit.

“Architects want to make the world more beautiful,” she said. “They are artists who want to leave the world more efficient and beautiful and designed. It’s an honor to give them a small space to remember the beginnings of architecture and home: people.”

I started my tour of Going Home with the Neumann Monson offering, entering the door to see the bones of a place and the assemblage of the parts of the home that are meant to be overlooked: wires dangled in plain view, a set of tools and some screws sat on shelves, cleaner in a plastic bag lay on the ground with a receipt in prominent display. It wasn’t until I had spent some time thinking through the implications of this reversal — seeing the necessary preconditions for houses stripped of skin — that I went back outside and discovered that the door was meant to be closed: What I had witnessed was not actually intended as part of the exhibit.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe, I suppose. I spoke briefly with Andrew Ballard of Neumann Monson, who mentioned that their desire had been to explore questions of space and interiority — but a kind of interiority that differed from the actual insides of the building that I had witnessed.

The intended exhibit was interesting enough: it is a model of a house based on the art of Gordon Matta-Clark, who was known for sawing houses in half and photographing the interiors from a different point of view. The exhibit allows you to peer through a space the size of a standard window to see a detailed representation of the photograph that the artist had taken: a deserted set of spaces that don’t quite align correctly. Something uncanny, unhomelike, settles around it with a haunting familiarity. The stairs twist. The attic looms — but slightly, very slightly.

Anna Aversing, also representing Neumann Monson, told me that the office had realized, quickly, that everyone had a different and somewhat incompatible notion of what home meant, and so they decided to approach the challenge differently: “What makes a home, home? Objects? Space? [You can] recognize [it] by a door or hallway you circulate,” such that “home is a sequence of walking.”

“Three of the four firms decided to implement installations that incorporate snapshots of childhood,” Smith told me. “They were worried that they’d look the same: They don’t. How we physically process memory and how home as an early concept stays with us and informs what we do is something that’s coming through in all of the installations.”

I found this to be true as well — in each case, the photos are of cities and families, farms and figures. They’re utopic: They’re of no place in particular: a no place, like home.

The Shive-Hattery piece was “more like geography.” — Zak Neumann/Little Village

At the same time, the different ways that the firms integrated snapshots actually does make a difference in how a vision of home becomes constructed. The interiority shifts, according to each firm’s presentation. OPN features photos backed by reflective surfaces, dangling downward, interspersed with bulbs. A fan provides just enough breeze to keep the images circulating, reflecting each other in an everchanging chain. The firm relates home to nostalgia, mirroring how we look to home as part of an infinite and ever receding horizon. Tabby Koerperick, representing OPN, said that the most meaningful part of the project involved allowing them, while collecting the pictures, “… to see what home was to everyone else as a side we don’t share in the workplace.”

While I found OPN’s framing of photographs in a play of light and reflection to be the most compelling model for the experience of interiority, I could also appreciate CBRE’s use of possessions in a tangled web of memories. Things are suspended here, hanging in a frozen dance. They remain interconnected: a pitcher and a picture, a Muppet and a statue. The things serve as nodal points in the web, hubs around which memories collect and gather, contextualizing the pictures and the other objects.

Although OPN discusses the things as “possessions,” the items represented seem more like property, things that are proper to this home, to that one. The choice to exhibit the things that anchor homes, though, proved particularly relevant to Peter McDermott from CBRE.

“Home means a lot of things to a lot of different people,” McDermott said. “We asked everyone to contribute something and everyone gave something different. The most surprising: the frequency of Kermit and the Muppets.”

Shive-Hattery provided a glimpse of memory and community as part of the puzzle that makes a home. Within the interior of the space for “home” were a series of photos stacked and arranged so that it felt more like geography — the model of a city, or a landscape. A sea of photos lay flat before the structure, scattered like memories that float in and out. The faces, unframed, stare outward, each one a portal to a different home. What I found most striking about the arrangement is the way that it really constructed home on a more vast scale.

Throughout my time walking about the Ped Mall, seeing the spaces within spaces, the thematics of the show kept recurring in my mind: the interrelation of the personal and the possession, the private and the public, the interior and the exterior. We all manage our homes differently, with a different balance at different times. What home means is an ever-shifting thing. Each of the architects represented in the exhibit provide a different sense of home, catching and holding a different sense in which home is something true.

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