Valie Export, 01-08 and 01-07 (both 2001) next to the front door*
We didn’t wear the right shoes to see On the Verge of an Image: Considering Marjorie Keller, currently on view at The Gamble House in Pasadena. While what we were in was far from stilettos, our heels were too thin to walk through the Greene & Greene designed National and California Historic Landmark, built in 1905 as a vacation home for Mary and David Gamble. Described on the docent- and curator-led tour we attended as an “ultimate bungalow,” it is one of the best preserved examples of American Arts and Crafts architecture. Every element of the house – from the furniture to the wallpaper to the sconces – was designed by Greene & Greene, and as such, every element, including the floors, had to be protected. We traded our boots for pink and white, hand-knit sock slippers. We were instructed not to touch anything except for the rails of the main staircase and to make sure that, as we walked, our feet landed entirely on or off of the rugs. No stepping on the edges.
Cheryl Donegan, Untitled (red and blue) and Untitled (faded blue and neon pink) (both 2013)*
Even without curators Alika Cooper and Anna Mayer’s temporary additions, The Gamble House makes one hyperaware of one’s own body. A space intended to be lived in, to be called home, is now a museum. No matter how comfortable that chair might look, a visitor can’t sit in it. This necessary adjustment to one’s performance within a domestic space is heightened by On The Verge of An Image through both the curation and the works themselves. A monitor sits on two stacks of books on top of the Gambles’ youngest son’s bed. Two are placed in bathrooms. Paintings are propped up on either side of a kitchen sink. The house is filled with the tiniest of design details, but they all serve a purpose. Cooper and Mayer’s active misuse of these details highlights and denies what we expect from them, pointing to the constructedness of these expectations and the ways we perform around them.
Marjorie Keller, She/Va (1973) and Alika Cooper, Wet Suit (2016)*
We learn what to expect from spaces and each other through repetition, a theme that runs through all works in the show. Keller’s She/Va (1973), in particular, ties this into the performance of gender. Comprised of short clips of children – mostly girls – being videotaped by their fathers, quotidian movements feel choreographed. The monitor on which it plays is on a mantle in the living room, exactly where one might expect to find photos of a similar nature. Keller decontextualizes intimate, familial memories through not only her editing, but the fact that, like The Gamble House, they are now intended for public view. Public and private are less clearly divided when someone else’s memories become our own.
Chantal Akerman, La Chambre (1972) and Vincent Ramos, Living Room (Near Window), 1310 Venice Blvd. #4 (2014)*
Vincent Ramos’ Living Room, 1310 Venice Blvd. #4 (2014) series feels even more intrusive, though we are given much less visual information. The image of nail heads has been rubbed onto the edges of large, mostly blank, white sheets of paper. Those nails once supported the images that used to hang on the walls of Ramos’ uncle. Made after his uncle’s passing, light imprints of objects we all have to deal with become heavy with loss, an emotion we also all have to deal with. A rubbing of a wall is framed and hung on another wall, one space and all of the memories it contains transposed onto another.
Paul Pescador, 9/6 (10-12) (2016)*
The house is lit with the same wattage that would have been available during its construction, making a few of the pieces difficult to see unless shone upon by a docent’s flashlight, adding another layer of performance.
Paul Pescador’s 9/6 (01-12) (2016) literally mis-places and -uses everyday objects found in The Gamble House, adding an element of play to what might otherwise be considered a failure. Like a child imagines a banana to be a phone, Pescador uses a lamp to dramatically light a Barbie doll, laying at its base and covered in a doily fashioned into a dress. He then takes a photo of this scene, frames it, and places it on a desk in Aunt Julia’s bedroom. An incorrect performance is celebrated and documented as an accomplishment.
Trulee Grace Hall, After Misconception (2016)*
The part of After Misconception that references the female body was covered up after guests complained.
On the Verge of an Image makes visible the weirdness of one of the main environments in which we shape ourselves, home. The works selected transform the space and are indeed transformed by it; the lighting shifts with the time of day and the docent’s flashlight. Yet rather than avoiding these changes, destabilization is embraced, calling for further exploration of and experimentation with that which we interact with everyday.
Alika Cooper, New Suit Attempt (2016) and Vanessa Beecroft, vb.dw.039.13 (2013)*
Shiva Aliabadi, Imprints (version 11) (2013)*
*All asterisked photos: On the Verge of an Image: Considering Marjorie Keller. A LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) exhibition, the Gamble House, Pasadena, CA, October 8 – December 11, 2016. Photos courtesy of Jeff McLane.