Thoughts about this project appear, change, and disappear constantly. Here is a snapshot of our most recent thoughts:
WHAT ARE THE DISAPPEARING MUSEUMS?
A study in architecture, ephemerality, and locality, the Disappearing Museums project examines environments, both built and natural, through art. Essentially life-sized “drafts” of select buildings, the Disappearing Museums themselves are realized in three dimensions and unexpectedly installed in the remote Icelandic desert. These sculptural blueprints are composed of salt core, a biodegradable material that naturally dissolves when exposed to rain, and as a result, the project aims to decontextualize and re-evaluate architecture as we traditionally know and understand it. In other words, the Disappearing Museums, which are fleeting and displaced, contrast with the sturdy, integrated, and permanent structures of contemporary society. The viewer is thus asked to reflect on the importance of architecture in daily life, as well as to consider ingrained expectations for--and dependence on--such buildings and their surroundings.
Although the project touches on a number of themes, a key characteristic of the Disappearing Museums is their focus on the intrinsically ephemeral, even sculpture-like, nature of infrastructure. Guaranteed to degrade, the drafts demonstrate, albeit in sped-up fashion, the inevitable decline and eventual deterioration of the constructed environment. In this way, evolution and the passage of time are brought to the forefront; the Disappearing Museums poetically point not only to the momentariness of humanity but also to the longevity of nature.
The Disappearing Museums’ unlikely installation in the desolate wilderness of Iceland is also central to the project. An extreme contrast to the buildings’ likely urban environments, this desert locale pointedly draws attention to all that is absent, most notably: communities, infrastructure, and other buildings. The absence of these things at the installation site is further amplified by the presence of the viewer, who, having traveled to this secluded location, also finds him or herself profoundly displaced.
WHY TEMPORARY BUILDINGS?
"The ideal building has three elements; it is sturdy, useful, and beautiful."
In his paramount work, De architectura, the Roman architect Vitruvius identifies durability – or sturdiness – as one of the three key elements that define an ideal building. The Disappearing Museums project explores the longstanding human impulse to realize indestructible structures, and it explicitly subverts this very ideal. The promised decline of the three-dimensional designs upon interaction with weather is central to the project’s conception.
Here, the inevitability of atrophy is prized rather than evaded, offering fresh perspective not only on the objectives of architecture but also on its innate nature. Likewise, as the salt core degrades, the structures function symbolically, pointing to the ephemerality of human life. In these ways and more, the Disappearing Museums project attempts to demonstrate the oft-overlooked significance of the incomplete and the transitory.
WHY NON-FUNCTIONAL ARCHITECTURE?
"Architecture shares the narrative qualities of sculpture at an essential level; both transform the relationship between object and ground into a poetic expression."
Thom Mayne, founder of Morphosis Architects
A dual responsibility to both functionality and aesthetics is indeed at the heart of an architect’s practice. To further explore these qualities, and in particular the artistic elements of a building, the Disappearing Museums project renders given structures non-functional and essentially sculptural. Uninhabitable and incomplete, the Disappearing Museums are in no way utilitarian and are thus aligned more closely to our understanding of the arts than to design, technology, or science.
By thus converting architecture into art, the Disappearing Museums project explores the potential of buildings, structures, and social interaction in a context free of limitations, rules, and common thought patterns. In this unique environment, which might be considered something approaching a utopia, creativity is fostered, enlightened perspectives adapted, and critical discourse encouraged.
WHY EXTENDING THE BLUEPRINTS?
Through the means of an art installation, the Disappearing Museums project offers a new, experimental, and sensory space for designing. The limitlessness of the vast Icelandic desert imposes little restrictions, and traditional pen-to-paper blueprints or scaled-down models are, in the context of the Disappearing Museums project, traded in for more experiential and lifelike renderings.
Translated into three dimensions, yet not fully realized, these building plans are arguably more complete versions of their two-dimensional iterations, as well as more accessible to “readers” of all backgrounds. At the same time, their incomplete states continue to foster creativity, imagination, and ideas.
Neither material nor intangible, neither shapeless nor fully formed, the architect’s draft lies somewhere between a building and the idea of one. By realizing a series of blueprints in salt core, the Disappearing Museums project allows such drafts to briefly occupy a fragment of time and space.
The Disappearing Museums project functions as commentary on the history of museums and their various incarnations in the 21st century. Museums today largely sustain centuries-old values relating to the care, preservation, presentation, and interpretation of cultural artifacts and collections.
In the context of the Disappearing Museums, however, these fundamental responsibilities are released, rendering the time-honored notion of a museum essentially obsolete. Popular conceptions of a museum are also undercut by the structures’ extreme ephemerality, isolation, and weightlessness. All of this is to demonstrate – and ultimately question – the rigid, arguably anachronistic definition of a museum that continues to be accepted by contemporary society.
WHY IN ICELAND?
The Disappearing Museums project is specifically conceived as an installation for the uninhabited landscape of Iceland. In part a nod to Iceland’s rich architectural history, the project demonstrates a deep respect for the nation’s tradition of harmonious relationships between nature and the built environment (the development of grass-and-turf-covered houses comes to mind, for instance). Moreover, the project embraces the unpredictability of the Icelandic weather and the element of chance it introduces into the works’ atrophy.
On a more social and political level, the appearance--and disappearance--of the salt core installations in unspoiled nature demonstrates a harmless approach to building, a particularly striking action against today’s backdrop of global overdevelopment.Thoughts by Sandino Scheidegger & Lindsey Cash
Who knows when it will finally take place? Good things take time, and we are in no hurry.
We playfully confound two typically distinct spaces—the gallery & the domestic home—as artists present their work in the households of participating NY residents. In each dwelling, an installation area is designated, while the existing items (i.e. sofas, coffee tables, books, and personal objects) are moved and reinstalled in a gallery space.
With the artworks thus displaced, gallery visitors must directly contact the private hosts, whose phone numbers are available alongside their displayed belongings.
The art world disrupts the private sphere and vice versa
Visiting another’s home leaves a lasting impression. From the authors on the bookshelves to the contents of the refrigerator, a personal dwelling offers almost imperceptible information about one’s life. Much the same, the artistic qualities of memories made in such a home correlate to the environment in which they occurred. This is a pivotal facet of Don’t Talk to Strangers, which atomizes preconceived notions of the gallery proper by casting a peculiar hue on the entrancing properties of that which we cannot live without: art.
Overlap of Public and Private Space
In this reappropriation of an exhibition, artists present installations in the households of participating Bushwick residents, rather than in the Fresh Window Gallery. Curators work closely with each dwelling’s artist to designate an installation area from which all existing items are relocated and installed at the gallery space.
Once the exchange is complete, viewers are invited to contact private hosts, whose phone numbers are available alongside their displayed belongings, to ascertain operation hours of their newly appropriated “home gallery.”
A Far More Personal Experience
By design, Don’t Talk to Strangers challenges viewers’ expectations and impishly suggests an alternative experience that is far more intimate than typical art viewings in gallery settings. While Fresh Window Gallery visitors are initially denied access to the work they desire, they find reciprocity in elite-access at the cost of their time.
This inventive model encourages a deeper level of participation by diverting the impulse to passively consume. If the viewer takes full advantage, each visit to Fresh Window Gallery offers another phone number, another unique experience, and another opportunity for adventure.
The heightened sense of participation, contacting hosts and making appointments, results in a heightened sense of investment. In this way, Don’t Talk to Strangers reaches beyond an exhibition. Viewers searching for a contemporary art fix will be challenged to pursue a pilgrimage in the name of art, allowing exploration to play a role in their eventual experience of the work.
Consequently, the initial disappointment from lack of artwork becomes a chance to discover far more than the artwork itself.
Polyphonic Roles of Host and Viewers
Meanwhile, the host wears many hats—fellow man, homeowner, art expert, guide, and institution. By welcoming viewers into their home, they also welcome the possibility of new perspectives and interpretations of the artwork at hand.
Though the newly-formed relationship between host and viewer may end post-viewing, while together, both parties are of one ambition: to let art happen outside of the institutionalized art world, as well as to rediscover their autonomy as art viewers and enthusiasts.
Such a circumstance, however, also forces the host into a position of influence, just as any art institution influences its patrons. As a result, the host’s life story is on display like the art in their home. This creates a more personal system for viewing contemporary works: an intimate environment that will no doubt lend itself to a fond and vivid memory in the archive of the viewer’s life.
Random Institute entreats its audience to bask in the unknown and to reap the reward of memories, knowledge, and experience. The home of a stranger offers the perfect setting, the grand stage from which a narrative will naturally emerge amongst the trio of host, viewer, and artwork. This narrative becomes both a tale closely linked to the home and, quite possibly, an inseparable part of the artwork displayed in Don’t Talk to Strangers.
Participating artists included Florence Jung, Saskia Edens, Nils Amadeus Lange with Mira Kandathil & Annina Machaz, Manuel Scheiwiller with Melanie Wirz & Nils Amadeus Lange, Marcel Meury, Ivan Blagajcevic as Evalyn, and Thylacine. Curated by Sandino Scheidegger.
The culinary concept has been created by Han Lo (Untitled Group).
Images by Juliette Chrétien, Ian White, and Franziska Scheidegger.
The fish market and performance festival took place on May 8th and 9th, 2014 at Réunion in Zurich, Switzerland. A second edition takes place in April 2017 in Costa Rica.
The idea is simple. As far away as home: Paris to Warsaw is a curatorial initiative featuring Nummer veertien, home (2012), an ambitious video by Dutch artist Guido van der Werve. Even though van der Werve’s videos have been shown in heavyweight art institutions around the world—or perhaps exactly for that reason—the project deliberately took place beyond museum walls.
A traveling curatorial initiative unfolded over the course of ten days as the project’s curators road-tripped from Paris to Warsaw. While driving from village to village, the curators collaborated with local volunteer hosts and staged a series of intimate home screenings of Guido van der Werve's video work NNummer veertien, home (2012).
These informal showings were designed to be a response to the video’s integral theme of “the home,” a concept that the artist demonstrates is at once fluid and static. The private screenings thus called direct attention to a variety of places of living and additionally made the case for the relevance of art in both the home and the viewers’ personal lives.
Upon arrival in Warsaw, the curators purposefully refrained from screening the video and instead hosted a public dinner. Guests, together with the curators, discussed the effects of the video’s absence that evening, as well as the audiences’ reactions during the earlier living room screenings.
As far away as home operated under the contentions that art reflects the lives of everyone and that it should likewise be experienced in environments relevant to daily experience. The roving aspect of this curatorial initiative was also purposefully democratic: it enabled improbable audiences to view van der Werve’s work and thus overcomes the rather insular nature of today’s art world.
The initiative was conceived at the invitation of the Kunstverein Zürich.
Guido van der Werve is a thrillingly idiosyncratic artist. With Nummer veertien, home (2012) he aims to take the viewer—and the art making process—on a journey that goes as far as the artist’s own vigor allows. In the film, Van der Werve is seen proving his enormous strength on screen, as he travels further and faster than we could ever imagine, even conquering the most surreal of feats.
In the opening sequence, the Dutch artist is pictured playing piano in Warsaw’s Church of the Holy Cross, incongruously dressed in a wetsuit and goggles and moments away from embarking upon a heroic solo triathlon. Van der Werve’s intent is grand and romantic, as his enormous undertaking consists of traversing some 1,700 kilometers between the Polish and French capitals—by running, swimming and cycling—in tribute to the great composer Frédéric Chopin, whose body is buried in Paris and heart is interred in Warsaw.
The audience subsequently witnesses van der Werve’s travels, as he swims with rivers, bikes along country roads and runs through village centers. In so doing, the artist simultaneously repeats Chopin’s original trip from Poland to France (he was part of Poland’s Great Emigration), as well as reverses the journey of the composer’s sister, who honored Chopin’s last wishes by smuggling his heart out of France and returning it to the siblings’ homeland. As the legend goes, Chopin originally carried with him on his journey a silver cup of dirt from his birthplace, thereby keeping his home close at hand. Van der Werve, too, carries a silver cup of dirt from the great composer’s birthplace (he is pictured stopping there en route), and this time he brings “home” to Chopin’s resting place in Père Lachaise cemetery.
Van der Werve’s exploits are extravagantly accompanied by both a requiem of his own composing as well as interspersed images of the artist in daring, farfetched circumstances—he walks before the viewer while on fire and is lifted by crane up and over his childhood home.
At other points, the history of Alexander the Great’s voyage from Macedonia to his place of death in Babylon is presented in parallel to the artist’s triathlon. In these ways, the artist contrasts the seriousness of his tribute with fascinating histories and impressive stunts. In the end, the dramatic score comes to a decrescendo as van der Werve is pictured simply yet melancholically at the completion of his triathlon and in front of Chopin’s Parisian grave. As far away as home continues the cyclical movement between the two capitals. Where first it was Chopin and then his heart that made the journey, now it is the artist, followed by his work.
All journeys necessarily call to mind a personal notion of home. While this idea might at times seem stable and permanent, it is also susceptible to continued revision and interpretation. Human perception of home will probably always levitate between reality and fiction, just as van der Werve moves seamlessly between the possible and the impossible.
Of utmost importance to van der Werve’s video is the incorporation of local musicians, with whom he collaborated on the recording of his score. As far away as home responds directly to this element of community engagement—and even takes it one step further—by screening the film in the intimacy of homes along the route. Whereas the film is typically shown in high-definition and projected on large screens, this curatorial approach disregards traditional screening parameters. The curators simply opt to play the video on the technical equipment that exists in the hosts’ homes, be it a TV, computer, or other device.