We Just Fit, You and I: Capturing the Corporeal in Architecture
By Sophie Bartholomew
Gesturing to Michael E. Smith’s untitled sculpture, one visitor to the Carpenter Center for Visual Art’s new show We Just Fit, You and I asked a nearby gallery guide “is this the art?” The sculpture, comprising a garden sprinkler head and a ventricular assist device mounted on white board, is in line with the other works in the show: its elements seem familiar yet their combination is novel and somewhat unsettling within the gallery space. This ambiguity and playfulness spans the work of all four artists in We Just Fit, You and I, which is open through January 7. In their commitment to material exploration and interest in bodies and architecture, these artists transform an iconic and largely conventional gallery space into a somewhat unsettling yet vaguely familiar environment.
As the only building designed by the renowned the Swiss architect Le Corbusier in North America, Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts renown is an especially relevant setting for a show which focuses on architecture and the human body. The four artists featured in We Just Fit, You and I explore many of the same elements of the relationship between building and body as did Le Corbusier in his 1962 building. Le Corbusier is famous for his consideration of the human body in the proportions and scale of his buildings. Most notably his development of the Modulor scale of measurement centered the human body in the configuration of architectural proportions.
It is this architectural anthropomorphism which the artists Pamela Rosenkranz, Sondra Perry, Michael E. Smith, and Michelle Lopez respond to. They relate to one another in their shared project of exploring the echoes of the corporeal within architectural settings while spanning media and differing in approach. The works featured in We Just Fit, You and I are unerringly ambiguous and infuse the interior of Le Corbusier’s famous building with an air of mystery.
On floor 1, Sondra Perry uses the material language of a familiar domestic space and tweaks it to create an alternative living room. Viewers are invited to sit atop a yellow floral couch stained with black paint and covered in shiny plastic with four cinder blocks for legs. From there they may comfortably watch shaky footage of explosions displayed on a tiny screen embedded in a short clay obelisk. The wall of the so-called living room is replaced by Perry’s April 8, 1937, a sculpture composed of brown clay pressed between two large plastic sheets. Layered on top of this clay sculpted wall is an animated video of Perry’s family members’ skin which quivers and shakes, altering the texture of the sculpture.
Harmonizing voices sing out from a speaker above “reach out and touch me…feel me.” These lyrics mingle with the sounds of birds chirping and insects buzzing in Pamela Rosenkranz’s Anemine. Rosenkranz washes the room in blue and green with her LED light strips positioned above a large, hand-painted rectangular sculpture. In the opposite corner plays Michael E. Smith’s video featuring vlog-style footage of a person stepping into a full bath tub wearing red sequined Uggs. Smith’s second video is not unlike his first, but where sequined Uggs are switched out for chunky black sneakers.
For the title of her performance piece, Fictional Pivot, Michelle Lopez quotes Le Corbusier directly from one of his lectures on the place of the human body in architecture. In her sound performances Lopez explores the human potential to occupy architectural space not only with the physical body but with an auditory presence as well. Lopez transforms the architecture of Le Corbusier’s building into a respiratory system using the sound of her own inhalation and exhalation to inject the space with a human element.
All of the works are alike in their exploration of materials and, surprisingly, in their lack of a human presence. The exploration of the body and architecture interestingly includes very little human presence. Only the singing voices of Perry’s audio, the skin mapped on her sculpted screen, and the feet splashing in the tub in Smith’s videos are instances of human presence. In other places the body is simply evoked in its absence, heightening the viewer’s awareness of their own body in the space. However even without an overt human presence the echoes of the human body are evoked in all four artists works and transform Le Corbusier’s ordered interior with only subtle alterations.