press release

600 West 111th Street, Apartment 10B / 308 West 109th Street, Apartment 8
July 25 - August 10, 1999
Opening Sunday, July 25, 6 - 9pm

Centered around one of the organizer’s moves, Unpacking situates itself at an unusual if not atypical temporal and spatial locale: the fifteen-day overlap between the beginning and ending of two respective leases, and the state of limbo between an old and a new apartment, when things are not yet settled. The diverse ways in which the eleven participating artists address these parameters testifies to the rich possibilities of art making outside institutionalized boundaries. The exhibition is curated by Christopher K. Ho and Cletus Dalglish-Schommer

Kerry Tribe focuses on the onslaught of associative memories often instigated in packing and unpacking one’s belongings. 21 Apartments / 25 Years: A Provisional Archive traces the occupant’s itinerary to date and catalogues special objects acquired at each move. Drawing from conceptual art’s “aesthetic of administration”—three gray filing cabinets, archival boxes, typed labels—Tribe nonetheless injects into her work a subjective depth and mnemonic dimension wholly distinct from her art-historical forebears, resulting in an admixture of corporate bureaucracy and personal recollection.  

Peter Rostovsky, too, plays with notions of memory. Parallel Views 2 and 1, however, veers less towards a biographical model than an ersatz scientific-experimental one. Recalling nineteenth-century perceptual investigations into the duration of an image on the retina, the project unfolds gradually, necessitating visits to both old and new apartments. A traced drawing of the view from one apartment is transposed onto the other’s window.  

If Rostovsky begins to locate his work in the actual move between 600 West 111th Street and 308 West 109th Street, Andrea Ray further tapers her installation to Unpacking’s specific spatial and temporal site.  Informed by the apartments’ pre-war—i.e., pre-air conditioning—status, Moving consists of three trays of ice fronting six fans mounted in the windows. Not only performing the pragmatic function of cooling an apartment (a function much needed during the reception), its very intangibility underscores Unpacking’s attempt to find alternatives to commercial art spaces and their necessary consumable product lines. Over time, the ice gradually melts.

A collaborative effort by Nina Katchadourian and Julia Meltzer plays on the cultural phenomenon of apartment hunting, leasing, and buying utterly unique to New York City. Share Available (Special Conditions) starts with a simple placement in the Village Voice advertising an 160 square foot room (the dimension of the bedroom at 600 West 111th Street) for the seemingly impossible price of $150 per month. Interested parties are asked only to contact the accompanying phone number between 6 and 9 pm on Friday 23, 1999—i.e., during Unpacking’s opening—only to be met by an outgoing message describing the apartment’s not-so-attractive particulars and demanding them to describe themselves. The project thus consists of callers in real-time projected through the answering machine.

Another collaborative project, by Bill Ferguson and Malcolm Jamieson, centers paradoxically on an absent subject. His haunts, home, and even movements are duly recorded, though again, like Katchadourian and Meltzer’s fictitious rental, he himself does not exist. In a mise-en-scène reminiscent of Paul Auster’s novels, Shadow consists of a detective’s desk replete with recorded tapes and photographs, listening devices and story boards.

Detective’s clues turn into full-fledged indexical traces in both Jorge Alberto Perez’s photographs and Rory Donaldson’s installations.  

In Alberto Perez’s work, a large close up of a face in ecstasy taken from a porn flick is mounted on a television screen. Elsewhere in the apartment is a row of smaller prints, of someone masturbating in front of a television set. The two parts of Untitled not only underscore the public / private ambiguity inherent in Unpacking (an art exhibition in a domestic space), but poignantly bespeaks a ritualized existence which remains even after objects have been removed or an occupant has left.

These traces of previous occupancy, as well as the erotic charge which Alberto Perez foregrounds, are also adeptly addressed in Donaldson’s Stacked and Hung and Unspoken Conversation. The latter consists of a tablecloth used during an actual dinner party. Amidst the brownish spills are painstakingly embroidered silhouettes of the arms and hands of the dinner guests. Not only do these constitute indexes par excellence (stains and shadows), but in Donaldson’s displacement of the tablecloth onto a bed, the marks inevitably acquire double meanings, a move utterly concurrent with the freeing of the signifier that indexical signs herald.

If Donaldson’s work might relate, art historically, to some work of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Eric Troffkin’s Degrees, Minutes, Seconds draws from a minimalist legacy. Yet the installation overlays, even counters, that movement’s characteristic phenomenological presence with a wholly physical aggression. Consisting of a just-too-big cardboard box situated in the old apartment’s foyer, it not only references packing boxes, but recalls the discomfort and inconvenience of having one’s belongings boxed up—of literally feeling “boxed in.”

Kira Harris’ project has a similar tangible force, although it relies less on physical aggression than curious juxtaposition, in this case the displacement of hundreds of books into the kitchen. Literally making a hitherto small and sterile room into a conversational piece, Overlap coalesces study, living room, and kitchen—recalling, perhaps, another time when social contact hinged on eating and drinking.