Het Stroomhuis Neerijnen, The Netherlands
In the fall of 1993, I taught at the Academie voor Beeldende Vorming (Fine Arts Academy) in Tilburg, The Netherlands. While there I chose not to take a studio in favor of traveling throughout the country as much as possible in order to gather ideas for new works. That autumn, I became aware of the programs of Het Stroomhuis, an alternative gallery housed in a former electricity substation in Neerijnen. (“Stroomhuis” translates to “Streamhouse,” as in a stream of electricity.) Artists in the Kunststichting Neerijnen who organize exhibitions for the Stroomhuis responded to my work, and I was invited to create a project for the entire building. Het Stroomhuis has five or six exhibition spaces, some discreet, some interconnected, in a two-story brick building. I returned in 1996 to realize project. The works were installed one per room, an installation that I think of as a series of views or chapters on a central subject.
Dutch Shoes, 1996
For this project I made eight different variations on and distortions of conventional wooden shoes. Working from my patterns, Frans van Kuyk, a traditional wooden shoemaker whom I met in 1993, produced 30 pairs of each shape. The 240 pairs
of shoes exist as one object, covering a floor area about 15′ by 25′. Some viewers have commented that it reminds them of the mounds of shoes of Holocaust victims. That read is far from my intentions: the shoes are arranged in pairs to imply a room of people standing next to each other Dutch Shoes is in the Robert J. Shiffler Foundation Collection and Archive, Greenville, Ohio.
Spaanse Kraag (Spanish Collar), 1996
Cotton roll toweling, acrylic emulsion stiffener, steel tubing, wood slats, pins
15’ dia. x 4’ h.
This large cylindrical object is based on patterns for ruffled collars frequently depicted in late 16th- and early 17th-century Dutch portrait painting. It is made of more than 3,000 meters of (used, laundered) cotton roll towels, commonplace in public restrooms throughout Holland, donated by the Hokatex Company, the country’s largest supplier. Like many of my works, this object implies a human presence and presents an unspoken, but clear, invitation for the viewer to imagine him- or herself being part of the work: the scale puts the top of the collar close to neck height, and the central opening is big enough for one to imagine standing in it enveloped by layer upon layer of pleated fabric.
At the Columbus Museum of Art, (then) Curator of 20th-Century and Contemporary Art Annegreth Nill paired it with a single portrait from the museum collection.
Enameled cast iron
10″ h. x 24″ l. x 18″ w.
While In Holland, I made several notes about bathing and washing customs, and this work, done six months after being back home, is an outgrowth of my observations. I produced the series in the summer of 1994 during a residency at the Arts in Industry Program of the Kohler Co., Kohler, Wisconsin. As I surveyed the palette of available enamels colors I thought too of the conventional gender-identifying colors for babies—pink and blue—and the many names for the skin tones they (we) come in: white, black, beige, yellow, red, coffee-with-cream and so on. I thought also of shopping: of selecting the “right” shiny tub and what would inform those choices. Installed in a circle, no color takes prominence, there is no hierarchy.
Film, transferred to video, 15 min. loop
While in Tilburg I worked on a short film documenting a recurring landscape image: a single Mediterranean pine tree often planted in typical small front yards of middle-income neighborhoods. Little happens in Fifteen Trees, and the film is silent. As a result, the focus is on the movement of branches in the wind, on the otherwise nondescript similarity of many postwar apartment complexes, and of occasional glimpses of residents moving or peering out from behind lace curtains.
With the trees as a foil—if anyone stopped to question what I was doing, I told them I was fascinated by the trees that were uncommon in the States—I could concentrate on my true subject, the interiors partially visible through gauzy curtains. Each segment opens with a full-frame view of the house and tree. Over the course of a minute or two the lens gradually zooms in on the tree, details of the branches, and ultimately on and through the windows. Who lives there? What do they sit on, do they read, do the do in their spare time? Passing cyclists interrupt a few segments. In one, the only movement is a pet bird alighting on a chandelier in clear view through a gap in the curtains. In the final segment, an elderly woman catches sight of me filming from across the street. We see a glint of light off her glasses as she peers through the window before pulling the cord on her vertical blinds. At the end of each segment, the picture fades to black.