On view through November 2nd
By Sabina Tichindeleanu
DREAM HOUSE brings to limited realization a long abandoned architectural dream,
surfacing an alternate timeline for a family since fractured.
In a way, a gift to the architect.
In another way, his soul laid bare.
In fact, my soul laid bare.
In an oversaturated art market, where the enormous, pompous, ostentatious or provocative floods the galleries and museums, an exhibition where the artist has her “soul laid bare” is refreshing, and deserves commendation. Erin Murray’s exhibition DREAM HOUSE reveals something intimate and touching: the relationship between father and daughter and the lost dreams of a family. This show also seems the natural next step for Murray’s dark and melancholic reflections on humanity, which are translated into perfectly precise graphite drawings of abandoned or imagined buildings.
For DREAM HOUSE, Murray goes back to her beginnings, building and developing the show as a whole as she goes backwards in time, following an archival trail of her father’s old blueprints. Her work is absent of pride and ostentation as she re-visits distant but precious memories, trying to put the pieces together in an attempt to pay homage to her father and his influence on her artistic life. The show can also be viewed as a portrait of her father, his desire to build a place of dwelling and to provide, while at the same time remaining a dreamer and an idealist – perhaps a universal portrait of man.
As you enter the space, you are confronted by the first piece, Structure Given to Light, a photograph of the house her father designed and built in the early 90’s for his family. The photograph is enclosed in a glass block, directly referencing one of the construction materials used in building the house. This piece sets the stage and mood for the entire show: the preservation of memory, of a time in family life when dreams seemed attainable, and a man’s achievement in providing and building a home for his family. The photograph seems trapped in the glass block; it is set apart, isolated, and untouchable.
As the dream evolves, the exhibition moves from something concrete to what is perhaps a utopia: a formation of six drawings or plans (done by Murray’s father) of an upside down pyramid house to be built on the banks of the Schuylkill river. The plans are quite detailed, and a bit humorous as some of the notations read “1/7 scale of Giza” or “hell of a lotta solar panels.”
The next piece is the largest and most imposing in the show: Murray’s translation of the upside-down pyramid house into a large drawing. The house is viewed frontally, surrounded by trees. The drawing is made of smaller triangles or pyramids that form an octagon, displaying Murray’s masterful use of graphite. It gave me the impression of a board game, as if one were able to pick up the pieces and re-shuffle them and see what comes out: perhaps another landscape, another possibility, a not-so-unfathomable structure. The trees engulf the pyramid house, as if trying to swallow it, or perhaps to shield it or protect it. In a different mood, the trees can also seem like dust clouds, the ones that rise when a building collapses. The drawing is beautiful, but there is a strange, surreal quality to it that leaves you somewhat suspended, unsatisfied.
On the opposite wall, Planned Obsolesce, a set of four, square drawings, revealing imagined floor plans of the pyramid house as viewed from above. The drawings are done in a gradient, and as the sections of the house get deeper and the square gets smaller, the drawings darken. The pyramid house seems to be floating in a sea of stars and engulfed by clouds, reminding me more of a spaceship than of an actual, possible house. But I guess the house was never “possible” in the first place: it is a dream house. The purity of the square and the quietness and mystery of the images, along with Murray’s perfect handling of graphite, contribute to creating these exquisite drawings, reminiscent of Vija Celmins’s Starfield series.
Also included in the exhibition is a video projection, footage of the Schuylkill River seen through a digital mask that mimics the window layout of the pyramid house. Through most of the loop, a small motorboat makes its way across the middle windows. The video brings a bit of life and movement to the somewhat static, suspended feeling of the exhibition, and a human element (provided by the person, the motorboat) that is nostalgic. Seeing the view from this “window,” it all seems plausible again, and the viewer feels that maybe dreams are not lost.
As you exit the space, you notice a small sculpture on the floor. It is a trophy made of stucco, awarding the status of “Favorite Daughter” to Erin Elizabeth. The sculpture, obviously given by Murray’s father to his daughter, is endearing and intimate, and confirms the collaboration and artistic conversation between father and daughter.
The exhibition engages all of the available space, and each piece converses with and informs the others. DREAM HOUSE is an ode to the artist’s father, both to times lost and dreams shattered, and an existing bond, enduring love. Even the corners of the gallery walls have been curved, using paper and spackling paint, which suggests a time capsule, a futuristic object where all these memories and dreams have been preserved.
Through a variety of media, DREAM HOUSE achieves a clear and unified narrative that is rich and endearing. The result is an intimate and personal experience that, as it fades in my memory, evokes the nostalgia of dreams unrealized.
Sabina Tichindeleanu is an artist, independent art reviewer and curator. In 2012 she started ArtGrind, where she posts reviews, poetry translation and updates on current projects.