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Artists and Architecture: Projection/Convergence/Intersection; curated by Margo Crutchfield; Moss Art Center, Blacksburg, VA, through April 1

Review by Michael Borowski, Virginia Tech

Installation view of Artists and Architecture: Projection/Convergence/Intersection. Moss Art Center, Blacksburg, VA, January 19-April 1, 2017. Photo: Michael Borowski

Absence is a familiar trope in popular media. Our protagonist wakes up to a world absent of people, or witnesses an unexplained disappearance. This trope need not imply a mere escapism; it can also offer a means of comprehending an all too strange reality. Architectural imagery, for example, often uses absence to emphasize the place as subject, making it appear timeless, or creating room for multiple potential narratives.

Candida Hofer often photographs institutional and cultural spaces; here, Teatro di Villa Mazzacorati di Bologna II and Catherine Palace Pushkin St Petersburg III depict places of entertainment. Hofer rarely includes people in her photographs. In these ornate  spaces, meant to be filled with guests, that emptiness raises the question of who is allowed access to these spaces and who is not? James Casebere’s work is also noticeably bereft of people. The subjects of his photographs are model replicas of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, inundated by water. The floodtide stands in for the missing individuals, symbolizing the underlying history of the site as a plantation and of the slaves who worked there. Amidst rhetorical claims that “America is a nation of immigrants,” Casebere’s images remind us of the hundreds of thousands of Africans brought to the US against their will.

In other cases, absence can be read in both literal and ideological ways. Jean-Francois Rauzier compiles images of the rooms and artifacts of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, digitally stitching them into a hyperreal environment. The image highlights the extensive collection, but the colonialism involved in these acquisitions remains invisible. Dionisio Gonzalez constructs fantastical hybrids of modernist architecture and the vernacular housing of impoverished neighborhoods in Brazil and Vietnam. The Halong series concentrates on the displacement that occurred after the Vietnamese bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The official status protects the land and brings in tourism revenue, but also led the Vietnamese government to remove residents’ houseboats, in an effort to improve the view of the landscape. Gonzalez’ work proposes a utopian architectural solution for housing the evicted locals, but ignores the fact that these designs, based on Western aesthetics and functionality, are thus imposed upon a culture from the outside.

Photographs of architecture focus our attention on a place by emphasizing a visual understanding, but they can also remove specific narratives of what occurred in that place. Consequently, they both limit and focus attention. Through this directed view, Artists and Architecture: Projection/Convergence/Intersection engages in a topical discussion of space, access, and absence.

Michael Borowski uses photography, installation, and performance to address ways in which societal values are expressed in urban environments. He holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, and is an Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Virginia Tech.