Whether it is fences, roadblocks, construction sites, or well, lots of construction sites at Cornell, we are all familiar with physical barriers that exist in our lives. New York City is perhaps the epitome of enclosure, in stark contrast to the limitless natural beauty of Ithaca. In the latest installation at the Johnson museum, featuring the work of a New York City based duo called Type A, the barrier is depicted as both a literal and figurative presence in our lives. This impressive collection, created by Type A artists Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin, was curated by Claudia Mattos ’11, who also serves as the 2010-2011 intern for Modern and Contemporary Art. The collection, which will be on display until June, was inspired by Claudia’s interest in Type A and her intrigue with the figurative interpretations of physical obstruction. The installation inspires heavy reflection on the barriers in our world that define our limits and serve to cultivate fear.
The focus piece, titled Barrier (2009), provides a powerful central image of an obtrusive barrier that is unique in its artistic formation, yet familiar as a blockade in the public domain. The design of the obtrusive barrier is that which would appear in an urban setting, as means of directing traffic or people. The curvature of each of the six arch segments that comprise the length of the piece are each a statement about “stagnation, impermeability, and authority, commenting on the climate of fear and anxiety that grew out of 9/11.” The piece is a small-scale replica of a larger work by Type A that has been a part of installations at several major museums. The cold concrete lends to the reflection on the harsh urban setting.
Another of Type A’s works that Barrier is reminiscent of is one that Claudia describes as a large barrier installed on the ground floor of a museum, obstructing a café line. While your line at Trillium certainly won’t be inconvenienced, the smaller concrete constructions that Claudia has on display at the Johnson are powerful in conjuring the idea of spatial constraints. Claudia had the opportunity to meet both Type A artists through her work, and was fortunate to obtain the sketches, mock-ups and computer renderings that the installation boasts. The range of items on display, from rudimentary sketches to actual pieces, is intriguing in itself through its depiction of the developmental process and exploration of the barrier as a major theme.
The constraints of our fear serve as an underlying theme of the work, and can be depicted through several photographs of human interaction with the physical barriers in the Insertions series (2007). This involvement of man in the environment is crucial in conveying the futility of existence and the city’s alienation. The heart of the work lies in the concept of the barrier as an extension of the city, in which men exist in very confined, concrete urban spaces.
Two videos provide a media aspect to the installation, which is powerful in its exploration of human futility. Through continuous looping video, two men compete and then try to rescue each other, to no avail. Is life really just this meaningless and mundane? Are all our efforts, for ourselves and others, simply miniscule in the context of the massive city? These are the questions that the media installations, 4 Urban Contests (1998) and 5 Urban Rescues (1998) evoke. The media element of the installation provides a powerful introspection on the meaning in the life of man. Different types of barriers in an urban setting are presented in the film as obstacles to the men’s lives, yet at the same time they master their environment in that they successfully interact with the obstruction.
Lastly, a piece that is a culmination of the entire installation’s reflections is Fear (2008), a cast concrete and polymer edition of the block letters for the word. The piece provides a commentary on the effect of barriers in our world, a “tongue-in-cheek reinterpretation of Robert Indiana’s Love Sculptures (1970) that turns the playful Pop imagery of Indiana’s pieces into a cracked concrete block.” Physical and figurative barriers create a powerful image of expression in terms of man’s reaction to obstructive barriers in the world. Fear is pervasive in the lives of those constrained.
Physical barriers are objects of everyday existence, often not considered in terms of artistic value. This is what makes the installation unique and introspective; the barrier stands as a powerful metaphor for fear and futility.
Original Author: Alice Cope