Attempts at Breaking Into a Glass House

Laurence Sarrazin and Nora Wendl, A Model for Joining Glass and Steel: Eight Perverse Architectural Details, 2014, dimensions variable, glass, steel (detail).


Opening Reception
Opening Reception April 3 from 6 pm - 8 pm
April 3, 2014 - April 28, 2014
Gallery open Monday thru Saturday 9 am - 6 pm
The Steven Goldman Gallery at the Art Institute of Portland
Attempts at Breaking into a Glass House
1122 NW Davis St, Portland, OR 97209

Lecture Time & Location
April 10, 2014 at 7 p.m.
The Art Institute of Portland
1122 NW Davis Street, Portland OR 97209
In the Open Space, on the second floor.

Nora Wendl, Glass House (Kitchen), 2013, 36 in x 24 in, C-print

This exhibition transports viewers to the iconic Farnsworth House (Mies van der Rohe, 1951) with works exploring the subjects of transparency and architecture as a cultural practice. Wendl explores these subjects through two bodies of work that emerge from an archive of materials belonging to the house’s client, Dr. Edith Farnsworth. In tandem, Sarrazin and Wendl’s sculptural works examine the tension between glass and steel. The story is further probed with Edith Farnsworth’s edited poems.

When, in 1951, Dr. Edith Farnsworth first inhabited the glass house that Mies van der Rohe had designed for her, she complained to the editor of House Beautiful that the house was, in her words, “like an X-ray,” and that she felt on guard day and night. The glass house was an innovation for architects, but culturally it was cause for alarm—as suggested by the 1952 House Beautiful article on this house entitled “Threat to the Next America.” Just sixty years later, the technology of transparency is part of our every day, from the transparent surface of our iPhone to, most recently, Google Glass. Transparency is purported to be valued in our politics—a fair, transparent and democratic process—but too much of it is dangerous, if Edward Snowden’s detractors are to be believed.

Attempts at Breaking into a Glass House uses the theme of technologies of transparency to examine an untold architectural history. Using the all-glass Farnsworth House as a trope through which to examine transparency, this exhibition features three bodies of work. A series of photographs by Nora Wendl make transparent an attempt at architectural historical research. These photographs, a series called “Attempts at Breaking into a Glass House” show that architecture is just a setting in which disparate worlds collide. Within these photographs are projected historical photographs of the Farnsworth House that have never before been published, as they offer a striking contrast to the architect’s suggestions for inhabitation of a glass house—which would include furniture of his own design, which Farnsworth rejected. Commissioned by Dr. Farnsworth in 1952, they have been held in a largely unknown archive in Chicago for forty years and show her strange inhabitation of the modern house—heavy furniture, mattress on the floor, overflowing ashtrays. Within these photographs, we also see a contemporary woman (the historian, perhaps) attempting to occupy the Farnsworth House, sixty years in the past. Digitized and projected at a large scale into a small studio, Wendl (acting as an historian) attempts to inhabit the scene—slipping into the virtual, light-thin image of the house—attempting to break into the glass house sixty years later, a futile endeavor that the camera records.

Laurence Sarrazin and Nora Wendl, A Model for Joining Glass and Steel: Eight Perverse Architectural Details, 2014, dimensions variable, glass, steel (detail).

Taking a central location in this exhibition is a series of glass and steel architectural details designed by Laurence Sarrazin and Nora Wendl in collaboration. Models for Joining Glass and Steel: Seven Perverse Architectural Details plays upon the ubiquitous Miesian detail, in which glass and steel maintain an austere relationship, sliding past each other in close but formal contact. In contrast, the glass and steel details designed by Sarrazin and Wendl for this exhibition exhibit intimacy and near-human corporeality—glass in all its material potential. Numbered 0, 1, 2, 3….the sequence suggests a biological relationship between the glass and the steel, in which the glass—which begins autonomous from the steel I-beam—eventually subsumes it.

“We were both really inspired by the idea that the details of a building are its DNA.” says Wendl of the glass and steel collaboration with Sarrazin. “Laurence and I were inspired by this relationship between glass and the steel I beam: in the house, they sail by each other, adjacent and abutting but not engaged.” Sarrazin brought years of experience in experimentation of glass to the project.
Sarrazin received her BFA in Product Design from Parsons, The New School for Design before attending Columbia University for her Masters in Architecture. Sarrazin is currently working on retail environment design for Core77 and Hand-Eye Supply.

A very quiet history of the Farnsworth House is that its inhabitant, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, used her time at the house to write poetry. In this exhibition, poems drawn from Farnsworth’s own archive conceptually close the loop of image, word and artifact that creates architecture. Here, the architectural lines of Glass Docs work to carve a new poem out of the existing poem, revealing in Farnsworth’s poems and her poetry translations the stark truth of the phenomenon of living under glass.

Nora Wendl, Glass Docs, 2014. Dimensions variable. Collection of original hand-drawing on Xeroxed archival material (detail).