BY Michael Darling in Reviews | 11 NOV 96
Featured in
Issue 31

Garage Project

BY Michael Darling in Reviews | 11 NOV 96

The American domestic garage is a relatively neglected phenomenon whose hinged doors regularly conceal important belongings, activities and rituals that don't appear in public. Many a home mechanic, neighbourhood rock band, aspiring painter, or even ambitious gallerist, have tested their craft within the unpolished confines of the backyard garage. The tradition runs especially deep in the car-centred culture of Los Angeles. For this reason, the Vienna Museum of Applied Arts' decision to inaugurate an exhibition programme in the five wood-framed parking spaces behind their Rudolph Schindler-designed residence apartments (headquarters for their rotating art and architecture exchange programme) came as no surprise to the LA art community. The artists invited to contribute to the preliminary exhibition seemed equally unfazed by a departure from the white cube, and collectively charted a wide-ranging map of interconnections between the prosaic, the popular and the prototypical.

Paul McCarthy's Diagnosis and Dissection (all works 1996) addressed the characteristic ambience of the domestic garage while continuing his own investigation of the unseemly underbelly of popular culture, joining the two in a seamlessly sordid installation. Sliding behind a heavy black curtain, the visitor was plunged into a makeshift movie studio, replete with well-used, coffee-stained conference table, less-than-elegant chairs and evidence on the surrounding walls of a production in progress. Colour photographs and feverishly scribbled drawings on paper sketched out a nightmarish Western starring a trouserless cowboy, grizzled bartender and assorted saloon floozies who were to follow a decidedly sick and twisted screenplay. Diagnosis and Dissection is consistent with much of McCarthy's bawdy, performance-oriented work, but its unique location and tableau vivant format compels viewers to consider the burgeoning, yet ostensibly clandestine pornography business conducted in backyards, garages and houses all over the City of Angels.

Peter Kogler's piece in the adjoining space could also be seen as a deserted site frozen between intervals of human activity, but it is more difficult to imagine his tent-like Schindler Discotheque fulfilling its proposed potential as convincingly as McCarthy's. Kogler outfitted his garage with a pink and black lozenge-printed fabric that hung from a rectangular frame and protruded into the driveway to create a covered room. Together with the work's title, the fabric structure suggests contemporary techno and rave culture, which the artist may be comparing to the Bohemian/Utopian aspirations of the Schindler clan during the 20s and 30s. Barring a welcome invasion of ravers, however, the Kogler club remained an empty promise. Connections with the Austrian expatriate architect are more easily discerned in Heimo Zobernig's Schindler Bar, where the artist has slapped together a collection of furniture from scrap wood, an on-site improvisation Schindler performed with considerable skill, but which the younger artist approached with a slacker savoir pas faire. Arranged in a loose circle, Zobernig's chairs created an inviting environment for lounging, and, together with his more finely detailed plywood bar, made for a satisfying social sculpture whose potential was tantalising, even if conventional business zoning codes would produce its proliferation in most neighbourhoods.

Svetlana Heger and Plaman Dejanov's collaborative work For Rent is about identifying and exploring potential. Their garage space became a full-service cultural centre during the course of the show, housing poetry readings, concerts, exhibitions, video screenings and a dance party. In between projects, a blue and white 'For Rent' sign bearing the artists' telephone number was hung on their garage door, inviting prospective collaborators to call in with a proposal. Whereas other projects courted the idea of the garage/gallery as a real social space with fictional or conceptual props and clues, Heger and Dejanov's made a measurable impact on the cultural life of the city with their continuously changing programme of events, creating a sub-institution more lively and rewarding than its sponsoring organisation.

Away from the struggle to coax the perpetually conflicting realms of art and life into a mutually-relevant relationship, Liz Larner pursued the poetic detachment of metaphor and linguistic pun in her work Park. Parked in the artist's garage space was the gigantic bloom of the century plant, so named because its magnificent flowering occurs only once every 100 years. The uprooted plant shot out from the back of the garage into the driveway, carrying with it several parasitic plants inserted into its shaft. Like the venerable Schindler apartment house which is now supporting a new generation of creative activity, the ancient plant in Larner's Park provided a sustaining body for aspiring life forms.