BY Kate Wong in Reviews , UK Reviews | 30 OCT 20

Olivia Erlanger’s Sci-Fi World-Making

At Soft Opening, London, the artist’s new sculptures explore the psychic terrain of domestic space in the age of surveillance capitalism

BY Kate Wong in Reviews , UK Reviews | 30 OCT 20

Five bulging eyes protrude quietly from the walls of Soft Opening’s new space on Minerva Street. Installed at varying heights and painted in either powder pink or muted grey, each orb is a self-contained scene, modelled after typologies of the aspirational American home. Though each individual bubble is replete with the usual tropes associated with bourgeois domestic life – generic house plants, designer furniture and literal as well as figurative references to self-care and improvement – these particular depictions are devoid of any real representations of human life. If American suburbia of the 1960s functioned as both a symbol of perfection and isolation, do we find ourselves increasingly lonesome in the age of surveillance capitalism or has human life become disembodied to the point that we now transcend our physical conditions?

Olivia Erlanger, 5:13 PM, 2020, miniature toilet, bathtub, shower, scale, rubber ducky, succulents, Evian plastic tile, resin, HDU foam, wood, MDF, polyester paint, plexiglass. Courtesy: the artist and Soft Opening, London; photograph: Theo Christelis

Made this year during lockdown, US artist Olivia Erlanger’s new exhibition, ‘Home Is a Body’, is a surreal, spatial exploration of the psychic terrain of domestic life and 24/7 surveillance. Her careful representations of the teenage bedroom, the living room adorned with a prized Noguchi coffee table, the marble-floored bathroom, the home gym and, that pinnacle of American suburban life, the white picket fence – in this case distorted and curling back on itself – act to destabilize preconceived understandings of the home and our relationship to it. Each globular microcosm is an act of sci-fi world-making: a perversion of the paragon of domesticity.

Olivia Erlanger, 'Home Is a Body', 2020, installation view, Soft Opening, London. Courtesy: the artist and Soft Opening, London; photograph: Theo Christelis

Building upon extensive research into the significance of domestic architectures in shaping social, economic and political life (including her 2018 publication Garage, co-written with Luis Ortega Govela), ‘Home Is a Body’ sees a shift in Erlanger’s technical practice. Where the analogue aspects of her previous sculptural works were more apparent, here the combination of outsourced fabrication and commissioned dollhouse furniture yields objects with newfound slickness. Each orb is not only a window into someone else’s world but also a reflection of our own. A tension is struck between the softness of traditionally feminized domestic space and the cool materiality of human life mediated through devices with two-way screens.

Olivia Erlanger's 'Home Is a Body' is on view at Soft Opening, London, until 7 November 2020.

Main image: Olivia Erlanger, 3:07 PM, 2020, miniature couch, armchair, knock off Noguchi Table, pink MacBook, dinosaur sculpture, water pail, cactus, cork floor, posters, books, resin, HDU foam, wood, MDF, polyester paint, plexiglass. Courtesy: the artist and Soft Opening, London; photograph: Theo Christelis

Kate Wong is a Chinese-Canadian writer and curator living in London, UK.