PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 26.2 (2004) 66-72
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Mining the Urban Divide
The Work of Matthew McCaslin
To be an Installation Artist in the 1980s was to be extremely creative in a form generally perceived to be approaching its grandfatherly phase. Born out of concerns related to the urban experience, and added to that the new availability of huge loft "spaces" in the early days of New York's SoHo art neighborhood, Installation Art drew attention to a concept of spectacle that borrowed its formal constraint from a sense of objectness. These two elements may seem immediately at odds with one another: the spectacle and the objects, but a spectacle is an event dependent upon the arrangement of given objects, or people. It is perhaps best described as a rearrangement of expectation, and the use of objects or materials in an uncommon manner allows it to be fulfilled more successfully. As people do not conform their everyday activities to the unusual state of affairs that normally creates a spectacle, it is instead formulated among their myriad interactions and the varied uses of the spaces in which their lives intersect. One of the most successful practitioners of Installation Art since the early 1980s has been New York artist Matthew McCaslin, whose work actively comments upon the nature of interior space by using those materials which exist within the walls of all our spaces. McCaslin's work originally focused upon the dynamics of private space. That concept has since developed into a focus upon the underlying notions of ostensible privacy, public (in)action, and how these subtle interactions form the basis of a visual tapestry that includes the natural world as part of its exploration of space.
McCaslin treads the ground equally held by installation and sculpture. His early solo exhibitions at Daniel Newburg in Soho were radical experiments upon the degree of perception inherent in our experience of interior space, whether domestic or corporate, always deconstructing the formal qualities of these spaces and the many elements, either formal or utilitarian, which build them and our conceptions of them. Landscapes of the Inbetween (1989) presented a set depicting a squatter's home: a bed made from dozen of blankets laid one atop the other and several sets of wall struts made for holding up sheets of dry wall, in this case left uncovered, and set nine sections deep, as if a sound barrier made only from repeated walls was the original intention. From the other side of the area crossed by the wall struts, the office area of the gallery was visible, and though the metaphor of a wall is overt, there was little [End Page 66] sense of true separation, only a diffusion of light, air, and the ability of gallery visitors to easily interact with its staff. Though this mimics, in the barest sense, a domestic environment, this space remained stolidly alienating to its visitors. We were reluctant to settle onto the bed or transgress the field covered by the wall struts. In making them habitually conscious of the degree of artifice at work, McCaslin performed an act so subtle that it became difficult to accept the plausibility of a our role in it. Human beings, though necessary for the creative realization of this work, are otherwise no more than furniture themselves, entities which take up space, and in doing so, exert an ostensible effect upon their immediate environment.
McCaslin's second exhibition (1991) depicted a site of recent mechanical construction, with objects and tools scattered about the floor, the installation as a whole remaining untitled, yet with specific works on the walls. These works are also made to look as if they were recently constructed and perhaps abandoned halfway through the process of their fashioning. They were composed of electrical wiring, lights, fans, and switch junctions, and represented sculpture as the merest utilities exposed from behind building walls. One work in particular, Path of Least Resistance, represents a model of the world using a length of electrical cable hidden...