There goes the neighborhood. The Apartment Exhibition in Jacksonville, FL, touched on such ideas as renting and ownership, memory and nostalgia, impermanence and the universal longing for a place to call home [May 10-June 2, 2013]. Located in the city’s historic Avondale neighborhood, the exhibition was curated by Staci Bu Shea and included work by Thony Aiuppy, Sterling Cox, Lily Kuonen and Edison William—a group of artists ranging in age from their mid-20s to early 30s. Occupying a converted mother-in-law suite on Cox’s property, the artists group remade the 500-square-foot space into a new ‘home’ for collaborative and solo works.
The initial inspiration for the show was Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s 1991 The Kitchen Show, wherein the then-23-year-old curator-critic-polymath exhibited a collection of pieces in the kitchen of his apartment in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The simple radicalism of Obrist’s show galvanized the art world and helped readdress what we consider to be a proper, accepted gallery space. Two decades later, it inspired the 24-year-old Bu Shea to present a similar show in Northeast Florida, with the theme based on the experience of renting.
“I’ve been interested in blurring the line between public and private space, and this exhibit started with [that] impetus,” Bu Shea explains. “Over the past eight months of dialogue between the artists, it resulted with an attempt to discern ‘home,’ or lack thereof, through the project.” The exhibition also featured two performance events by Kuonen and Aiuppy, as well as the clever idea of advertising the show via a listing on Craigslist.
The work in The Apartment Exhibition ran the gamut from poignant to playful. Thony Aiuppy’s piece Residual Effect was made by tracing the bodies of attendees during the opening reception. The result presents ghostlike sketches on a wall, referencing both the vitality of past occupants and the common practice of parents tracing the height of their children in a family home. Lily Kuonen’s Home allowed exhibition visitors to mail a handmade postcard to a previous residence, giving participants a chance to send a kind of love letter to their own dwelling history. Kuonen also presented Family Vacations, a set of postcards from her personal past, bound by canvas thread and wood. Known for creating her highly individual PLAYNTINGS, objects made from repurposed items that blur the lines between painting and sculpture, Kuonen used some of those same ideas in her piece Care For, a tower of milk crates, bubble wrap, paper, and Styrofoam—familiar items now selectively chosen to evoke the experience of packing, unpacking, and moving. Sterling Cox injected a humorous element to the residence: Two of his ink-jet posters featured blurred images of Bob Marley and a beer advertisement, a tip of the hat to the almost-standard artwork owned by many college-age tenants. Opening the refrigerator revealed Cox’s A List of Things in ‘This’ Fridge, which featured an iPod and set of speakers reciting items that might be found in the almost-empty appliance; on a fridge door shelf sat a single orange inscribed with the name “Alan Watts,” a direct nod to the temporal nature of renting.
The sole bedroom in the apartment was successfully commandeered by Edison William. William chose to explore the world of sleep and the unconscious; a handmade cedar bed was the centerpiece of A Private Room for Sleeping, and the artist lined all four surrounding walls with photographs that transmitted dream-inspired imagery of boats, cities, landscapes, and bones. Tucked away in the corner of the apartment, William’s piece felt almost like an exhibition-within-an-exhibition, yet it was complementary to the overall experience rather than distracting from it.
Wandering through the rooms of The Apartment Exhibition was akin to being an invisible witness to the lives of others, a kind of open house designed to provoke memory and reverie, rather than the signing of any lease. “The fun part of this has been seeing the … exhibition develop,” Bu Shea said. “It’s really cool to have all of these little things in one place, working together as one.”
In the two decades since Obrist’s groundbreaking exhibition, the population of the greater Jacksonville area has grown 30 percent, making it the third-largest city on the U.S. eastern seaboard and home to a million-plus people. And like the rest of the nation, the area has weathered the housing market’s ups and downs of the past 15 years that turned many homeowners into tenants. Jacksonville is known for being home to a hit-or-miss NFL football team and to booming tech and banking industries; it also can lay claim to being the most violent metropolitan area in the state. An ongoing influx of new arrivals populates the city; few of its artists are native to the area, and they are certainly no strangers to the experience of renting, moving, and adapting to a new place. Yet thankfully in this time of industry growth and population boom, the cultural landscape of Jacksonville has also blossomed with a strong visual art community that surely owes much to that very same fresh and non-native populace.
Daniel A. Brown is a musician and freelance writer currently living in Jacksonville, Florida. A onetime bassist for Royal Trux and ’68 Comeback, Brown is also the former arts and entertainment editor for Folio Weekly.
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