Attempts at Breaking into a Glass House

  • Exhibition: Blue Sky Gallery, Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts
    Pacific Northwest Photography Viewing Drawers, Portland, Oregon
    Juried Selection 2014-15 | Jurors Michelle Dunn Marsh and Todd Johnson

  • Exhibition: Attempts at Breaking into a Glass House, Art Institute, Steven Goldman Gallery, Portland, Oregon | April 3 - 28, 2014

  • 2013 Coast Time, Residency in Architecture/Writing, Cutler City, Oregon, USA

This is architectural history: a glass house projected into a small wood-and-concrete studio.
I break Edith, and Edith breaks me.
Both architectures—the glass house and the wood studio—"are a mere setting wherein the worlds of two individuals communicating across time collide." - Mitchell Squire


It is impossible to occupy history. Seeing an historical photograph, we balance the historian’s responsibility to document with the researcher’s desire to project: we project ourselves into events and spaces of the past with difficulty, unable to surmount the distance of years, decades, centuries. This is nowhere more evident than in the images of canonical buildings, a visual discourse that is composed and curated to suggest timelessness and inevitability. Dr. Edith Farnsworth, patron of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1947-51), confused this discourse by commissioning Plano, Illinois-based “Gorman’s Child Photography” to document the house—complete with her own interior appointments. These records are doubly wrong—staged and composed by Farnsworth, and full of her own furniture, they remake the image of the Farnsworth House, muddling Mies’ aspirations to “beinache nichts," almost nothing. A testament to the deviousness of these photographs is that they have never circulated in architectural histories or theorizations of the house.

How might we inhabit such a photograph? How might we inhabit the space between an outside observer’s casual detachment—the architect, the historian—and the interior perspective offered here, through the body of Dr. Farnsworth? At times we might find ourselves sympathetic, reaching to rest our hand on the image of a cold, steel surface in the kitchen, watching the horizon of an Illinois floodplain recede into a pixelated line. At other times, we might lie on the filthy floor of the studio, writhing in mockery of Farnsworth’s gestures of apparent desperation. It is as impossible to occupy history as it is to remain objective in constructing it.