Camp Out: Finding Home in an Unstable World is a steely-eyed examination of the sometimes-noxious state of home ownership and the outbreak of contemporary placeless-ness. It’s also an exuberantly scribbled wish list of architectural next-steps, urban do-overs, and domestic re-inventions.
The exhibition, which is on view at Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, features work by 10 international artists who look broadly at what “home” represents in a world that has watched the abrupt collapse of property ownership and enduring construction cycles.
Roughly half the work included is located, either appropriately or ironically, inside the stately house that once belonged to the Laumeier family. Each of the half-dozen small galleries feature pieces that explore what it means to identify with a specific place or to be sheltered by something that is ultimately ephemeral.
Photos by Edgar Martins, whose work often captures neglected buildings and ghostly construction sites, sets an ominous mood at the outset of the show. Exhibited here are images of a seemingly empty, possibly abandoned, house in mid-disintegration. Ragged holes in a drywall ceiling hover over mounds of pink insulation that have spilled onto the beige carpet of an otherwise unblemished and wholly unremarkable corridor. It seems as though an internal organ violently ruptured only moments prior to the shot and fluffy pink flakes are still floating languidly through the hazy air.
Smartly installed across the room, Emily Speed’s Inhabitant serves as a whimsical counterpoint. Resembling a ramshackle model of San Gimignano, and created while Speed temporarily lived in St. Louis, the freestanding piece is more than six feet tall and looks as if it were assembled during a frenzied fever dream. Formed from cardboard, duct tape, and acrylic, its erratic agglomerated masses create towers, stairs, windows, and columns that jut upward in a crystalline gesture of tiny architectural elements. Further, with a possible wink toward William Van Alen—known for dressing up as his own Chrysler Building—this ecstatic urban form can be picked up and worn to the specific sites that inspired its forms.
Similarly, Mary Mattingly’s Wearable Home is art that can be worn. Her work incorporates familiar fabric patterns and vernacular clothing typologies from cultures around the world. By melding kimonos, saris, trench coats, military uniforms, and more, Mattingly has stitched together a suit that is simultaneously generic and singular. There is an eight minute video of the suit in action, bobbing up and down on the surface of a vast body of water, dutifully protecting its wearer from the elements. Wearable Home is additionally represented by three collages graphically reminiscent of Stanley Tigerman or Superstudio.
Six pieces are installed on the 105-acre grounds outside the house, sited in a landscape already populated with work by Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Jenny Holzer, Beverly Pepper, Alexander Liberman, and Vito Acconci, among many others.
High Rise by Oliver Bishop-Young stands out as a piece both referential and acutely contextual. Swelling upward from a large, visibly used industrial dumpster as if it had been baked like bread, discarded dressers, bookshelves, tables, and bundles of wood are arranged methodically, fastidiously, and could pass as a one-off collaboration between Louise Nevelson and Joseph Cornell. Bishop-Young has long been interested in finding new uses for the lowly but versatile industrial dumpster and has previously reappropriated them as small gardens, swimming pools, parks, and living rooms.
Sited steps away is quite a different approach to redefining something that is an exceedingly common element of our daily lives. Dré Wapenaar deftly employs a broad tree trunk as living scaffold from which he hangs Treetent, his canvas, wood, and steel shelter. This inhabitable structure is formally reminiscent of oozing tree sap or a bird’s bulbous nest and is accessible only by climbing the ladder that precariously leans into the small opening 12 feet above ground. Inside, appointed with a wood floor and a table, it is spacious enough to comfortably stretch out and enjoy the uninterrupted views of the surrounding art and grounds.
Susan Sontag was likely not on the minds of the artists featured in the Camp Out exhibition, but she had some memorable thoughts regarding a different kind of camp that are surprisingly relevant to the work currently installed at the Laumeier house and grounds. In Notes on “Camp,” Sontag wrote: “The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relationship to ‘the serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”
The exhibition draws no conclusions, never points accusatory fingers, and stops short of providing large-scale architectural solutions to the complex issues that riddle our cities and neighborhoods. In short, the show is frivolous, thank goodness, which is the most useful and reassuring aspect of this exuberant and highly engaging collection of work.