What must it be like to look at a house and say, “I built that”?
Listening to artist Diane Daniels’ speech at the show opening, I learned that her father, Harry Cooper, taught himself to build houses by reading about how it was done and hanging around construction sites. Through this experience, Daniels was exposed to the vocabulary used in architecture, which she translated into art.
At first glance, I thought the Square Plumb and Level exhibit was going to be about math. That confused me because I generally assume that art is the opposite of logical/mathematical thinking. I was proved wrong, however, by another point Daniels made in her speech: accuracy is key, both in building houses and imagining art.
Hamilton Artists Inc., the gallery currently hosting Square Plumb and Level, is an intimate space perfectly suited to the installations presented there. The space allotted to Daniels’ pieces are enough to avoid overcrowding without being so much as to leave stretches of blank wall. The pieces cannot be ignored, drawing the viewer in to contemplate plumb lines hung perfectly from pulleys in the ceiling, or oversized blueprints of the house Cooper built, where he later raised his family in Ancaster, Ontario.
My favourite piece was called “And They’re All Made Out of Ticky Tack”. The piece consists of a row of 12 or so small black boxes mounted at eye level that seem like jail cells, each with a piece of cage-like mesh covering the front window. Each is painted gold on the inside and illuminated with a tiny bright light. In each box is a wooden house designed around a concept like the uncomplicated lines a child might use in drawing a home. The houses are painted bright solid colours and my favourite detail about the work is that in each piece of mesh, one square has been stretched a little wider than the others, making a spy hole into this supposedly perfect but actually very limiting world.
To me, And They’re All Made Out of Ticky Tack is about conformity and how desire for sameness can be articulated in architecture. I’m thinking about the suburban housing divisions where rows of identical houses fill what was once forest or farmland, supposedly fulfilling a desirable ideal. But no one knows what goes on inside any house, no matter how pretty the outside is, and no one tries very hard to break the mould.
Square Plumb and Level runs at Hamilton Artists Inc. until October 4.