DreamHouse - Temporary Public Sculpture - LaGrange Art Museum USA 2011 Wood, Tarpaulin, Screws and Fluorescent Twin Head Worklight

Describing a dramatic diagonal on the brick-lined terrace behind the LaGrange Museum of Art, Mark Clare's DreamHouse (2011) projects a stark, geometric simplicity (LaGrange Museum of Art, LaGrange GA, September 14-October 30, 2011). Imitating a vernacular shotgun house, Clare's structure has a single window and a front door, with a wooden frame to the left of the facade suggesting a porch. The walls are sheathed in plastic, first black, then overlaid in opaque white, blocking the light. But the single window and the 'panel' of the door as well as the gabled roof, all without the dark under layer, glow in the evening from illumination within. Patterned after the narrow, rectangular residences popular in the South from post Civil War days until the 20s, the shotgun house began as a middle-class dwelling but became by mid-twentieth century the residence of the poor. Many believe the style originated in New Orleans from African and Haitian influences. In fact, one theory suggests that the name derives from the African word "to-gun", 'place of assembly'. A more popular theory sees the sobriquet as coming from the dictum that a shot fired through the front door would exit the back without doing harm, running straight through the several rooms lined up staccato fashion without hallways. Though largely a Southern institution, the structure is sometimes seen in distant cities, such as Chicago, Tampa, even Los Angeles.

Introduced to the shotgun house during a recent trip to the states, Clare, from Ireland, saw the dwelling in the light of his preoccupation with architecture as a formative force in shaping culture. Including the word "Dream" in the title, he accents several levels of meaning. A dwelling is first, of course, a pivotal archetypal symbol. For Gaston Bachelard the house represents "the inner being," its various levels standing for "different states of the soul." In Jungian thinking, the house is a kind of sanctuary associated with preconscious life in the womb. The nighttime lighting serves to underscore these notions of warmth, comfort and protection - the ancient tradition of a hearth. The term "Dream" hints as well at Modernist utopianism. Yellow "trim" around the door nods respectfully to the colorful geometry of Mondrian, a father of Modernism, who believed that the equilibrium of art could save the world and perfect the ills of mankind. Yet even as he conjures up this aesthetic illusion, Clare simultaneously inverts it. His structure certainly mimics Mondrian's spare geometry, but it is made of temporary materials and is slated for imminent dismantling, thereby belying the Modernist "dream" that architecture can alter the course of human folly. Significant, too, is the historical fact that the shotgun, first the "dream" house of the middle class, slipped in status during the affluence of the past century becoming a dwelling for the poor. And who can fail to consider the colossal bust of the contemporary housing market, a "dream" gone sour.

Also tacit in Clare's structure is a critique of traditional sculpture. Public works in the past have for the most part honored those of eminent social status and have used costly materials such as bronze and stone. Clare, on the other hand, employs cheap, disposable substances - plastic stapled to a simple post-and-lintel wood frame. Instead of permanence, he celebrates the nondurable and the transitory. And he holds up for contemplation, moreover, a dwelling for the undistinguished. In one sense, Clare's Dreamhouse mirrors the large-scale housing units of the past century, such as Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green. Built with inexpensive materials, these structures degenerated into slums and were torn down: a capitalist utopian aspiration shattered.

Dorothy Joiner Lovick P. Corn Professor of Art History LaGrange College. Art Papers 2011