Visual Vernacular: Jonathan Schipper
Life confined to four walls is magnified, stretched, roughed up, and slowly deconstructed in the latest installation at Rice Gallery. Artist Jonathan Shipper‘s Cubicle has taken one of society’s most static spaces and reconceived the confines of common workspaces to examine destruction and creation. Computers, folders, mugs, chairs, photos, personal trinkets, and other standard office fare are all on display for the viewer, leaving one able to peer into each unique yet echoed square along the runs of rows installed in the gallery space.
Floating above so many of the objects in the installation and connected to random items throughout is a multitude of white strands, slowly but surely being pulled by a hidden mechanical pulley that will suck everything connected to its center over the duration of the installation. “The key to that is to have a framework in which the chaos is controlled,” Schipper states. “The museum or the gallery serves that purpose. In the Rice Gallery installation, the structure and layout of the cubicles are the framework is the starting point for the disorder that will follow.”
The question of change is at the core of the exhibition, both at a micro level with even the smallest objects in motion, and the macro level with our changing economy and society. Within the exhibition lies the irony in the items used. All the cubicles were donated by the University of Houston from Houston Public Media. A beloved media institution that has been shifted, changed, and turned into something so far removed from its original foundation, so too these cubicles stand for layers of destruction and change within Schipper’s piece.
So many who sat at these desks were known for their knowledge, their voices on air, their work on television, and their commitment to community were ultimately fired, phased out, or shifted in some way as a news source and classical oasis slowly morphed into what is now heard (or not heard) on air, online, and on television. Many, including myself, spent work days in these cubicles cultivating something that cradled classical and community while strings were slowly being pulled behind the scenes that would eventually change the air wave landscape of Houston. Lest us not forget the time the classical station took over the original Rice radio station dial, showing strings of local ties lingering in this piece.
Adding this local layer into the piece serves of interest, as do the items that are found in the compartmentalized surroundings. Quirky sayings pinned to the walls, personal photos of family and pets, scribbled memos, detailed notes, floods of folders, and other office offerings came from various staff members across the Rice University campus, adding a human touch to the stale sides of the office furniture. Some of the quotes posted to the walls perhaps spoke to the confined nature of working in a cubicle. Such nods included sayings such as “Any creative ability I might possess is out matched by my ability to be a jackass or a stubborn imbecile” and “You can have whatever you are willing to struggle for.”
Overall the exhibition is something of slow and silent wonder, all controlled by the mechanical winch powerful enough to pull 45 tons. Day-to-day changes will be subtle, moving the lines attached to the communal space approximately one millimeter per hour. The exhibition is being document by a time-lapse camera to show the changes over the two month period.
Between the vision of curator Josh Fischer and the work put in by the people on campus at Rice, this piece resonates from the artist’s original thesis to see the beauty and change in the smallest of ways. “My experience at Rice Gallery was great,” Schipper says. “Producing a piece on this scale requires the support of many people and the people at Rice Gallery have been key to making this piece exist. This is the largest of the Slow Room series that I have done, and it has been exciting to be able to realize it.”
Jonathan Schipper’s Cubicle is on view through December 4 at Rice Gallery (6100 Main Street). The gallery is open on Tuesday through Saturday 11 am to 5 pm with extended hours on Wednesday until 7 pm. They are also open on Sunday noon to 5 pm.