Compact and containerized, the suburbs come downtown


It’s like walking through a house in a dream. The couches and the sink are recognizable. But the breakfast booth could seat a family of 12. The tree is orange. The swing is inside. There is nothing in the pantry except for miniature toilets and bathtubs. This two-story, human-size, 2,000-square-foot house at Deitch was made by architect Adam Kalkin with artists Jim Isermann, Martin Kersels, Aernout Mik, Tobias Rehberger, and Haim Steinbach. According to the press release, the exhibit addresses “the American utopian vision” through artists “ambivalent about the financial and social structures that have shaped the American dream.” Thus we see Mik’s video of people in a strange warehouse repetitively pulling packing materials out of boxes, one of whom looks like she’s going to put the paper in her mouth.

But the project’s emotional effect is what draws us in. Rehberger’s bare paper trees with the fallen leaves, the backyard with the light of an early summer night, and Kersels’s ball blowing alone in the wind fill one with that forlorn, ache-in-heart feeling so like the beginning or end of a Douglas Sirk movie, and that special kind of emptiness that only the suburbs can produce.

Inside the house, the rooms are close, long, and narrow. The light is dark and heavy. These are not the square rooms of houses with white light spilling through Georgian windows. The house is made from steel shipping containers, one of today’s hip, progressive, economical building components. Why address the decidedly unprogressive suburban house this way? Is it because the containers relate to consumerism? The house and its components are for sale, as a package or individually.

Related Article:

Contain Yourself: When it comes to housing, can thinking outside the box mean living inside a box?” by Nick Mamatas

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