Of course, I was no stranger to this kind of domestic debacle. In fact, I think we've all witnessed some degree of pack-rat syndrome, if not having been clinically diagnosed with the affliction ourselves. And it's not funny, either. A man in my apartment building has so depressingly crowded his dwelling with accrual that he showers outside with a garden hose (heaven knows what he's storing in his bathtub).
True psychoses aside, though, many of us hold onto stuff because we think things carry memories and sentimental value, and if we discard them, we lose a part of ourselves. The act of packing for a move becomes a history party in which we wallow in yesterday while we should be getting on with tomorrow.
If this particular rut sounds familiar, and you're looking for an inspirational kick in the ass, spend an hour or so at Rice Gallery meditating on Mark Fox's outrageous window installation, Dust. Fox himself has described the work as a "meditation on ownership" in which he, more or less, catalogued every object he owned before packing up his Cincinnati studio and moving to New York.
With Dust, Fox both nakedly displays his obsession and exorcises himself of it in one huge onslaught of imagery. On display is a 2-D inventory of over a thousand objects drawn, to scale or larger, in black ink on white paper. But Fox made the task even harder by drawing every object as a negative image, allowing the white paper to provide the detailing. He then meticulously cut out each object and gave it a coat of bright green paint on its underside. Using different lengths of spring-tempered steel wire, Fox pinned the flat drawings in a manner that allowed them to hang inches away and parallel to the wall's surface (with the green side facing the wall). As a result, each drawing casts an eerie green shadow that mimics wall paint.
As an artist, the process let Fox explore his relationship with every object he owned in an extremely intimate way — talk about taking stock of your life! It's fascinating to imagine what Fox learned about himself while undertaking this project — the memories that flooded back; each acquisition's unique past and trajectory; the sheer will to continue the task and the moments that threatened to kill it.
Our experience of the work is merely reflective and much more limited (well, mine was). The seemingly random composition actually represents the order in chaos. A large oscillating fan in the center "blows" the objects, like dust, into a cloud of pandemonium. Large pieces, like chairs, a ladder, a table saw and a section of chain-link fence, balance the space with tiny things, like kitchen utensils, batteries, bottles, keys, art supplies and toys: a Mr. Peanut figurine; a Fisher-Price clock; a miniature carousel.
The hazy, chartreuse silhouettes, according to Fox, imitate a weather phenomenon he observed while experiencing a tornado. Tornadoes can produce strange lighting effects, rendering unnatural color saturations in clouds. Orange and pink hues are not uncommon. For Fox, it was bright green. Not surprisingly, a tornado is the perfect inspirational image for this installation. Fox emphasizes the centrifugal focus of a funnel or axis with a hanging plumb bob that anchors the piece and delivers a message that, while being a bit glib compared to Fox's audacious achievement here, is nevertheless important. It seems to say, "When you find your center, everything else is dust in the wind."