Seattle has been giving a lot of attention to the 50-year-old Space Needle over the past year, and to the memories that it has inspired. Visit Suyama Space in the next few weeks and you’ll find an installation that includes a handmade model of the Space Needle, and that is all about memory. It has nothing to do with the ’62 World’s Fair, however, and you may well find it a lot more interesting than all the recent stuff that has.
What is certainly the case is that Deborah Aschheim, the visual artist responsible for “Threshold,” and the maker of pretty much all of the curious imperfect architecture that it comprises, is one of the most interesting artists you’re ever going to meet. She thinks exponentially: Every notion prompts a string of further ideas, which in their turn scare up a whole flock of others. Appropriately enough, materialized three-dimensional maps of this kind of thought process — particularly as it governs memory — dominated Aschheim’s sculpture until recently. There is one of them floating high up in the corner of her installation here, but it is not the center of attention. It acts rather like a key to the new, more literal map that is the “Threshold” installation.
Although she is still fascinated by memory, Aschheim’s focus has shifted to architecture and to how ideas, buildings and memories interconnect. And why not? Aschheim enjoys the status of being the first artist in the history of Suyama Space to be invited back to make a second installation.
Back in 2000, when she worked on the very different piece “Evenflow,” she had the experience of working alongside the architects among whose offices Suyama Space sits. It was, she says now, her “first formative opportunity to consider buildings as the product of individual intelligence.” The particular buildings that she ponders in “Threshold” are those inspired 1960s and ’70s inventions that, just like the Space Needle, set out to anticipate the future. Of course, the reason these buildings — like the sky-scraping TV tower in what was East Berlin or Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago — look so poignant now is because the optimistic modernist future their designers anticipated did not become the present that we are now living. It is an architecture established more in excited fantasy than in concrete reality, in other words. This is precisely why they are so attractive to Aschheim, for whom the recent past in which they were conceived is the mysterious “time between memory and history” when uncertainty reigns. When instead of things being fixed by longstanding consensus or direct personal experience, the past merely haunts us.
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So she points out that the buildings that she has made for “Threshold” are “mash-ups of real buildings and projected buildings.” Rather like memories that we have revisited again and again and which oddly become more vague rather than more precise over time, Aschheim has allowed these buildings to mutate and to confuse themselves with one another. They are hand-cut from translucent plastic; some are suspended from the ceiling while others cling to the walls; many glow from within. They achieve not just what Aschheim calls a “temporary haunting of a real space,” but an astonishing evocative experience for the visitor. Go see them.
Robert Ayers: email@example.com