New exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Art rethinks everyday objects
Think you know the function of everyday objects like dressers, flyswatters, and taxidermy ducks? Think again — or, rather, look again.
The Carnegie Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, Sebastian Errazuriz: Look Again, invites visitors to re-imagine the way they think about the function and construction of objects they interact with daily.
The exhibit, which opened on Sept. 6 and is located in the Forum Gallery near the museum’s entrance and the Hall of Architecture, is an exercise in training the mind to assign new meaning or give multiple uses to items that people usually take for granted. The sole artist of the exhibit, Sebastian Errazuriz, asks visitors to challenge their expectations of the seemingly mundane in an unusual, yet exciting, collection of furniture installations and display pieces:
Upon entering the Forum Gallery, visitors are confronted by a looming form fitted with 80,000 bamboo spikes covering its entire frame. The form, a Magistral cabinet, is not only meant to contain things, but guard them as well, according to the piece’s description. The spikes took six weeks and 12 team members to hammer into the cabinet, which was constructed of bamboo, glass, maple, and plywood in 2011. Through this piece, as well as an accompanying Explosion cabinet, Errazuriz questions how furniture should be constructed and invites visitors to look at them as not simply furniture.
The pieces form eye-catching centerpiece displays that are sure to pull viewers further into the gallery. The Explosion cabinet, completed in 2014, looks as if half of its wooden panels have been blasted into clean-cut pieces, but they are not totally separated from the rest of the cabinet, which remains a pristine rectangular shape. Magistral, on the other hand, has an imposing and intimidating, yet admirable quality about it. While it’s hard to brush aside the feeling that one could be mortally wounded while interacting with the cabinet, it is almost impossible not to want to touch the cabinet’s spikes and get to the drawers hidden behind them.
DIE and MIRACLE flyswatters
Among a shelf of household objects, including watches, a snow globe, and a salt and pepper shaker, stand two flyswatters enclosed in a glass case. One reads "DIE" and is covered completely in mesh to make a fly’s death certain. In contrast, the second flyswatter, called the "MIRACLE" flyswatter, contains an image of a cross. The cross is not covered in mesh, so that, in the event that a person swings at a fly, there is a chance that the fly will move through the void space that makes the cross. According to the piece’s description, the "DIE" flyswatter forces a person to consider the act of killing before they perform the act, while the "MIRACLE" flyswatter gives a fly the chance to live and leaves it up to the user as to whether or not they believe the fly survived by chance or miracle.
The flyswatters, created in 2011 and made of raulí wood, transform not only an everyday object, but also a mindless action into a deeply personal experience. The artist makes the viewer contemplate death and the chance life is given to continue living on Earth. Although the flyswatters are small in comparison to many of the larger installations of Look Again, they create a pair of objects more influential than most others in the exhibit.
Next to a desk that forces those working at it to look at their reflection in a thin mirror sits a chair, called El Santo. Above the chair hangs a halo-shaped bulb. The piece, created in 2004 with lacquered wood, a fluorescent tube, and electrical parts, turns those who sit in it into saints. The piece is meant to question the nature of canonization and its possible arbitrariness, according to its description.
This seemingly simple piece is one that, beyond critiquing religion, brings attention to the notion that the titles and honors people give one another are simply titles and honors, while people can make themselves anything they want given the right tools and mindset.
Down the hall from the Forum Gallery, in the Hall of Architecture, stand a number of additional pieces of the exhibit. The installations in the hall include a motorcycle, a four-tabletop coffee table containing four nude portraits of the artist, a piano hanging from the ceiling, and the standout of the bunch, Boat Coffin. This piece is exactly what it claims to be: a cross between a boat and a coffin. The coffin is meant to give the owner a choice to face death head on. Owners of boat coffins can take themselves out to sea to die on their own terms, rather than waiting to die a possibly slow and uncomfortable death elsewhere.
The piece’s concept is less hard-hitting than the others in the exhibit, since the notion that humans have the choice to face death when they want has been explored many times. However, the piece stands out because of the alternative method it presents for an individual’s death journey. The coffin boat is a humorous concept, leaving one hard-pressed to find a more ridiculous way to end one’s life. The piece is constructed of a coffin, lacquered wood, leather, steel, nautical hardware, rope, a blanket, gas tank, and flashlight, and was created in 2009.
Other remarkable pieces in the collection include Duck Lamp and Duck Fan, which incorporate taxidermy birds into the frameworks of objects. In Duck Lamp, a taxidermy goose’s head is replaced with a lamp head, while in Duck Fan, a duck is placed in front of a fan to show that “birds fly against the wind every day,” according to the piece’s description. The artist believed Duck Lamp to ring better than Goose Lamp when naming the fan.
There are also shelves created from piano key-like black strips and a cabinet with mirrors forming a kaleidoscope, as well as Occupy Wall Street signs that serve as chairs too, all of which beg viewers to question whether or not they can use an object in a different way than they are told to use it. At the entrance to the exhibit are many of Errazuriz’s initial sketchings of the objects he eventually brought to life, and a magnetic board placed on the wall next to the sketches invites viewers to show off their own sketches.
The exhibit is most certainly one of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s more unusual displays, with striking pieces such as a door with two peep holes, behind which lies a wall and a message that screams “You are not a pirate!! *open the other eye & look again,” among its taxidermy ducks and potentially dangerous furniture. Beyond their shock factor, the exhibit’s pieces — each and every one of them — ask visitors to spend some time with them to understand the meaning behind the zany first impressions they leave. In a world where people are constantly on the move, a collection of work that asks people to spend one more second standing in meditation to discern multiple meanings and uses for an object can do no wrong.