Apart from his role as half of the subversive duo that make up Snarkitecture, Daniel Arsham exists as a separate entity: a multi-disciplinary artist, sculptor, and set designer, as expressed through his latest exhibition, “Reach Ruin” at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum.
“Seated Figure,” 2012. Photo by Janelle Zara
Conceptualized long before Sandy hit our shores, “Reach Ruin” is an anagram of the word “hurricane,” inspired by the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation of Arsham’s native Miami. As such, “Reach Ruin” is a thematic storm that flows throughout several of the museum’s exhibition spaces: on the first floor, fiberglass has been given a fabric quality, solidified mid-air to the effect of a man man struggling to walk against the wind (although if one were to look behind the sheet, she would find no one there). There’s an installation on the eighth floor called “Storm,” (2012), a “condensed approximation” of its title, according to Arsham, which consists of a craggly portal (“tonsils of the beast,” commented fellow journalist Paul Laster) into the wall that pulses with light and blows air onto its viewer to the cacophonous sound of 16 versions of Mozart’s stacked on top of each other, slightly misaligned in their timing.
Recalling Arsham’s former days as Merce Cunningham’s go-to set designer, the seventh floor features Study for “Occupant,” a collaboration with choreographer Jonah Bokaer in which the dancers, clad all in white beneath a series of black lights, painstakingly trace the floor in overlapping sine graphs, in slow, controlled motions using Arsham’s plaster sculptures of SLR cameras as chalk.
Traces of Arsham’s identity as an architect are readily visible throughout: the eighth floor gallery features sculptural “ruins,” columns built to the same scale as those that hold up the Fabric Workshop’s ceiling, formed from broken glass, more resultant detritus of a storm. Those, along with a sculpture that envelopes the form of a man, seemingly integrating him into the walls of the room, suggest that labels like “architect” and “artist” are not fully distinguishable. Arsham seems to agree. When we met him at the Fabric Workshop Friday, he was in the process of leading Brooklyn-based artist assistant Emilie Gossiaux, a former Snarkitecture assistant who had lost her vision in a biking accident, through the exhibition on a personal tour. Against the better judgement of the security guards, he lay her hands on each of the pieces. “Ostensibly you’re allowed to touch architecture,” he told ARTINFO.
— Janelle Zara