New York

Terry Berkowitz

The Alternative Museum

In an installation titled People Who Live in Glass Houses, TERRY BERKOWITZ created a disturbing psychological climate by juxtaposing and associating diverse elements that are commonplace to contemporary experience. A small plexiglass house with a three-way mirror behind it stood on a pedestal in the center of the gallery. Recognizable artifacts of American culture were attached to rope-encircled rocks and strewn across the floor; 10 pieces of unravelled fly paper were attached to the ceiling. A series of mirrors was hung on the right-hand wall, and one black-and-white photograph of a nude man floating face down in a shallow body of water was displayed on the left wall. Trapped inside the little glass house were the only living beings in this primarily static tableau: about half a dozen flies, whose buzzing sounds were recorded on a tape that played continuously, creating an eerie background hum in the small space.

Imprisoned in a pristine environment that provided them with shelter, water and food but that deprived them of mobility and freedom, the flies’ function was clearly metaphoric. The viewer’s sympathetic identification with the plight of the flies was subverted by the presence of the fly paper, making it clear that these insects were also to be seen as undesirable agents of filth and decay. Such ambiguities were consistent to the entire installation. The stones and objects lying on the floor, for instance, could be seen as the “cornerstones” of American society; yet they could also be viewed as potentially destructive forces threatening the civilization symbolized by the plexiglass house. The mirrors could have aided the spectator to “see” the situation more clearly, but instead most of them were made useless—smashed, blacked-out or shaded. These contradictions remained unresolved in the installation, thereby suggesting the complex relationship between shelter and confinement, visibility and blindness, constructiveness and destructiveness, that Berkowitz perceives as the ropes that bind those of us who live in America’s “glass houses.”

Shelley Rice

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