New York

Elaine Reichek

A.I.R. Gallery

Elaine Reichek’s recent work analytically dissects architecture, reconstructs it in decidedly nonarchitectural, nonstructural materials, and then inverts it. Through a process of aggressive interpretation, Reichek discovers architectural elements that ’are accessible emotionally and tactilely, and attempts to get at the basis for the speechlessness one often experiences in the face of architecture. She objectifies shelter; architecture is presented as an artifact that issues from a cultural formula.

Reichek begins her work with research and selection. For this exhibition she chose representatives of different types of traditional and indigenous structures from a spectrum of social and climatic circumstances, including a farmhouse near Sonobe, in Japan, a chiefs house from the Fiji Islands, and five other examples. Seven small black and white photographs with descriptive labels set the parameters of inquiry. The images were then blown up into large prints which Reichek hand colored, achieving sometimes a sense of fidelity, sometimes one of whimsy and license. This insertion of color, both seen and imagined, transformed documentation of the shelters into esthetic investigation. Next to each reworked photograph hung an upside-down yarn maquette of the shelter matching the scale and pigmentation of the print. The inverted knitted forms are colorful, floppy sacks—containers of another character from the original architectural impulse.

Reichek uses the traditional domestic craft of knitting and the myth of photographic fidelity to disclose what is special and manipulable about architecture as another skin. (She is not exactly suggesting that making architecture is like knitting a sweater.) Architecture is taut and firm; Reichek’s pliable, flaccid creations take the structure and reason away from architecture, spilling questions about what then remains. Many of the knitted models seem like parachutes that have dropped away from the armature of air.

There is something anxious in Reichek’s esthetic interpretation of color, texture, and deconstruction. The original facts are all there, but they are so manipulated and rearranged that deduction is virtually meaningless. Architecture is used to generate a new creature, and gives up its usual characteristics to act as a reference and source. Architecture as artifact spawns a new artifact which is distinguished from the source and not indicative of actual structural relationships.

In the process of demystifying architecture, Reichek gives up its meaning; by removing the functional and structural impulses and the integrity from shelter, she destroys it. But the corpses she leaves communicate something about the living object, and her architectural nihilism is ultimately constructive because of the inquiry it provokes. By using architecture to construct a new artifact which shares observable characteristics but no inherent structure with the generating source, Reichek begins to unravel some of the mystery of architecture as an esthetic and cultural impulse. It is an anxious and disturbing beginning, and the methodology, while fascinating to witness, raises questions about the means of the artificer.

Patricia C. Phillips