San Francisco

Charles Goldman

Southern Exposure Gallery at Project Artaud

Whether pleasant or suffocating, compelling memories of home and childhood can be triggered by almost anything—a notion demonstrated by the effect on Proust of the taste of madeleines soaked in a spoonful of lime-flower tea. For Charles Goldman, the recollection of the very shape of his parents’ house has become the core of a profound meditation on identity: more specifically, on agoraphobia, defined as a fear of the loss of the self through the transition from private to public space. In the four elements of this installation, Goldman set about the interesting task of re-creating the experience of that childhood home, known here as 3045, 1996, through a kind of sensory mapping combined with an enchantingly thick literalism.

Entering the gallery, viewers were greeted by a small monitor set into the wall across from the doorway. The videotape loop playing on the screen seemed at first to offer nothing more than a flickering scan of interior light and shadow, created by a camera panning rapidly across walls and windows. Gradually, the tape revealed itself to be a myopically close-range documentation of the inside perimeter of the house in question—including the closets, where Goldman’s camera-carrying reflection could be briefly seen in mirrors mounted on the insides of the doors. One of these mirrors—the only actual physical relic or souvenir of the house itself included in the installation—had been hung on a short wall in the gallery. This modest object acted as a bridge between the tape of the house and the other parts of the piece, serving in some part as a reminder that Goldman’s role in his parent’s house is related to that of the observer/voyeur in a more public space like this one.

All the way across the gallery, the “footprint” of the ground plan of the house had been painted on the wall, its geometric shape offering viewers another opportunity to imagine the physical dimensions of Goldman’s childhood. By far the most compelling element of the installation, however, was the enormous rectangular pile of “walls” stacked neatly in the middle of the space. Made to scale from gypsum board and two-by-fours, with appropriate door and window openings replicating the ones in Goldman’s parents’ home, this collapsed re-creation (simulacrum?) exuded an improbable Minimalist elegance. By describing the physical dimensions of the house in this way, Goldman had succeeded in transforming it into a place with no inside at all.

Like the videotape of the ground plan, this unconstructed hulk reveals almost nothing about what the house really looks or feels like. Thus, Goldman reminds us that, as much as one’s sentimental attachment is to a particular address, the significance of home is constituted in memories, not materials. Like a mirror—or, more accurately, a big brick-and-lumber battery—a house is no more and no less than a place that stores a charge. This installation evoked some of the complicated emotions that “home” can stir up: not just the agoraphobic fear that some part of the self will be lost in the transition to public space, but the claustrophobic fear that we will never get out the door, suggested by that continual loop of walls, windows, and closets.

Maria Porges