Glenside, PA

Amy Hauft

Beaver College Art Gallery

In her installation Period Room, 1998, Amy Hauft challenged expectations about site-specific works and their architectural moorings. Laid out in a formal grid, a waist-high horizontal plane of caned plywood frames filled the entire space except for a narrow winding walkway branching off in three short paths. Each led to a caned chair, handcrafted by the artist. By contrast to the museum period rooms referenced in the work’s title, the viewer became a participant whose passage was regulated through the piece. It somehow felt natural to raise your arms while negotiating the paths to the chairs, as if you were wearing a hoop skirt or standing in wading water or a field of tall grass. And once you sat down in a chair, at eye level with the caned plane, there was another, extended landscape to perceptually navigate, a new density to experience as the open rattan weave closed in on you.

Sitting also encouraged looking up or down, which had its own revelations. At a height of twelve feet, the white box of a gallery supporting Hauft’s work stops, revealing the original structure (an 1893 power station), whose glazed brick walls extend another twelve feet above. Beyond its own architectural presence, Period Room played with this structural layering as it cut across an interior gallery door, mimicking how the white wall covers all but the top arch of an original window. Glancing down, you were given a behind-the-scenes look at fluorescent lamps and supporting wooden legs, along with the chance to reflect on the work’s construction. The modular structure of the caned frames also suited Hauft’s plans to reconstruct the piece at a future site, reenacting a strategy she has used before and creating a provisional atmosphere around the work’s bond with its present location.

Into the cool clarity of her gridded, Minimahst aesthetic, Hauft insinuates her hand as if to push opposing traditions of conception and production together and, ultimately, aside. The work’s technical imperfections, traces of the hand, seemed as planned out as the hard-edged formal, decisions. In the chairs and the horizontal grid work, the woven rattan respectively fulfilled and denied its traditional association with crafts, bridging the conventional schism between craft work and the fine arts.

In a related gesture, the artist produced a round card with an image of her canework on one side and one of six historic caned chairs from Philadelphia collections, along with an invitation to visit these venues, on the other. This sounds like a good idea, but finally seemed beside the point. What Hauft has made is significant. The great gift of this work is how it makes one feel physically attuned, alert to its rich metaphoric incident, while giving rise to a structure conducive to seeing and the contemplation of seeing.

Eileen Neff