New York

Jude Tallichet

Sara Meltzer Gallery

If Buckminster Fuller had got his way, midtown Manhattan today would find itself under a giant geodesic dome. The utopist engineer’s 1962 proposal for such a structure (meant to protect urban dwellers against smog and, given the cold war, perhaps even nuclear fallout) represents the kind of vision—partly idealistic, partly pragmatic—to which Jude Tallichet pays homage in her recent show “Left.” Architecture is presented here as being equally capable of accommodating forward-looking theories and pure utilitarian necessity. A wide swath of its history—from the low-lying Mongolian yurt to Ted Kaczynski’s Montanan shack—is referenced by way of iconic examples.

“Left” comprises eight beige, unpainted, sandblasted-Plexiglas models of familiar building types (a barn, a pyramid, three teepees) and a few definitive landmarks (e.g., Fuller’s Single and Double Domes) that rest on gray Plexiglas islands, which in turn float on a sea of Astroturf. The archipelago arrangement imparts a sense of the uniqueness of the societies that developed the constructions, while also permitting certain affinities to surface: The miniature Dymaxion House, Fuller’s 1927 prototype of a unit adaptable to any environment (the neologism supposedly stands for “dynamism plus efficiency”), shares classic functionality with the time-tested simplicity of the nearby yurt. Despite the enormous differences between their origins, both of these shelters attempt to embody the supreme combination of form and function.

On their own, the sculptures are fairly plain, resembling scaled-down reproductions built by a hobbyist. The installation is brought to life by the rhythmic, spoken-word sound collage emanating from speakers hidden within the structures (the artist’s trademark). Tallichet taped her friends as they read texts selected from an eclectic mix of manifestos and statements, including Richard Serra’s “Verb List,” “Formulary for a New Urbanism” by the Lettrist Ivan Chtcheglov, and several quotes from Fuller himself (“Roam home to a dome . . . ”); musician Susie Ibarra’s lively drumming in the background lends a beatnik ambience. One is compelled to wander among the models to distinguish the separate recordings, each of which projects out of only one “building.” It’s a bit jarring to make a quick shift from the diatribe of Valerie Solanas (shooter of Warhol and writer of the SCUM Manifesto) to the anti-Hollywood rhetoric of Dogma 95.

When one steps back from the objects and takes in the installation and sound track as a whole, the individual utterances get lost in what comes across as a jazzy cacophony of undifferentiated ideas. The suggestion is that if all these propositions for social change were averaged out, the perfect formula for utopia would finally be found. Tallichet could thus be accused of muddying the issues by reducing the texts to mere stand-ins for revolutionary or progressive thought. Yet what prevents her project from simply lapsing into sentimental reverie over visionary philosophers is the way in which she highlights both the tensions and the correspondences among the different categories of production (art, architecture, political protest, etc.). One has to concentrate in order to gain access to the particular views of the single speakers as they rub shoulders.

During the past decade, with the fin de siècle looming, it seemed that many artists were mining the twentieth century’s proposals for improved living standards as dated material ripe for parody or nostalgia. “Left” certainly takes a similarly playful approach to the theories espoused by Tallichet’s cast of characters, but the result is not the diminishment of such forceful expressions. It’s just that close listening is needed to keep these voices from disappearing in the noise of history.

Gregory Williams