Kennedy Heights Arts Center (KHAC) is host to artist in residence Susan Byrnes and her nostalgic narrative: Domestic Departures. Conjuring the ever personal yet universal experience of home, her body of work engages the topic through a myriad of mediums, including sculpture, sound, performance, and more. From the historic 19th century architecture to the doorbell petitioned for admittance, KHAC was just shy of a ‘Welcome’ mat and Miles Kimball decorative goose before giving way to gallery setting. And then, you step foot in the door. The venue a seeming match for the maker, Domestic Departures is told through the blueprint of a (quasi) inhabitable living space. This site-specific installment invites you to ‘make yourself at home’ in all senses of the word.
Placing person as medium, the artist opens her work to the human variable. Simulating the very act of invitation as is experienced in a home, Byrnes welcomes guests and collaborators alike to alter the preconceived (yet ever changing) domestic landscape. This ‘artist is present’ motif (nod to Marina Abramovic) is at the forefront of the exhibition, and is seen wonderfully here.
Accompanied by artist and collaborator, Fibers That Connect, is hoisted elegantly to the parlor wall and hangs (or at least, at the time) partial to the adjoining fixtures on the wall. Breeching the constraints of a traditional art object, this performative work is sentiment incarnate as artist and collaborator knit presently during my visit. There is something delightfully unconventional about a person in gallery. Not a body, but a living, breathing, active being that really challenges what we consider art and what we call art space. There is a vulnerability of the artist to be present with their work and a responsibility of the viewer to be a part of it.
Even still, as we understand this composition as an act, a performance of sorts; we see it as an object, too, and can consider the implications of its formal components. Lofty and unfurled, this piece is a symbol of ‘expectations vs. reality’ when it comes to home and leaving and your eventual return. Its tactility is a representation of the continuity of home and the people who impact it.
Crafting candy into construct, we see how material plays an imperative role in the artist’s conceptual execution. The idea of ‘bed’ as it is experienced in the context of home has immeasurable implications, and Byrnes shows us just that in her transformative and ironic use of material.
To embody the complexities of intimacy could only be conceived in one’s imagination, or, in a candy-made bed. Fixed fittingly in the bedroom quarters of the gallery, Sweet Dreams is seductive and sticky and smart at that. In this delectable sculpture, viewer turns voyeur in a sweet but carnal exchange.
Formally, the piece brings to mind notions of intimacy on an experiential level (the suggestive color, the telling twin-size); structurally, it does something far more profound. Positioned centrally on the mattress is a sign reading: “Please do not touch or sit on the bed. It is very fragile.” This rightful caution points the viewer away from the fervency of desire to the fragility of love. It points to the sacredness of privacy (as it pertains to intimacy) but the daunting nearness to secrecy (as it pertains to squander-y). It is memory materialized in the complicated land of love affection. The frame of the bed glowing red with transparency stands in serendipitous contrast to the deep and dense meaning found underneath.
Homes are sanctuaries, are they not? Rooms clad with meaning, objects used religiously. In the artist’s practice, we see a pervading tendency to transform utilitarian objects into sentiment, just as we do in the comfort of our own homes. Yielding a sort of religious experience, we see these faculties used brilliantly below.
The disposability and dependency on domestic products is a humbling paradox, and Untitled (After Cy) #3 & 4, is a beautiful one, at that. They’re archaic, but modern, discernable yet subtle; these plastered products are relics of our rituals.
Garnishing the interior of a mantel, you can’t help but think of their decorative nature in the context of home, while also considering their divine parallel to sanctuary or sacred place. Romanticizing the mundane and making permanent the passing, we see our habits materialized. We see the practical becoming personal and the personal becoming objectifiable. Embodied within these vessels is our ever present (and somewhat visceral) relationship with the laic world. This connectivity between sentient and inanimate, while not quantifiable, was perceptible and fundamental to the show.
Gracing every stitch, every mold, every iteration, is the artist’s reverence for craft and process. Harnessing the meticulousness of fiber to the femininity of cast iron, Domestic Departures transcends from concept to object and back again. To miss this impeccable body of work would be a shame. Leave your home, and all its comforts, to visit Kennedy Heights Arts Center now through June 4. 2016.