An Altered Experience of Space and Self: An Examination of Reflectance by Jan Tichy
The unusual optical phenomenon begins as soon as the sun rises in Elmhurst: sunlight shines through the entire McCormick House so brightly that the reflections reach the main galleries of the Elmhurst Museum of Art, past the restored carport , the entrance and the hallway that was to separate the architecturally significant house from the museum building, revealing its original facade.
Jan Tichy breathes new life into the single-family home designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1952, who for years has been creating conceptual work at the intersection of video, sculpture, architecture, sound and photography . His installations exist between light and dark, clarity and shadow, the visible and the invisible. “Reflectance” does just that.
Illuminating the Glass House, museum and surrounding space, Tichy responds to reflections and transparency by transforming household objects – think historic dishwasher racks, bathroom mirrors and door handles – into a kinetic mechanism. A nod to László Moholy-Nagy’s experimentation at the Bauhaus, the solar-powered installation features sparkling glass and metal surfaces. Both a technological experiment and a sculptural design object, the installation sits in the middle of the McCormick House, where the living room used to be. As the light passes, motors rotate the reflective objects – all borrowed from George Fred Keck’s House of Tomorrow, America’s first glass house designed for the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago – providing a real-time solar architectural environment.
In addition to illuminating the glass structure in an elaborate fashion, Tichy, fascinated by the first inhabitants of the McCormick House (the real estate developer, Robert Hall McCormick III, his wife, the poetess Isabella Gardner, and his two children) studied their lives and experiences in the house—their legacy includes works of poetry, photography, film, and dance. To add to this – and to somehow build a legacy of his own – Tichy created a photographic series to reflect other material imprints of their lives. Namely, Gardner’s poetry books, “Birthdays from the Ocean” and “The Looking Glass”, which she wrote while living in the house. By exposing the pages to light from different angles, Tichy creates photograms that reveal a unique and resolutely personal approach.
Beyond the revival of the McCormick House, the “Installation no. 38 (Keck & Keck)” is on display inside the museum as part of the exhibition “Houses of Tomorrow: Solar Homes from Keck to Today”. Blurring the boundaries between architecture, engineering and art, the work consists of a single-channel video projection aimed at bringing together the past (nearly century-old building materials), the present (response from a contemporary artist) and the future (impact on the public). Entering the gallery through thick, floor-length black curtains, the viewer is plunged into darkness. Tichy’s animated projection modifies space with reflections of historical fragments, reinventing the time and space of the House of tomorrow.
By manipulating natural and artificial light, the minimalist artist creates a disembodied sculptural presence in space, be it the McCormick house or a single museum gallery. As he experiments with materials that refract and reflect light in particular ways, he transforms viewers into participants: as they move through space, their bodies intersect and change ephemeral forms as the light passes above and around them. And it is between shadow and light that his in situ architectural interventions offer an altered experience of space and of the Self.
Elmhurst Museum of Art, 150 Cottage Hill Avenue, Elmhurst, elmhurstartmuseum.org, (630) 834-0202. Until May 29
Of Greek origin, Vasia Rigou is a seasoned journalist, editor and producer of multimedia content mainly on the subjects of visual art, culture, architecture and design. She is currently the editor of Newcity, Chicago’s leading cultural publication, an editor and editor at the headquarters of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), and a regular contributor to international architecture and design magazines OnOffice and ICON. She has experience creating content for brands and writing influential conference keynotes and TEDx talks. Simply put: she is fascinated by uncovering the big stories behind the people, places and things around us, and sharing those stories with the world. When she’s not writing about art or looking at art — wine in hand — she’s making lists for just about everything, drinking huge amounts of coffee, and taking trips across the country. whenever she gets the chance.
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