/ARCHIVE — 2013
/heather Huston — the imagined past
/Within these spaces, two-dimensional images interfere with three-dimensional forms and collapse the sense of time. The potential exists for the space to trigger both curiosity about the history of the rooms and an imagined future scenario. The space becomes animated; ghosts triggered by a sense of abandonment and enhanced by the movement of a window or a light turning on suggest an animate presence. This brings to life those feelings of pleasant unease when our imaginations run away from us and every tiny creak or knock signals a visit from the past or the presence of a stranger.
/HEATHER HUSTON received her MFA in printmaking from the U of A and currently teaches at ACAD. She has won several awards for her print work and was recently selected as one of seven artists representing Canada at the 6th International Printmaking Biennial of Douro (Portugal).
MAYBE HOW TO REMEMBER A HOUSE
The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress. i - Goethe
In The Imagined Past, Heather Huston combines printmaking, open source electronics and modeling to craft a suite of miniatures. A printmaker, sculptor and tinkerer, Huston examines how the experience of a place extends beyond the material that frames it. Her process is additive, full of stops and starts, learning and testing, problem solving and programming. At first these miniatures look like something you might build full scale, but, looking closer, it seems they are perhaps instructions for remembering.
Encountering the work, your attention ricochets among the small, carefully modeled domestic fragments, drawing them together to search for a point of origin. ‘Fragment’ implies a pre-existing whole, disrupted somehow, but traceable back to an earlier form. For all the mental gymnastics we attempt, these pieces don’t fit together. Rooms are sliced open and walls assemble themselves around voids. You get the sense that the rooms extend out of sight like a drawing that flows off the page. These miniatures are constructed in the way you might remember a building but not how you would build it; details and gravity fall away. You could call them houses—but they are not. These are sets for storytelling, crafted from details that are at once strange and familiar, personal and commonplace.
There is a body in the work—not the neutered and depersonalized body, but a body of memory laid into these things by their very construction. Is there a system in the work? If there is, it is personal and opaque, rigorous but coded. The status of the viewing subject is shifted, leaving the observer to author what might be missing. A sense of impending occupation or recent departure is refined by absence and mystery. With that hint of abandonment comes agency. The invasion by growing plants and trees offers the viewer license to enter. The presence or lack of furniture extends the open ended narrative. “The power of absence, if we try to describe it, takes us to the power that in some uneven form certain real objects have: they designate behind them a magical space...”ii Objects and their owners cast a shadow, they trigger memories and suggest conversations. The weight of meaning in that minutia is imperfectly legible. I see an open doorway and remember a lover walking away—you remember one coming home.
We build our homes to protect a fragile body, and our shelters respond to the environment and reflect the people who construct them. But the walls of a house are colored as much with the residue of life as they are with paint. Despite all the attempted novelty, even sacred spaces are structured by requirements and bodies that don’t change much. The size of a comfortable room or the height of a useful table is largely universal. For all of the fashion in how we build, we are still animals trying to keep the cold out. Houses and rooms can be dressed with our interests and fetishes, yet their representations will always mean more to the people who put them there than to a stranger stumbling upon those encrustations.
Huston’s fragments oscillate between model and toy. She has combined the accessibility of a dollhouse with the authority of architectural models to powerful effect. You are drawn into a conversation whose language is derived from the residues left for you to experience. The miniatures are synecdoche for the sum total of a lived place. More than houses, more than toys, or stories or dreams, they are reminders of the tenuous datum connecting time and place—not architecture, but maybe evidence that it exists?
Heather Huston’s work celebrates the life of a place over the intentions of its designer. Robin Evans studied the ways in which architecture always exceeds its representations: “Architecture begins and ends in pictures, but I would urge resistance to the idea that pictures give us all we need….The question is, how much more is ever brought within the scope of the architect’s vision of a project than what can be drawn?”iii In light of this question, Heather Huston’s work presents an argument for the role of the occupant in the life of a design. These are the drawings and models created not to build a house, but to remember it. They are animated by our questioning as much as by their mechanisms. Heather is crafting spaces for us to occupy, and trying to leave out enough so that we can make them our own by telling a story through them.
i. Goethe, J. W. von, as quoted in Pallasmaa, J. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chichester: Wiley-Academy, 2005. 14.
/KRISTOFER KELLY is a graduate architect and an exhibit developer for TELUS Spark, The New Science Centre. He draws to understand the world and thinks that a good conversation, spoken or otherwise gestured, is the goad to joy.