Beil, Kim. “Bari Ziperstein at Bank,” Artweek, April 2007, pp. 18-19 (reproductions)

Bari Ziperstein’s first solo show at BANK, (This Isn’t Happening) Popular Hallucinations for Your Home, consists of three parts: large-scale sculpture, collage and photographic documentation of a site-specific installation that Ziperstein staged in her Los Angeles home during 2006. Taken together, these elements provide a comprehensive look at Ziperstein’s multi-layered process, illuminating the trajectory of her Growing Beams project’s three individual tracks, and the larger body of work that they constitute.

That Ziperstein commissioned the photographer Grant Mudford to document the installation speaks volumes of her conceptual and artistic rigor. Mudford, a NEA photography fellow, bears all the markers of success in the realm of commercial architectural and interior photography. Recently hired by the Getty Trust to document Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Mudford’s work also frequently appears in the hallowed pages of Architectural Digest and House and Garden.

Trained by photographs in such high-end design catalogues and magazines, contemporary viewers readily take in the visual aesthetics of an interior space before stopping to consider the kinesthetic experience that it engenders. Thus, the strange shapes of Ziperstein’s installation-architectural beams that seems to take on a life of their own, sprouting a forest of white plaster columns in her hallway or growing through the slats of her dining chair-don’t seem all that out of the ordinary. After all, the Philippe Starck Louis Ghost Chair is hardly coveted for comfort of its transparent plastic seat. The twenty-first-century consumer of luxury home décor lives largely in the mind. She is a disembodied character inhabiting dreamlike two-dimensional spaces in the glossy spread of Architectural Digest, not the very real and imperfect three-dimensional spaces of rented bungalows, like those that Ziperstein and many Angelenos call home.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Mudford’s photographs of Ziperstein’s sculptural interventions is that it is entirely possible to regard them as just another home decoration scheme. Steeped in the rhetoric of commercial design, the perfectly executed, light-filled photographs of Ziperstein’s installations challenge the viewer to read familiar domestic spaces against the grain. It is precisely this register between ease and difficulty, a certain resonance between the familiar and strange, in which Ziperstein’s work sings.

Unlike those fictional people who inhabit Pottery Barn, most consumers don’t casually leave reading glasses on an open coffee table book or leave an artfully arranged breakfast tray unattended on an ottoman. Consumer fantasies such as these persist even in Ziperstein’s installation, though they take on a slightly dystopian quality in comparison to the precisely plumped throw pillows of home magazines. The vernacular details of just-shucked socks under the desk in Untitled (Home Office) or bobby pins discarded on the end table in Untitled (Hallway) are familiar to the viewer, but incongruent when read in the pure language of home decorating photography.

The overwhelming excesses of consumerism and a baroque sensibility collide in Ziperstein’s treatment of frames on the wall. The simple wooden frames become holes from which the innards of the house spill forth; rectilinear blocks emerge from the walls like icing squirting from a cake decorating tube. In both the photographic documentation and the sculptures in the gallery, Ziperstein’s forms are angular but imperfect, suggesting the organic nature of both the builders and the house. Ziperstein introduces these builders in a variety of DIY poses-men hammering, pouring concrete, or erecting the walls of a house-in small collages of images cut from the likes of Better Homes and Gardens. Sketches of Ziperstein’s white beams are then layered on top, protruding from window wrapping around the men, locking them into place and binding them irrevocably to their objects of their labor.

In contrast, issues of femininity and the domestic space are perceptively implied in most of this body of work, through the Barbie doll on a small pedestal placed on the floor in a corner in Untitled (Alexandra) is too unambiguous to read much beyond a sort of violent objectification and imprisonment of the female in the domestic space.

Overall, though, Ziperstein’s critical exploration of the domestic space and the ways in which both the dwelling and its inhabitants are constructed by consumerism is incredibly insightful. From the safe distance of a photograph, the overgrown house can also seem light-hearted, as if Ziperstein has finally granted it permission to speak for itself. Doubtless, though, as the artist negotiated these extra corners and odd angles during the three-month period of her installation, there were times when the shadows of this animistic house seemed a little too real.

–Kim Beil

Bari Ziperstein: (This Isn’t Happening) Popular Hallucinations for
Your Home closed in February at BANK, Los Angeles

Kim Beil is a freelance writer based in Long Beach.