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'House Monument' Has A Poetic Frame

April 29, 1986|JANE GREENSTEIN

As one house went up, the other came down.

New York-based artists Mel Ziegler and Kate Ericson recently completed the first phase of their "House Monument" at Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art by displaying 1,300 pieces of wood inscribed with literary quotes that make reference to the nature of a house.

The artists' goal is for the piece to live on when a house is built with the lumber. But the institute that holds the project will close its doors (at least at its present location, 2020 S. Robertson Blvd.) when the exhibit ends May 31.

"The building's being sold and so is the lumber," Ziegler, 30, said recently at the gallery. He and Ericson, 31, were sitting on one of many stacks of wood on the floor, surrounded by 4x-8-foot pieces of plywood leaning against the walls. The clunky arrangement of the wood resembles a construction site moved indoors.

The unattributed quotes, handwritten on the wood with a sturdy Magic Marker, are taken from works of about 200 poets, authors, psychologists and architects, including Emily Dickinson, Carl Jung, Robert Frost, Frank Lloyd Wright, Allen Ginsberg, Flannery O'Connor and H. D. Thoreau.

Ericson and Ziegler spent much of the last four months in UCLA's research library collecting material from books, songs, myths and other sources. Their project became more an intellectual exercise than an aesthetic one.

"We're trying to dissect how a metaphor--in this case, one relating to a house--is established," Ericson said. "The project is based on the idea of seeing language as ornamental, visually or metaphorically."

"Through these quotes, we want to address what makes a house a home," Ziegler said. "We're questioning what changes (a building) from architecture into a home."

The lumber, which includes floor joists, studs, rafters, sheathing and other materials that make up the frame of a house, is arranged loosely in the gallery according to rooms suggested by the quotes. Ziegler and Ericson hope that the arrangement will let the viewer "visually (create) a house through the language."

"We put quotes of Carl Jung and Frank Lloyd Wright side by side: dreams versus reality," Ziegler said. "We're sort of questioning the choices people make in determining their space, despite certain conventions that already exist."

Ericson, who was born in New York, and Ziegler, from Campbelltown, Pa., met at Kansas City Art Institute in 1978, where they received bachelor's degrees in sculpture. Both went on to CalArts to earn master's degrees, also in sculpture. They have worked separately and together on projects that alter buildings and environments.

In 1980, they gave a Houston library a new facade, made of a scaffolding, air ducts and lights borrowed from a construction site. In 1981, Ericson perched her "House Sign"--a plywood facade duplicating the dimensions of a house front--on the roof of Angelus Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

"We're interested in slightly changing conventions," Ericson said. "It's the idea of using convention, altering it, flipping it and questioning it."

To complete the second phase of the "House Monument," someone must purchase the wood and build a house with it, the artists maintain. The quotes will then be concealed within the framework of the house. When the wood is sold, the sculptors will not be involved with the project, other than to photograph its construction.

"Once a house is built, the wood will serve its original function," Ericson said. "It (the house) will lose its symbolism and become a normal home."

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