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Fencing with notion of openness

July 26, 2009|David Ng

Even the most unattractive and functional objects can assume artistic significance -- and a kind of beauty -- when subverted correctly.

Chain-link fence is precisely such a material, having inspired numerous artists and architects (most notably Frank Gehry) to creatively deconstruct its utilitarian essence. The latest example can be found at LAXART, where French Portuguese architect Didier Fiuza Faustino has turned chain-link fence's human-barrier potential on its head by using the material as a symbol of open arms and neighborly affection.

Filling the L.A. gallery's 1,000-square-foot main exhibition space, the installation consists of a continuous stretch of chain-link fencing that the architect has twisted into an abstract, ribbon-like spiral. The fence seems to float in the air in certain sections, as if a supernatural hand had uprooted it to permit human passage. "It's all about the pleasure of subversion, the idea of what you see is not what you get," said Faustino by phone from Paris. "Things that you take for familiar are interpreted in completely different ways."

The architect said the installation is a reconceptualized version of a previous work that used chain link to explore what he saw as the conceptual borders between the U.S. and the rest of the world during the George W. Bush administration. But since the election of Barack Obama, he said, his new message is about "no more barriers, and opening the frontier. I wanted to say, 'Don't be afraid of your neighbor. Just be open-minded.' That's why I made the fence into a spiral -- I like to work with something that is ordinary and to make it extraordinary."

Trained at the Paris-Villemin School of Architecture, Faustino works as part of the Mesarchitecture studio, an experimental Paris firm founded in 2002 that explores the boundaries between art and architecture, creating things like housing and furniture as well as purely conceptual works of art. In 2007, Faustino teamed with the fashion house Hermes for the H Box, a mobile gallery space that exhibits multimedia work. Faustino designed the structure, on view at the Orange County Museum of Art.

"Didier likes to cross the boundary between art and architecture in critical ways. He's one of the few architects who can function in a museum space and create autonomous installations," said Lauri Firstenberg, director of LAXART.

Faustino has titled the LAXART installation "(G)host in the (S)hell 2," a reference to the 2004 Japanese anime film (one of his favorites) that explores the philosophical boundaries between the spirit and the body. He wanted the installation to have a strong connection to Los Angeles and the suburban American culture in which chain-link fences are a common sight.

"L.A. is my favorite American city. It's the city of paradox and exaggeration," he said. "Everything is extreme in L.A., and I wanted to produce a work that was just as extreme."

The exhibition runs through Aug. 22. More information: (310) 559-0166,

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