Once More, with Feathers
The Ups and Down of Alex Schweder's Architectural Performance
Returning Rome Prize fellow Alex Schweder's Sick Building Sequence had the hiccups at its August 26 Howard House debut. Collaborator Yann Novak's audio had yet to be installed; too much of the fluffy down meant to circulate inside Schweder's large clear-vinyl room-within-a-room sat heaped to one side, inert; the video projected through it, intended to play against a swirling, fan-propelled cloud of feathers, fell short for want of fowl.
Fortunately for Schweder, the work was offered as an "architectural performance"—a hybrid of event and edifice—and it was in this spirit of generous risk taking that Sick Building Sequence could absorb its glitches without crumbling. Fortunately for us, Howard House extended what was meant to be a one-night-only showing through September 2. Even in its diminished state last Saturday, the installation sustained an intriguing melancholy presence. Now, with Novak's audio in play and sufficient feathers flying, the recalibrated Sick Building Sequence mesmerizes.
Schweder's schematic, black-and-white animation draws stunningly crisp planes onto the ephemeral, entropic flurry of his goose globe, enabling us to project ourselves by turn into an expanding corridor-like space, up a sprawling flight of steps, and down again. Volume is conjured from void. If at first this spell is dazzling, its magic soon gives way to queasiness: The air in Schweder's "building" is viscous, not breathable. Novak's slowly cresting score, created entirely from the work's own fan noise, helps the space congeal before our eyes.
Architecture's limits, if not its outright failures—sick building—continue to be a fruitful starting point for Schweder. His work repeatedly questions how our built environment might meet our bodies honestly, making messy and explicit what architecture typically conceals, shies away from, or denies. Schweder's idiosyncratic undermining of solidity (previously achieved, in one work, by navigating a colonoscopy camera through Jell-O) is encouragement to tear down walls, physically and otherwise.