T Magazine | Two Artists Built A Spinning House, And Then Moved In
For Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, the term “artist in residence” is often a very literal one: Collaborators since 2007, the pair practice what Schweder describes as “performance architecture,” or the exploration of how inhabiting a space affects us, psychologically. So they build interesting structures, and then move in.
Their most recent project, Reactor, sits upon a concrete pillar at Omi International Arts Center in Ghent, N.Y., where it spins and tilts with the wind, and the roving weight of its inhabitants. Last week, Schweder and Shelley lived in the 40-by-8-foot Modernist structure for five days as visitors looked on. Between the perpetual spinning and coordinating their own movements to ensure a level living space, the residency was an ongoing exercise in establishing a routine, finding autonomy in the (literal) balancing act of sharing a space and redefining everyday comforts.
The house will be on display for two years; and this September and October, Schweder and Shelley will inhabit Reactor for another several days. Below are exclusive excerpts from their diaries of their inaugural run.
Read on T Magazine.com.
Wednesday, July 27
WARD SHELLEY: Reactor isn’t just a structure; it’s a performance too, and this afternoon is our debut. We have been working for nine weeks, but we’re still not ready, of course, so we are frantic to complete all the unfinished bits.
My last job is the grocery shopping run for our week’s provisions and getting that aboard. As we cross the starting timeline, I feel the tension dissipate. There’s nothing more to be done. This is it, what we have. O.K. On cue, the wind picks up and we begin to twirl. I begin to fall in love.
Thursday, July 28
SHELLEY: All systems working! Water supply in, check. Waste water, check. We made what Alex calls a “Murphy Kitchen”: all functional stations are on panels that fold down: cooking, cleaning and two for dining.
ALEX SCHWEDER: Last night was our first night sleeping in Reactor after its completion. It got dark around 8:45, and by 9:15 sleep infused us both.
SHELLEY: We almost never stop drifting in circles. It takes only the slightest breeze to set us in motion. It feels grand and processional. Always something to look at, always a new adjustment needed to stay in the shade. The rocking motion, on the other hand, is mostly caused by us moving around inside. The motions are graceful and oceanic.
SCHWEDER: A view that is always changing, sleep that comes and goes with the sun’s light, and a sense of connectedness with your roommate through knowing what he is doing and feeling mediated by the building — in short, this building is breaking our habits.
Friday, July 29
SHELLEY: Overnight we had rain storms, so this morning is blessedly cool.
SCHWEDER: Reactor’s cycles are arhythmic. The sun moves through the house by the minute, not by the day.
SHELLEY: The sun returned with a cheerful vengeance. Alex and I spent much of the day dodging rays. Because Reactor keeps moving, you can’t find a reliably shady corner for reading. That, so far, is my only complaint. And so far, the constant slow moving is my favorite thing about the piece. So there you have life’s contradictions.
Saturday, July 30
SCHWEDER: Today was our first weekend day, as well as the official opening reception of this work. We received more visitors than our previous three days combined. Children from the art camp made us cards and drawings that illustrated what they thought our lives were like in a tilting spinning house.
SHELLEY: My experience in Reactor is that it really is pleasant, sheltering, even nurturing. But very controlling. A substantial amount of my energy is spent dealing with its capricious nature. My desire to be chillin’ is constantly interrupted for some adjustment. It’s not overly burdensome, but it is a big reduction in my sense of autonomy.
SCHWEDER: Our relationship with our audiences is a bit different from many performance art works in that we have conversations about the work with them. Today one person observed that we were “living together in a house that keeps us apart through a need for balance.” We talked for some time about how the desire for level ground was similar to what a wall does in keeping people separate.
Sunday, July 31
SHELLEY: If I was hoping for a little more excitement, we got it. Last night brought the proverbial “Hard Rain,” and it has continued all this morning. I am happy to say we are warm, dry and snug — or is that smug? Our weatherproof shelter, taken for granted during the long hot days, has proven its worth on this wet one. I felt like a child waking up to the season’s first snowfall. I sat up in bed and just watched the weather.
SCHWEDER: The latter half of our day was spent preparing to disembark. A sort of “there, but gone” feeling. We are left with a sense of beauty and pleasure, though still processing the work’s meaning and how it will beget new work. Until our next inhabitation performance in October, we will be thinking about this observation.
SHELLEY: We’ve stayed spinning most of this breezy day. Four-and-a-half days in, I can’t say something definitive about this spinning. It is the prime feature, and joy of life inside this machine. I know it could become too much of a good thing. For now, though, it is what I like best about Reactor.