Wallpaper is no longer the enhancement of choice in most contemporary domestic environments, but it emerges as the focal point of a recent installation in Syracuse, New York, designed by Jonathan Louie.
The exhibition at the Roger Mack Gallery in the Shaffer Art Building at Syracuse University closed February 18th.
Big Will and Friends was comprised of a 21-foot by 7-foot shotgun-style house tightly wrapped in scrim. The white scrim has been ornamented with an abstracted Morris & Co. wallpaper pattern—“Thistle,” designed by John Henry Dearle.
The structure is constructed with PVC piping and custom-designed, three-dimensionally printed fittings. Adjacent to its long edge, the graphic adornment slipped off of the scrim envelope onto the floor and climbed up the neighboring gallery wall. This created an immersive, narrow corridor where visitors were enveloped in a heterogeneous tiling of the obscured and screened thistle arrangement.
Louie’s particular abstraction of the Morris & Co. wallpaper balanced the mechanical with the manual, a strategy employed by William Morris in his early designs, where intricacy and elaboration were used to disguise repetition.
“Since its domestic popularization, wallpaper design has leaned on its’ mechanistic structure and optical devices found in art practice: from the Flat Pattern to Visual Deceit to Forced Perspective; casting aside the material honesty of the wall for sham and show,” Louie claimed.
In Big Will and Friends, the application amplified the ability for wallpaper to produce an aesthetic experience through its visual deceit. Louie’s installation maintained the decorative aspect of the conventional application of wallpaper, but reimagined this architectural element as a more ethereal and diaphanous material that produces a sensation of indeterminate depth and leads viewers to question the thickness and even the presence of the material.
Of significance is the absolute legibility of the typical house form, used not only to host the featured element, but also to remind the viewer of the relationship between wallpaper and the domestic environment. The three-dimensional figure that comprises Big Will and Friends played into a larger generational interest in figural form where association to an external symbol—in this case, the single-family home—is prioritized over celebration of formal technique or material expression, and where graphic immediacy is privileged over prolonged and difficult visual access.
Big Will and Friends is part of a larger body of research being developed by Jonathan Louie that explores the ability for conventional architectural elements to, through their reinterpretation and imagination, alter the visual experience of domestic environments and “flavor” our social relations. This body of research calls on architects to “embrace the temporal qualities of domestic decor that value appearance over substance, and the ephemeral over the secure and lasting.” Cumulatively, Louie’s work links art, architecture, and pop culture to suggest novel assemblies of conventional materials and everyday images.
Jonathan Louie is an assistant professor within the School of Architecture at Syracuse University and co-director of Architecture Office. Louie recently took up residency in Peterborough, NH, as a MacDowell Colony Fellow. Big Will and Friends was made possible by generous support from the MacDowell Colony, Syracuse University School of Architecture, and Syracuse University College of Visual Performing Arts.
Exhibition Design: Jonathan Louie with Gabriel Boyajian and Nicolas Carmona
Installation Team: Staci Bobbi, Gabriel Boyajian, Chen Jung Kuo, Tom Arleo, Sarah Beaudoin, Scott Krabath, John Mikesh, and Trey Gegenfu
Photography: Ioana Georgeta Turcan
Video: Adam Greenberg
Choreography: Stephanie White
Music: “Bowspirit” by Balmorhea