The exhibition Second Life currently on view at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia features three unrealized—or as it argues “unfinalized”—urban projects as a way of investigating the idea of “thresholds.” The exhibit utilizes Russian Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of “unfinalized” as a continual dialogue and process of becoming. Slought’s Director Aaron Levy had a previous relationship with all of the projects and/or artists in the gallery and is careful to highlight their displacement in the gallery not as a restatement of the artists’ intentions but as work that enacts such threshold experiences—psychologically, spatially, and socially.
Slought also calls the works on display “projects” (and not an exhibit) to downplay their esthetic merit. They are brought back to life, not in situ as they were, but as models and images on a wall. The three projects, all re-purposed using original documents and plans, are Dennis Oppenheim’s Guarded Land Area (1970), Krzysztof Wodiczko’s City Hall Tower Illumination (1987) and Lebbeus Woods’s Tales from the Tectonic Forest (2012) intended for the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Each of the projects engages the viewer in a tantalizing way that suggests ways forward through participation, interactivity, as well as the current realities of migration and survival.
The Lebbeus Woods project, for example, was intended to surround the classical U.S. pavilion in Venice at the architecture biennale, but here encircles the Slought Foundation and acts as a threshold into the intention of the exhibit inside the gallery.
Woods project created a forest of trees, some of which would hold experimental architecture works, that invited the public into a thick labyrinth of experimental architecture in the spirit of Wood’s own powerful oeuvre of utopias and dystopias. That created a world with rare moments of insight, light, and one that people could internalize and lead to changes in their lives.
Channeling Bakhtian’s threshold describes moments of crises and rupture as a way of creating “potential transformations of self, society and history.” This is a chance to see a Lebbeus Woods, Oppenheim, and Wodiczko installation; it is an active and compelling statement of thought and empowerment. Don’t visit Second Life unless you want to be challenged.
Second Life is on view through April 27, 2017.