Dennis Maher’s A Second Home, currently filling all three floors of the Mattress Factory’s row-house annex, utilizes salvaged materials, antique furniture, toys, timber, video projections and audio loops to create an immersive domestic phantasm that ruminates and reflects on the function of a home and the meaning of its contents. Visitors speculate on that meaning while stepping on carpets nailed onto carpets, gazing through skylights to other floors, examining dollhouses with tiny ornate furniture, and discovering doors to nowhere. The speculation becomes significant and attaches to the deconstructed/reconstituted beauty of the work. It feels singular.
One trademark of a tremendously unique vision is how fruitless any attempt to mechanically reproduce it will be. A photograph will accompany this review. It will look like a picture of junk. I fear for future students who, flipping through textbooks, deceive themselves that they know what is going on inside Maher’s astonishing, overflowing environment. In 1936, Walter Benjamin resolved that what was divorced from artwork once it was reproduced was its “aura,” the essence that included the tradition, culture, time and place of its creation: “In other words, the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value.” The experience of walking the streets toward Second Home, past other old Pittsburgh rowhouses and into this Pittsburgh rowhouse, which looks like all the rest, and entering into this hallucinatory vision, cannot be underestimated. This house is really, really cool.
Maher is an artist, architect and assistant professor of architecture at SUNY Buffalo, and the founder/director of FARGO HOUSE, Buffalo. His projects “engage processes of disassembly and reconstitution.” There’s precedent for it, beginning with Rauschenberg’s erased De Kooning, in 1953. In 1962, Ralph Ortiz wrote in their manifesto that Deconstructivists “do not pretend to play at God’s happy game of creation”: “It is one’s sense of death which needs the life giving nourishment of transcendental ritual.” Here, Maher takes what has already been destroyed and transforms it through the transcendent ritual of artmaking, while exposing the role conspicuous consumption plays in constructing an American home. (Where would this salvaged material have ended up? Is this really just Pittsburgh’s garbage?) All this while the pungent smell of dead trees lingers in your nostrils.