Andrea Fraser and Vanessa Place have filled the Schindler House, a landmark of 20th century modernism, with nothing but sound. Emptied of all but a few pieces of furniture, the house becomes both a setting and a listening device: an echo chamber reverberating with history and ideology.
Although each artist has created a separate piece, the works function as if they were one. Fraser, who often trains a critical eye on museums, has flooded the front rooms with ambient sounds recorded at California Correctional Institution, Tehachapi. Place, an accomplished poet, critic and criminal defense attorney, provides the soundtrack in the rear: her own voice reading the last statements of all inmates executed in Texas since 1982. Although her piece is nearly inaudible at first as one walks from front to back, eventually the clanging and buzzing cedes to quiet reflection: a turn from the outside in.
While the sounds of prison may seem incongruous, they cast a probing light on the house's design. The concrete walls, for example, with their narrow windows, seem more forbidding and bunker-like. Large walls of glass, overlooking green gardens, take on an elegiac tone against a stream of fervent or resigned farewells. The stripped down aesthetic of modernism, after all, is not just a neat, domestic style but one freighted with ideas and values, both oppressive and sublime.