The Showroom at Oklahoma Contemporary, Oklahoma City, OK
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Each day from our apartment in Tulsa, we watch the hotel across the street being built. Occasionally we catch those cinematic, decisive moments where the construction crew is in lock step, singing commands to each other as the building rises, floor by floor. We wake to the sound of hammers on a Saturday morning, and there is something sweet about the chorus of construction on an otherwise still day. One Saturday while eating breakfast, we were privileged to witness a crew of 15 raise an enormous, exterior wall the length of the hotel, all in a single motion. It appeared as if it was an embodied ritual, connected to someplace deep within our collective foundation.
As Oklahoma Contemporary breaks ground on its new campus, the exhibition To Build facilitates both an actual view of the construction site as well as an enigmatic look into the poetics of our built environment. A fountain anchors one end of the gallery, with water flowing over white vinyl siding like rain over the side of a suburban home. This ubiquitous, inexpensive material is treated with immaculate care, and speaks of the aspirations we carry. The homeowner choosing this vinyl siding will find it in a long box, labeled ‘Summit Manor.’ She may not have the house on a hill, but she will do her best to create a palace of her private space. Like a garden, our environments can be willed into a certain shape through labor and reverence alone.
A riverine shape can be found throughout the exhibition- first in fiberglass insulation, winding its way through a plywood panel, and again in two benches, poised for rest and contemplation. From the initial building of our cities and the following wave of suburban migration, to our current return to walkable urban cores, our progress of construction is like the shifting course of a river. We build in ways that bring us forward, and also in ways that drive us back. We build institutes that foster knowledge, but also walls that exclude. Like a river, our built environment responds to a changing social landscape. This building and rebuilding of place, community, and culture is a ritual on repeat.
The human desire to build is innate, and older than any structures that remain. There is an inevitable futility to the structures we build, and hubris in the undertaking. Still, the environments we shape have presence and power. In some senses, the act of building is a declaration more important than the outcome. It is a collective effort of a society that says, This is what we believe.
Using common materials, found on the shelves of home improvement stores, we honor the care taken to create and maintain our private and public environments. Using classical forms: an arched niche, a vase, a fountain, and a bench, we tap into the timeless ritual of shaping space. We hope to create a courtyard for contemplation, both an escape from and a celebration of our built environment. Within this quiet space ringed with familiar materials, we ask: what does it mean to build? What are we building, and why?