Use, Part 1: Retail/Commercial

Lead Pencil Studio’s Retail/Commercial installation is full of useless items.  There are rows of plastic hangers without clothes, a pile of size rings separated from their hangers, illuminated empty jewelery cases, and decorative display stones without merchandise (see review of opening night by Jen Graves in The Stranger).  The entire installation is housed in a vacated Italian suit store, which is also void of practical use during a tanking economy.

Kant created explicit boundaries between art and use in his exploration of beauty in The Critique of Judgement, posing sculpture (useless) against architecture (useful):

“To plastic, the first kind of beautiful formative art, belong to sculpture and architecture.  The first presents corporeally concepts of things, as they might have existed in nature (though as beautiful art it has regard to aesthetical purposiveness). The second is the art of presenting concepts of things that are possible only through art and whose form has for its determining ground, not nature, but an arbitrary purpose, with the view of presenting them with aesthetical purposiveness. In the latter the chief point is a certain use of the artistic object, by which condition of the aesthetical ideals are limited.  In the former the main design is the mere expression of aesthetical ideas. (166-67)

Many works of art (including works of architecture) can be considered “useful”, like the hangers and display stones in Retail/Commercial. Kant’s definition of art as necessarily useless is valuable in understanding works of art because it provokes us to consider what the aesthetic qualities of a work of art are and how they function within the work as compared to how they function in the world.  Although the Italian suit store is useful in the world, the artists transformed it into an installation of collected and assembled objects that were already physically useless in real world and are now also separated from their intended uses within the artistic space; the box of size rings is an assembled sculpture, but then, so is the entire space.  Retail/Commercial evokes the fascination within the viewer who browses these estranged and consequently charged objects, in part, by integrating the useless (sculpture) and the useful (architecture).

To be continued in “Use, Part 2: Emergency Response Studio by Paul Villinski.”

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