At the end of a long outdoor corridor filled with palms and tropical plants is Rosa Aiello and Patricia L. Boyd’s exhibition ‘Joins’ at Cell Project Space in East London. Bringing together a series of recent works, in addition to two spatial interventions in the gallery, the show explores the infrastructures that produce contemporary domestic space. Ranging from the politics of sexual assault to the industrial mechanisms that sustain contemporary homes, the exhibition is an unsettling reminder of the forces behind our domestic environments.
As its title suggests, the work in the exhibition is preoccupied with connections and overlapping structures, be they material, political or simply thresholds between different spaces. On opening the door into the gallery, Rosa Aiello’s ‘Untitled (Blasey Ford)’ (2019) begins with an edited segment of the recent sexual assault testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. Stripped away of all reference to the perpetrators, the audio becomes a list of interior spaces: “the stairwell, the living room, the bedroom … in close proximity”. Mimicking the female voices and interactions of smart-home devices such as Alexa and Google Home, this quietly powerful invitation not only heightens the drama of entering a new interior; but foregrounds the power structures and gender relations that pervade these room typologies.
Objects are hacked, re-cast or transfigured to subvert their original function throughout the exhibition. Opposite Aiello’s work is Patricia L Boyd’s ‘Treatment’ (2019), an industrial fan that has been manipulated to run at a slow, functionless speed. Directly facing the viewer on entering the space, its presence is ominuous, a droning hum promising a return to full speed that never arrives. Works such as ‘Aeron Armrest I-XII’ (2019) instead take negative casts of chairs and turn-table feet, using organic materials such as restaurant grease to disrupt the clean industrial forms of the cast objects themselves.
Housing developments are sustained and interconnected with larger forms of public infrastructure, be they utilities such as electricity, or global media and public transport. On walking through the space, Rosa Aiello’s sound-piece ‘Rapid Transit’ (2017-2019) shatters the silence of the gallery, as if a Dolby enhanced high-speed train has ridden across the roof. This juxtaposition of public and private space also appears in the photograph work ‘Progression’ (2019), a series of images taken of a housing estate from a motorway. With the road and fields visible in the images, alongside the window reflections of a transport interior where the photographs were taken from, the images foreground housing’s interconnectedness with broader mechanisms and networks.
Whilst the artists pay attention to these more abstract mechanisms, the phenomenology of interior space is also heightened within the exhibition. The sound of a work re-appropriating television ads fills the gallery, which has also been reconfigured with two white L-shaped walls. Collectively, they turn the space itself into a domestic environment, scaled-down to the small rooms and narrow corridors many will be familiar with in ever-decreasing flat sizes in the UK. These are undoubtedly the smallest interventions into the space, easily overlooked as mere backdrops for the main works. However, they subtly remind us that even spatial dimensions are products of human decisions, often tied to broader political and economic interests.
In the opening to her book ‘Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space’, the architectural theorist Keller Easterling argues that infrastructural space is a growing and emergent dimension of urban environments. Infrastructure is often hidden, involving a set of codes, rules and procedures by which new architectural formations are constructed. Just as the internet is a form of infrastructure, so too are stock formulas used to design and construct new buildings in mass numbers. If we have seen a shift from the focus on designing a single form to this type of architecture, as Easterling argues, in ‘Joins’ these forms become artistic material to be performed, restaged and mimicked. To experience this exhibition is to be reminded of just how codified, and porous, these seemingly closed spaces really are.