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wall space, Wall-works at Genesis Park, Houston

Standing just inside the building entrance on Hermann Drive all does not appear as it should. Pillars are painted garish colors. An ominously seductive blue light fixture stands sentry by the door. A large vinyl scribble extends over the wall opposite. Yet in this first glance only a partial encounter is possible.

One of Bernard Brunon's many paint installations in Genesis Park

The nature of the wall-works (created by Bernard Brunon, Santiago Cucullu, Joseph Havel, Karyn Olivier, Matthew Sontheimer and Fraser Stables) is such that they require spatial engagement to be fully realized. For only through movement and change is one able to perceive. The shifting of environmental conditions allows the circumstantial “here” to become an individual’s “here”. It at once generates identity in perception, and community in effect. Therefore the incorporation of such works within this office results in the works” logical space becoming identical with the office’s here-space. From this a dialogical condition is generated whereby the plasticity of the “here” may unravel.

…hearing ice being crunched between teeth but not fingernails on a blackboard. The latter is too contrived. Ice cube crunching is different, more insidious. The possibility of being at a bar and suddenly being assaulted by the stranger next to you. Everyone, but you, unaware of the small-scale personal trauma you’re undergoing. Nevertheless the thought of a bar seemed a good idea to her,

Here. Here-ness abides everywhere. “Here” being our ground-zero, the spatial margin that moves through the world with us as individuals. It is a platform for experience, yet it is not constant, at times it can seem deflected or extended. Imagining and daydreaming are instances where the “here” goes out of focus, yet still absolutely persists. Even through the most fanciful moments of reverie, the knowledge that we are where we are, and not on a desert island, is maintained. Here-ness becomes a private space, one which may be invaded by another individual, another “here”. However, histories and certain spaces broaden “here” beyond personal space. The wall-works remain contiguous with the rest of the office. No explanatory devices serve to break the continuum of the “here”. Thereby the truncated stairway in the hall that appears to run into a wall can at once be understood as part of the redundant structure of the building or a quizzical new appendage. That is the “here” implicating another place either through illusion or architectural history.

Karyn Olivier's staircase

She couldn’t remember what prompted these thoughts. Perhaps it was the sound of the squeaking chair in the cubicle behind. She hadn’t noticed its infernal noise this morning but now, late in the day, its shriek was cutting through the air.

The bright color fields, which proliferate within the office-space, are both disruptive and unifying. Given just the right point-of-view a painted pillar becomes absorbed into the color field on the wall behind it, thereby visually compressing the space between the pillar and the wall. This spatial pun implicates the perceiver, confirms their location as a particular “here”, and as this “here” moves through the office the world unfolds by the colorful articulation and condensing of visual space. But here-space has a more primordial dimension than that which individuates, which provides our space in the world. It is also that which constitutes the idea of ourselves as a subject. To talk of the “here” moving with us is slightly misleading. The “I” as a locus-of-experience in the world and the here-ness of experience are not categorically distinct, and the idea of a discrete, personal identity is conspicuously absent. Introspection of our past experiences does not give us a singular idea of ourselves as the subject of those experiences. We are the sum of our experiences, but crucially seen from a distinctive point of view. To come upon a glossy-white text upon a mat-white wall, dissected by a tall slender blue light fixture, requires a shifting physical engagement as one attempts to discern the text from its ground. As one’s here-space collides with circumstance, a nexus of provisional understanding arises. Our view from here.

Time to leave. She double-clicked and all the open windows retreated into themselves. With a deftness developed from too many years in the job she stood up, clicking the “ok to complete the shutting down process” button and flicked her slightly chewed Styrofoam cup bin-ward. Rising out off the cubicle, breaking into the common office airspace, her presence was immediately acknowledged.
-you off Julia
-see you tomorrow

The festive ladies

With the advent of open-plan, offices became more like factories, where row upon row of workers at desks could be watched over by a roaming or elevated supervisor. This most radical manifestation of a Bentham-like panopticon gradually disappeared and was replaced by the cubicled and partitioned form, as found at Genesis Park. This partial privacy gives rise to the possibility of community with the cubicle walls functioning as surrogate garden fences — a territorial marker over which gossip, sagely advice and flirtation can be indulged. This democratization of social space necessarily results in its personalization: photographs of loved ones, comic strips cut from the paper and other ephemera adorn the walls. These shrines to the personal appear in clusters. A wall striped like Christmas wrapping paper with an array of presents along its base connects with this personalizing tendency — but in October and in an anteroom to a bathroom? Such a disjunctive presence manifests an ominous edge, as if it may be the result of a process of temporal and spatial slippage.

Slipping out of her personal corral her phone started to ring. She looked back at it and walked on, settled in the knowledge that her voice mail would deal with it.

Vinyl abstractions of handwriting across the length of a wall echo the frantic scribbles abandoned on whiteboards in the empty conference rooms. Cloth labels pinned to the wall create a textural skin upon the wall. Their form reflects the importance of tailoring in the office environment. However, their legend bears the sentiments of humanity not statements of sartorial elegance. In both works, the elision of a specific moment or action causes meaning to be displaced. And this in turn creates new instances where the “here” takes on a deepening significance as that which, briefly but strategically, orientates our being within the world. And such a world is often beyond an orthodox spatiality. The global market place and digital virtual space are two obvious examples of, and testament to, the propensity of the mind to extend the “here” beyond the x, y and z axes.

Nearly out. Raised eyes and a momentary break in the rhythm of her gait were the only perceptible traces of her checking the time on one of the IBM ceiling clocks. Just as her gaze left its face the minute hand slipped off the half past marker and shuddered to a halt slightly closer to seven-o-clock. She pushed open the exterior door and stepped into the night, the air was cooler this time of year.

The “here” is the middle voice of our being. That is, it is at once neither completely passive nor absolutely functionally active. From this a subtle yet complex mirroring occurs: for with respect to these wall-works the “here” becomes a constituting conduit and yet the encounter remains open as the works slip through our “here” continuum. It is a momentary but potentially lasting incursion into our here-space.

This essay was originally commissioned by Genesis Park, Houston.

Gavin Morrison is a Critical Studies Fellow at the Glassell School in Houston.

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