Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pandora's Box

It's funny, the Homeless Chateau was originally titled Chateau for Homeless Artist, but I decided that was too limited and self-referential, given the scope and seriousness of homelessness.  Now that it's out there as the Homeless Chateau, I'm getting flak for not doing enough ...or perhaps doing too much.  It's hard to tell.  I wonder if the design would have got more or less flak if it still had its original title of Chateau for Homeless Artist.  Or perhaps the title isn't the issue, and it's more the idea of living in a box that's freaking people out.

The original idea for Chateau for Homeless Artist came out of the experience of living in a 120-square-foot shed, that N. and I designed and built in Beacon, NY in 2006.  We lived in the shed for six months during the winter of 2006-2007, with our three dogs, a desk with two chairs and two computers, a small fig tree and a chemical toilet.  This experience, combined with a survivalist streak, which I guess goes back to my years of living in Northern New Mexico, and then reading a book about peak oil, during that same winter of '06/'07, got me to wondering what would I do if everything went pear-shaped, and how small could I live, if I wanted to (and could) keep making art?

My plan was to produce a tiny live/work space, in which I could sleep, eat and paint, just thirty-two square feet with a four-foot ceiling – the dimensions dictated by standard 4 x 8-foot sheets of plywood, with minimal cutting.  The idea was to built a waterproof (Tyvek-covered), rigid foam-insulated box, put it out in the garden and live and work in it for a while to test it out.  

When I was invited, a few months ago, to participate in an exhibition called Outside the Box Inside, I decided to include the Homeless Chateau in the show, even though the insulation and waterproofing weren't done, so the structure could only be used indoors.  Fortuitously, the exhibition space was warehouse-like and made perfect sense for the Homeless Chateau in its un-weatherized state.

Prior to taking it over to the show, I had the Homeless Chateau set up in my studio, kitted out with an air mattress and sleeping bag, a little camp stove, the same chemical toilet N. and I used in the shed, art supplies, food, water, utensils, buckets for washing and dishwashing, clothing, towels, books, etc., and invited a few people to go inside and see how it felt.  Everybody loved being in the compact space.  It kind of feels like being a kid again.  Anyone who's camped in either a tent or a camper, probably knows that cosy, manageable feeling.

A friend and I dismantled the Homeless Chateau, packed it flat in his van, took it and all the contents over to the exhibition space, and reconstructed it.  I also included two G.I. Joe-scale working models of Plywood Chateaux in the show (one is a proposed 8 x 8 x 8-foot version, with a mattress bed on a sleeping loft), and some axonometric drawings showing various wall graphics, much the same as I used in the first generation of four-foot-cubed Plywood Chateaux.

My buddy Tom Moore took some pictures, I emailed them to my pal Alex at Shedworking in the UK, and the rest is history.  History being that several other bloggers picked up the story, and then the fallout, such as it is.

Once I have the Homeless Chateau back in my studio (it's currently disassembled and stored flat against the wall at the exhibition space), the next step is to insulate and waterproof it.  I'll also need to figure out a door (right now it just has a rubber flap), a window, and maybe a skylight.  Then I can test it outside.

Thanks to The Daily Green for the pic.

1 comment:

  1. Ignore the moaners (none of whom are doing anything positive whatsoever) and keep on with the good work.