Lights flickered off and on in the David Ireland House on 20th and Capp St. on Friday night, not illuminating the rooms so much as throwing their shadows into sharper relief.
Antelope skulls, bulbous lumps of concrete, and jars labelled ‘Angel food’ all squatted in murky cabinets. Somewhere above, wind piped into the building and floorboards creaked with age. Bare bulbs and twists of metal swayed from the ceiling.
So close to Halloween, you could be forgiven for thinking that a ghostly visitor had taken up residence in the longtime home of late conceptual artist David Ireland. In actual fact, the house has had some new tenants…
Neo Sora, 30, and Albert Tholen, 29, are two halves of the New York-based filmmaking duo Zakkubalan. They have been living in the house for the past month as part of a new experiment that sees artists inhabiting Ireland’s old, much-loved house and creating artwork inspired by his legacy. Their resultant works will be on display in the house from Oct. 30 until Feb. 19 and constitute their first solo exhibition in the United States.
“For a while we felt like we couldn’t touch anything,” said Tholen. “Like even the dust is precious. But after a while there, we sort of reclaimed it as a living space and a working space.”
Even during his life, Ireland’s house was more than just his home. Over the course of several years, he transformed it into a live-in work of art. The walls are slickly laminated with polyurethane, catching the light in unexpected ways. One window has been replaced entirely with copper. Lots of Ireland’s work deals with finding art in the commonplace – one famous piece is a jar filled with rubber bands collected from newspapers.
Ireland died in 2009. Since 2016, the house has been used as an exhibition space for his work and the work of other artists. By opening it up for artists to live in, the venue’s curator Lina Ladia is hoping to build on his legacy of combining art with life.
“He really found beauty in the mundane and found art in everything around us,” said Sora. “What we want to do is similar, but with light and a camera.”
One of the pair’s pieces involves several televisions facing the corner of the living room, the screens only partially visible thanks to lopsided mirrors leaning against the walls. The screens show the artists wandering from room to room, turning lights off and on – a peripheral, everyday experience obliquely transformed into a subject worthy of attention.
The piece really hit home when I sat down on a sofa in front of the televisions. “I’m sorry, the chairs are part of the installation,” one of the exhibition staff informed me gently but firmly. Oops. I stopped sitting on the art and scurried away, more aware than ever of the complexities involved in combining a living space with an exhibition.
Such questions are posed everywhere. In one bedroom, a surface was entirely covered in empty beer cans and bottles. Part of the exhibition? The detritus of a couple of young friends living together? Or is that not a distinction it is possible to make?
Sora and Tholen are first and foremost filmmakers, with several short films to their name that have done well in festivals from New York to Hong Kong to Tokyo. But this is not their first foray into conceptual art. Ladia decided to invite the pair to stay at the house after seeing their piece async – volume –, a mosaic of screens and ambient sounds that acts as an indirect portrait of artist Ryuichi Sakamoto, in Singapore.
“Working in art is an opportunity to get away from the linear storylines you find in film,” said Sora. “When you are sitting in a theater you have to be there to watch the whole thing. If you don’t see the beginning, you don’t understand it. We kind of wanted to break away from that in the art world and make non-time-based versions of the same medium.”
Both of the filmmakers are keen to continue working with conceptual art whenever the opportunity arises. Their next projects, however, will see them working on their first feature films, one in Alabama and one in Tokyo.
Ladia was pleased with the outcome of the experiment and is hosting an even longer residency from January to April next year for a performance artist (or a performance artist collective). Applications will be open until Dec. 10th.
In the meantime, you can book a free tour of Zakkubalan’s work on Wednesdays–Fridays at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., or you can look around yourself on Saturdays from noon until 5 p.m.
Just remember: Don’t sit on the sofa.