The Farnsworth House Project, 2008

A series of 10 large format photographs. 4"x 5" color negatives scanned and printed on archival pigment paper, 20"x 25".

A colleague took some compelling photographs of the Farnsworth House around 1968, at the time when the property was derelict and abandoned. The images of dry leaves decaying on the outside deck, the property overgrown with weeds, were compelling starting points for this long-term project. 

In response to those images I began working with the Farnsworth house as a site. It became an inquiry into architecture as a culturally inculcated and fixed phenomena. In reality architecture is constantly in flux, its meaning shifts according to the cultural value(s) of its time. I have been compelled to explore notions of architecture inscribed as fixed and iconic - spaces that seem unchanging within our cultural psyche, but which are mere projections.

The year is 1951, Edith Farnsworth and Mies van der Rohe’s project is finally complete, a defining moment which would later influence Mies’ 860 and 880 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Prefabricated parts, cantilevered construction, iron and steel frames had already made their entry as new materials into the building industry.

Project Research

I arrived in Chicago jet-lagged and weary from a cross continental flight for an interview at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006. A colleague on my interview panel queried me at dinner about architecture, the conversation led spontaneously to the Farnsworth house and Mies’ skyscrapers on Lake Shore drive. I still have the note where he scribbled the address on a napkin over dinner.

My colleague gave me some large format 4"x 5" negatives of the house taken nearly forty years earlier (in the fall of 1968) revealing the disrepair and neglect of the property. There is something shockingly inert about the pristine environment of the house in its current state. I began to think about a work I would make that would encompass the disparities of my experience with this place, photographing the garden in such a way that the manicured grounds of Farnsworth made it evident that a change had taken place - new value was added to this once derelict structure.

“Space, in contemporary discourse, as in lived experience, has taken on an almost palpable existence. Its contours, boundaries, and geographies are called upon to stand in for all the contested realms of identity, from the national to the ethnic; its hollows and voids are occupied by bodies that replicate internally the external conditions of political and social struggle, and are likewise assumed to stand for, and identify, the sites of such struggle... 

Equally, space is assumed to hide, in its darkest recesses and forgotten margins, all the objects of fear and phobia that have returned with such insistency to haunt the imaginations of those who have tried to stake out spaces to protect their health and happiness. Indeed, space as threat, as harbinger of the unseen, operates as medical and psychical metaphor for all the possible erosions of bourgeois bodily and social well-being. The body, indeed, has become its own exterior, as its cell structure has become the object of spatial modeling that maps its own sites of immunological battle and describes the forms of its antibodies. "Outside," even as the spaces of exile, asylum, confinement, and quarantine of.' the early modern period were continuously spilling over into the "normal" space of the city, so the "pathological" spaces of today menace the clearly marked out limits of the social order.”

 - Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny