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Axis Mundi: Levittown An Art Exhibit with light and sound
Submitted by Jill Ewald on Fri, 03/08/2013 - 12:31pm
Runs now through April 7, 2013 (closed spring break, March 23 - April 1)
Flaten Art Museum, Dittmann Center, St. Olaf College
Axis Mundi: Levittownis a re-invented miniature neighborhood deconstructing the ideals and pitfalls of the famous post-World War II housing enclave for returning veterans. Levittown remains the quintessential American suburb. This exhibit is an installation that includes a house constructed in the gallery, sculpture (mini houses), light, and sound.
Artist Holly Laws writes, “I chose to exhibit Axis Mundi: Levittown paying homage to that community’s status as theoriginalsuburb. Although there is specificity in the exhibition’s title, Levittownstands for suburban America. Axis Mundirefers to our collective clinging to the single-family home as the center of the American Dream – the heart of all things. The exhibition will be unified thematically by the image imprinted on the collective American psyche of the one-job, two-parent nuclear family living happily in the detached suburban house. This mental image is contrasted with the everyday truths of our familial interactions, from the banal, to the terrifying. Together, the works comment on private life and memory as well as cultural memory and our identity as Americans. This work spotlights the suburb to which my parents escaped after my father finished his schooling under the G.I. Bill, and the suburb I so desperately wanted to flee as a teenager who didn’t want to live and look like everyone else.
Viewed en-masse, hundreds of mouse-sized houses in the exhibition present a scene where viewers have an aerial and detached god-like perspective. A human-sized house fragment invites viewers to participate as active players in real time. Doll-sized houses spring to life with flickering vintage home movies and ask viewers to take on the role as bystander, witnessing life as we want to remember it. Cryptic fragments of domestic dialogue emanate from additional miniature houses and thrust viewers into the role of voyeur, overhearing conversations of daily life.
The ghostly houses in various states of wholeness or disrepair, the spoken fragments of memory-dialogues, and the spectral moving images of times past can be read simultaneously as the accretion of memory, and the residue of prior actions, or the breakdown of structure, either individual or communal. The work both celebrates and commemorates, as it laments a crumbling existence (personal and cultural) that needs revitalization. Viewers are invited to bring their own histories and memories into play, and to imagine into these houses new possibilities for future generations, just as these same spaces offered a beginning full of hope and promise for my parents’ generation.”
Playwright Charlotte Meehan writes, "I spent my high school years living in a Levittown (Long Island) house that no longer resembled the original except in the obvious fact that our five-bedroom home was squeezed onto a lot made for a much smaller dwelling. Many of the fractured dialogues I've written for Axis Mundi come either from verbatim or composite memories of my time there in the mid-1970s. Others are what I imagine might have been said in different decades from the one I experienced. Racist remarks were frequent and casual in the all-white Levittown I knew, and you will hear them — as well as other denigrating language — unsanitized in this installation. Hopefully, the contrast between those utterances and the happy home movies haunting the houses will provoke in visitors a layered, reverberating awareness of the malady engendered by a society in which all are not treated as equal.”