SA MI 75 DZ NY 12: Doug Wheeler

Curator: Kelli Anderson
date: April 12, 2012
Categories: Experience Design
Tags: architecture, Doug Wheeler, installation, space
ᔥ Stedelijk Museum
One of Wheeler’s past infinite space rooms

Some of my favorite movie moments involve a swimming pool, a character and a pause in storytelling. In The Graduate, Harold & Maude and Rushmore (just to name a few), a character walks to the pool’s edge where they drop, splash and quietly float for some several long, uncomfortable seconds. The camera’s indifferent, slow pan mollifies any sense of alarm—narrative concerns like “drowning?” fade into the background. These scenes are different than the others. They are voluptuously sensory experiences, which provide a surreal moment of sympathetic sensation within the otherwise plot-driven medium of film.

When I entered Doug Wheeler’s SA MI 75 DZ NY, I was reminded of this media-induced sensation of “vacant float” dramatized in those pool scenes. 

Earlier this year, Wheeler transformed a gallery on 19th Street in Manhattan into an “infinity room”— a space seemingly devoid of walls or ceiling or floor. With all corners obscured by seamless nylon scrim and the light carefully modulated, this controlled experience remains a total mystery until the second you step off the edge. (This is done wearing antiseptic booties—your filthy, mark-making shoes can sit in a heap by the exit.)

ᔥ David Zwirner Gallery
The lacquered floor is the last marker of specific visible space

ᔥ David Zwirner Gallery
Lost within the room: It felt like fog, even though there was none.

ᔥ David Zwirner Gallery
A wide shot of the lacquered, entry frame and the infinite space room beyond

We eager onlookers were corralled onto a shiny lacquered platform, which would be our last identifiable marker of space. Beyond the black line of the lacquer’s hard edge, we stared ahead at what appeared to be a blank wall and began walking forward until we thrust a foot forward and actually stepped through it. Like “going through the looking glass,” crossing that precipice marked a radical shift in my understanding of the space. However, this first whiz-bang realization of optical illusion did not diffuse the work’s pleasures all at once. While floating in disorienting pristine white, each tentative step forward felt like an uncertain tilt off of the diving board. 

It was [probably] the most profound interaction I’ve ever had with a designed space—there was nothing there and it was absolutely thrilling. And even… cinematic. No chlorine, no generation-defining film director required—just lots of light with no hard surface to fall upon.

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