As part of LAForum’s Summer Exhibition, “Every. Thing. Changes.” we interview exhibition designer Tim Durfee about the support and presentation of 20 newly commissioned texts and visual works that make up the show.
If you missed the opening viewing of works on August 8th, you can still visit the exhibition online through September 27th at everythingchanges2020.org.
Visit everythingchanges2020.org to find out about our upcoming curator’s tour.
The LAForum’s Summer Exhibition was originally planned for Woodbury University’s Hollywood Outpost (WUHO) — that’s where the LAF Summer Exhibit has always been in the past. But the COVID crisis forced the closure of WUHO, and therefore the 2020 Summer Exhibition into a different realm; partially in physical sites around the city and partially on virtual platforms. As the exhibition designer, how did you approach the atypical nature of the project constraints?
In meetings with the curators and the whole team, we started to view the COVID situation less as a “constraint” and more as a catalyst — prompting us to consider an exhibition according to a different set of values that, as it turns out, may be more in sync with the social, ecological, and cultural nature of this time, even if one removes the health crisis from the picture. In this case, what emerged was an exhibition that inhabits our in-car, pedestrian, and online lives equally. It is less “look at this high-concept COVID exhibition,” than “this is life now, what is an exhibition in that new life?”
The primary manifestation of that approach was placing 13’-0” tall “posts” at each of the E.T.C. sites. These posts are physical signs, tall to be visible from the street, and substantial enough to mark the site as part of a network. As locations that were equally physical places as well as pins on the GPS apps of each visitor, these posts aspired to a kind of dumb (in a good way) instance of this co-reality — that is, not metaphors but just as the ubiquity of icons in software has, over time, elevated them from mere metaphors of action in the physical world.
Clamped to the top of each post is a smartphone holder for live-streaming. I always liked the way NASA footage will so often capture random hardware in the extreme foreground while streaming extraordinary views of Earth in the background. These ostensibly accidental guests in the frame make the video so much more “live.” In our case, we included small numbers at the tops of the posts intended to appear in each stream, stamping it with its respective location. The tall poles can also be detached from the base, so visitors or docents can roam the sites as dynamic hosts to its online existence.
With your current office Tim Durfee Studio, as well as your prior collaborations with Iris Anna Regn, Louise Sandhaus, and others, you have a lot of experience in exhibition design, from projects for the Hammer Museum to The Huntington Library to LACMA. How did those past jobs lend to the knowledge base and to your design development for the Every. Thing. Changes. exhibition?
While I have definitely worked on a lot of exhibitions, I have always found it productive to resist thinking of exhibition design as a specialization, but rather as a type of project where a bunch of other modes of making intersect. I really do believe that factoring ideas and information as the shapers of form are — or should be – how we view architecture at all scales.
That said, my experience with exhibitions has definitely heightened my sensitivity about something that seems extremely pragmatic and mundane, but which I have come to view as valuable enough to “elevate” as a conceptual consideration. That is the relationship of any given project to its use of material and labor. Exhibitions involve temporary construction, and — over time — the undue waste of material for non-permanent applications has just started to feel wrong to me. This is an ecological issue, of course, but in terms of design and culture, I’ve become interested in it in a way that is perhaps more philosophically aesthetic — that is, why wouldn’t our comfort/attraction/engagement with our built environment not begin to correlate with a perception of things as embracing the right balance of expenditure-to-benefit?
Every.Thing.Changes. continues as an online show until September 27th, but the physical/streaming hybrid exhibition was super-brief. While a typical “short-run” exhibition might be 5 weeks, the E.T.C. installations ran for 5 hours. Because of this, thinking of the show as a kind of designed coincidence — a “momentary” rather than “temporary” event — became really intriguing. (This idea of designing a coincidence grew out of collaborations I’ve done with Ben Hooker and Jenny Rodenhouse.) Could there be a way to treat every material as “just passing through” on its way to some other use? With this in mind, we then tried to put together a palette of elements that would either be reused, returned, or maybe turned into compost. For example, I’ve always admired the piles of chopped-up trees one often sees on the side of the road in L.A., left by the Department of Street Services. We needed heavy, above-grade footings, and using these beautiful old-growth stumps — future mulch — seemed easier, and obviously more sustainable than, say, cast concrete.
Similarly, considering the obscenity of cutting-up material to build walls for a 5-hour show, we thought of how one could (ethically) return supplies if they are completely unblemished. We made reusable braces to temporarily transform 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood into walls with ledges to support framed drawings and monitors. The idea was to acquire the boards in the morning, employ them as walls for the afternoon, then send them back the following morning back through the channels of capital and logistics — unaltered — to their original pile among the PVC and paint samples in a certain large hardware store on Figueroa.