Oikos: whole House of the River

Oikos. 2018. Mixed media installation. Artist’s home; School of Art Gallery, Australian National University, Canberra.

Oikos was a large scale sculptural river constructed from PVC plumbing pipe and mixed media cubes evoking individual homes. It was was animated by the sound of a warbling and intermittently thrashing washing machine emanating from its pipes. It was the final thesis from practice-led PhD research regarding the intersection of body and environment. An excerpt from the PhD Exegesis concerning this artwork is further below.

The blog post detailing this artwork’s development is here:

https://beckynevinberger.blog/2018/06/

Oikos is a three-dimensional aesthetic mould of the complex intertwining of body and world observed in my inquiry. Oikos first emerged in my mind’s eye as a river inverted to furnish the interior warmth of our homes. This inversion is the perceptual twist that uncovers the lie of our separation from the world exterior to our bodies. Karen Barad elucidates a material intimacy between bodies and space that further unsettles this perceptual trick. Matter, time, and space are intrinsically entangled, Barad argues, in the on-going intra-activity of the world through which bodies, boundaries, properties, and spacetime are endlessly reconfigured.[1] Despite the tangible illusion of stasis formed by the boundary of our skin and the walls of our homes, we are continuous with the world. In Barad’s words: “embodiment is a matter of not being specifically situated in the world, but rather being of the world in its dynamic specificity.”[2] (p. 126)

[1] Barad, Meeting the Universe.

[2] Ibid, 376.

“Constructing Oikos to my home’s dimensions transiently blocked entrances between my kitchen, lounge, bedroom, and en suite. This obstruction restricted the movement of the embodied subjects whose aesthetic entanglements in this space regulate entropy within it. The concept of ‘infrathin’ foregrounds the significance of this intervention. The infrathin, explains Norie Neumark, is a “productively useless and a uselessly productive figure” that evokes our deeper deliberation.[1] Lining the floor in the centre of Oikos is a thick grey storm water pipe with the irregular thudding of the washing machine soundscape emanating from it. Oikos was assembled in its entirety and in situ on the final afternoon of construction. In the process, our major domestic junction was rendered useless for several hours: an inverted, waterless river forming an impasse through its representation of fluidity and its aural expression of entropy. The uselessness of the infrathin makes use and exchange value redundant. Instead, Neumark argues, a value emerges that can enable the conditions of another way of perceiving, in which a thing’s dynamic entanglements and processes become materially tangible.[2]

Even as energy and food circulate continuously through an ecosystem, some energy always dissipates in the form of warmth.[3] Heat relates to entropy and indicates the amount of disorder and net energy loss in a system.[4] Heat can transfer only from a warmer object to a cooler one. This transmission of warmth is a reaching from one thing to another, a material continuity through space. Oikos embodies the effort, beliefs, and resources invested to defer entropy. The sound of my washing machine radiating from Okois evokes deep dread at the ultimate inevitability of entropy. However, using art to observe and critique entropy within my everyday environment has enabled another perception to emerge. It seems that as warmth emanates from a given system or object, that warmth fuses with temporal-space. Perhaps the transient warmth I observed within the home is a product of the entropy we so seek to delay. Perhaps entropy is a material trace of temporal participation: a warmth that stretches out and fuses our subjectivities to the world, like the webbing that Shiota weaves through space. 

The final form that Oikos took in the ANU School of Art Gallery was a reassembled iteration of the cast made within my home. Without the embrace of its built architecture, Oikos revealed the memory of the home imprinted upon it parameters. Twenty-one photographs of the imagined river in its domestic habitat were presented alongside the form, allowing viewers to imagine the process of its emergence.” (129- 130)


[1] Neumark, Voice Tracks, 161.

[2] Neumark, Voice Tracks.

[3] Capra, The Web.

[4] Baker, 50 Physics Ideas.

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