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September 24, 2010 to January 3, 2011

The Sitting Room: Four Studies

The Sitting Room: Four Studies

Jennifer Angus, Ligia Bouton, Carole Loeffler and Saya Woolfalk

"The Sitting Room" was designed to consider the ideological meanings associated with the history of the sitting room, the original function of the PAA building as a residence, and the physical features of the first and second floor galleries of the PAA. Four artists created installations that are not an historical recreation of the building as a private home, but an interpretation of the concept of “display”—as a reflection of social anxieties and desires—for a contemporary audience. In addition, the projects for The Sitting Room invited connections between craft and conceptual art practices, bringing the usual assumptions of craft as domestic ornament into the realm of installation art.

The exhibition took three factors into consideration. First, this exhibition considered Victorian concepts of the parlor room. The sitting room (also termed the parlor room or the drawing room) was a prominent feature of domestic architecture until the early 20th century and served as a public reception space within a private setting. As the site of public social interaction, it was meant to exhibit or display the home in its most refined state. As such, the sitting room acted as a performance space for the social presentation and the self-imposed definition of its inhabitants. In this framework, the sitting room as a site for private display parallels the purpose of the PAA as a site for public display. Secondly, the projects considered the position of craft within contemporary art. The recent resurgence in scholarship posits craft as an expanding concept that transcends boundaries based on medium, function, or empty aesthetic pleasure. The term now incorporates many other fields of creativity as well as new technologies, reinforcing a post-disciplinary approach beyond the restriction of a single medium, and a connection of the crafted object to the fine arts, interior design, architecture, new media, performing art, and pop culture. Third, the theme of the exhibition was predicated upon the history of the building as a residence. The Philadelphia Art Alliance (cited on the National Register of Historic Places in Philadelphia) was built as a residence in 1906 for Samuel P. Wetherill. The rigid delineation of internal space reflected the standard models of the Victorian home, and as with most mansions of the period, the first floor of the Wetherill residence contained two formal sitting rooms, a public reception room to greet guests and a parlor room for entertaining.

Despite the aesthetic differences in the work that was commissioned for this exhibition, several overlapping themes emerged. As the sitting room in the Victorian area signified a place in the home with specific functions, all of the artists chose to interpret this for a contemporary audience by addressing several subjects from a sociological perspective: for Jennifer Angus, an alternative view of the 19th century and the mania surrounding ideas of collection and display during that period; for Carole Loeffler, the psychological implications of the domestic interior; for Ligia Bouton, the history of Victorian parlor seances; and for Saya Woolfalk, the creation of an alternative utopian space for an imagined future--using vernacular materials combined with technology--to forge alternative/mobile spaces that create ideal social communities.

Additional support for The Sitting Room was provided by:
The Independence Foundation, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and Members of the PAA.

Tags: fiber, installation