You could be forgiven for thinking there’s been a minor rip in the space-time continuum if you came across Corina Reynolds‘s exhibition at Open Source Gallery by chance. For Northwestern Expansion, she has transformed the entire gallery space — a small garage in south Park Slope — into a replica of a waiting room on the 31st floor of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. More compelling than this impressive bit of set-building, though, is the artist’s way of likening it to the spread of European trade routes in the 15th century, but more on that later.
The installation doesn’t achieve perfect verisimilitude, but it’s sufficiently close to the genuine article to be simultaneously alluring and repellent. Like a Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe installation created at the behest of Marina Abramović, the impressively detailed environment is meant to enable visitors to have a purer experience of their inner thoughts and the passage of time, and to reach a state of heightened awareness.
When I sat in the space, I was too intrigued by the piece’s details to take any kind of inward journey. For a quintessentially boring type of interior, there’s a lot to look at: the charmingly homespun approximation of a social services waiting room counter, the pitch-perfect pattern of vinyl tiles on the floor, the almost-too-comfortable padded chairs, the judiciously deployed fake potted plants, etc. Beyond the piece’s execution, what I found even more interesting than the experience of waiting — presumably intended by the artist as an antidote to the state of perpetual doing that our handheld devices enable — was the work’s connection to 15th-century explorers.
Reynolds likens time spent sitting in a waiting room to the waiting that European captains were left to do in the 1400s when, while searching for the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, their ships became surrounded by ice. In both situations, the artist sees the enforced waiting as a kind of invisible or immobile progress. Time spent waiting, in other words, is not time lost.
As if to drive this point home, she has retroactively bestowed degrees — from Northwestern University, get it? — upon famous explorers including Henry Hudson, Sir Francis Drake, René-Robert Cavelier, and James Cook. The framed, faux diplomas hang in an impossibly narrow office hallway tucked behind the waiting room installation. It feels like an unofficial, vertically oriented sequel to the 7th-and-a-half floor in Being John Malkovich.
Reynolds’s implausible analogy between waiting for the slow machinery of bureaucracy to work its dull brand of magic and the crews of 15th-century European trade ships waiting for winter’s ice floes to recede remains, for me, the most intriguing and beguiling component of Northwestern Expansion. Days later, I’m still puzzling out the piece’s inner logic. Is the installation’s takeaway a kind of consolation, asserting that the time we spend waiting is actually counted toward the goals we’re pursuing? Or is the artist empowering us with the knowledge that such down time is an untapped resource that can be harnessed in the pursuit of other (better) endeavors? Seen in this light, Reynolds’s installation feels like the product of an exceptionally constructive waiting room session.