At 8 PM, things were maybe a little awkward at Brooklyn artist Andrew Ohanesian’s “House Party” installation at Pierogi’s The Boiler space on a heavily industrial street on the border of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods. The beer was just beginning to flow and guests congregated in small groups, chatting about this or that fall opening, but the sparks weren’t really flying. By 10 that night, however, the scene had changed completely. Ohanesian’s perfect replica of a suburban home’s ground floor was getting completely destroyed.
The crowd of opening-goers sweating it out in the packed living room gradually left their perches on sofa arms and coffee tables and started dancing to the DJ spinning 1990s throwbacks and 2000s-era hip-hop on top of the dining-room table. Elsewhere in the house, the mattress in the children’s bedroom was being flipped over and Playboy magazines pulled from underneath. Outside, someone shouted about finding a stash of weed in the closet. Walls were attacked with markers, mirrors broken, and furniture tipped.
Ohanesian replicated the classic cliché suburban house down to the smallest detail: the couches were perfectly generic, the kitchen squeaky clean, and the light fixtures cast a shade of yellow that might have been drawn from a teenage nightmare. Outside the shell of the house but inside the cavernous warehouse space that it occupied, people congregated and smoked. It felt like there should be grass on the ground and stars in the sky, but there were none. If you climbed up a ladder to a raised platform and looked out across the top of the sculpture, the view was just unfinished wood and air-conditioning ducts (seen above).
There were two different reactions to the artwork in evidence at Ohanesian’s opening. For a certain segment of the crowd, the experience of getting drunk on keg beer and cheap vodka in the creepy confines of an empty middle-class suburban home was an exotic one, a chance to be a voyeur or participate in an American stereotype. For others, myself included, the house party was a nostalgia trip, bringing me instantly back to nights just like that one (though not as big, funny, or intelligent) spent in the domiciles of suburban Connecticut as a teenager in high school. This time, though, no parents were going to unexpectedly arrive at the scene of the crime and break it up.
Ohanesian’s “House Party” is an exercise in relational aesthetics in the guise of a successful sculpture. The intricate sculptural installation itself offered no cynical commentary on suburban ennui or teenage angst, but it did play host to an unfolding human drama in which viewers were invited to relive some joyful memories or maybe redo some awkward or painful ones as they interacted with and activated the piece. As the art-world crowd (a group often lacking in good kegger opportunities) warmed up to their new context, “House Party” felt like a catharsis.
The house party was a chance for an oftentimes antisocial community to come together in a different way. The piece was the conduit and the facilitator of a specific, booze-lubricated kind of social interaction that isn’t encouraged in more austere spaces. After all, there aren’t many art projects in which visitors can make out in the closets.
Parties always take place in fictionalized, fantastical spaces in which normal rules aren’t supposed to apply, whether that’s an art gallery, a suburban basement, or a Manhattan club. Ohanesian’s bash was in its essence a very well executed fake, but is there really any such thing as a fake party?
Andrew Ohanesian’s House Party will run through November 18, 2012 at Pierogi’s The Boiler, 191 North 14th Street in Brooklyn.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.