As is often the case with art or any form of cultural production, the sculpted object usually bears little to no trace of the immense efforts that gave rise to it. So is the case with “From the Knees of My Nose to the Belly of My Toes,” the newest work of British artist and designer Alex Chinneck. What you see is the facade of a brick rowhouse behaving in the manner of sliced American cheese (that is, floppy). What you don’t see even a hint of is the arduous, often bureaucratic, process Chinneck maneuvered for a year and a half to make the house happen.
The four-story home stands in the heart of Margate, an easterly English seaside town known for its pockets of stately architecture. Chinneck’s intervention was entirely self-initiated, and he had to secure both the property and financing from independent sources. First he was required to win the approval of the local municipal council, which was granted as part of a wider arts and regeneration initiative in the area. He then spent close to six months soliciting free materials and equipment from British construction companies, a hard-won campaign that laid the groundwork for the £100,000 project. “Every yes followed 25 no’s,” Chinneck tells Co.Design.
Fortunately, the surreal slapstick and winking affability of the installation makes up for an awful lot in the end. The neat brick-and-mortar facade appears to have lost its bearings and slipped downward, settling into an impossibly slouched position. The wall remains perfectly intact, with rows of windows framing frilly lace curtains and a front door that seemingly opens onto a sewage tunnel below. The slippage exposes the decaying interiors of the house, which has been vacant for more than a decade.
The Margate house shares an affinity for playing with the idea of private residential architecture in the larger public space with other installations, such as Leandro Erlich’s “Dalston House.” The Dalston House re-created the facade of a terrace home flat on the street pavement and dangled an angled mirror above it, giving visitors the allusion they were all Spider-Man. At Margate, Chinneck mines similar territory by altering how people interact with architecture. Because of its sheer ubiquity, the artist says, architecture “provides an ideal foundation for this process of distortion and surprise.”
In Chinneck’s work of distortion and surprise, the top half of the facade–the part that still appears attached to the house’s side walls –is buttressed by a typical wood and stud frame. The lower half, however, rests on plywood supports that are shaped to receive the gently sagging wall, a structure suggestive of a skateboard ramp.
The cartoonish image the installation projects isn’t one Chinneck shies away from. He says the house is a one-liner in the best sense: “I think it’s better to say one great line than ten dull ones.” And the house is no slouch as it’s guaranteed to lift spirits in a place known for its perpetually gray skies.