House, turned inside out  

   Martin Papcun was hosted by Cleveland, Ohio’s SPACES in the fall of 2008. 2008 is significant for being the year when the term economic melt-down was coined; bad housing loans, zero-growth, job loss, foreclosures were expressions we heard with numbing frequency. Cleveland was the epicenter of the housing collapse. Everywhere there one saw foreclosed, empty, forlornly abandoned homes. According to “The Cleveland Plain Dealer”’s finance reporter Teresa Dixon Murray, Cuyahoga County experienced a decline in population of 7% from 2001 to 2009, and vacant homes sit on the market, even today, for an average of 3 years. It’s a sad mess, and not, we imagine, what a young, ambitious artist, might have imagined of the “land of opportunity.” At first he spent time absorbing the urban atmosphere of Cleveland and then more time reflecting on the disjointed juxtapose presented by an excess of homes and an extreme scarcity of money.  


   Just as Martin Papcún’s view of life in the US had been altered by reality, CEC ArtsLink’s expectations and understanding of the nature of his creativity shifted after we saw images of his first undertaking there. Papcún had gained permission to deconstruct an actual abandoned home in Cleveland’s west side. A home without occupants is oxymoronic; a building requires use as shelter, hearth and heart to merit the name. Papcún, in removing walls and revealing the building’s interior, in reprogramming the lights to echo standard use, conveyed real-time personal loss and life-size economic tragedy. By day, the dingy interior paint, the remaining, broken decorative elements, the bathroom fixtures were revealed; at night, the lights—bare and ghastly—switched on and off as if the ghosts inside were moving from room to room, carrying out a mundane life in a neighborhood on the edge. 


   In his second project, he continues this conversation in a complex, more socially engaged work. In this piece executed in 2009, Papcún again gained access to an abandoned Cleveland house and then convinced a building contractor, many volunteers, and city officials to allow him to alter the structure so that all of the interior walls were physically on the exterior of the house. Severed floor joists, and interior heating and other structures become erratic ornamental elements and, in combination with occasional bright blue interior paint, make the two-story structure a head-turning surprise in the lower-middle class neighborhood. 


   Whereas California artist Tim Hawkinson’s Head (1995) is a whimsical take on a mildly risqué subject: he covered his bathroom with thick latex, turned it inside out, and inflated it so that it hovered, balloon-like, in the middle of the room, Papcún’s House is deadly serious and firmly anchored to the lot, the city and the economic realities of late capitalism. Nor is this piece or Papcún’s first house piece a direct plea or an urgent plaint as we see in work like Mark Bradford’s Hurricane Katrina piece Help Us (2008), but one, like the cycles of lights turning on and off, or like the disemboweling connoted by House, turned inside out, that references the reversals of fortune and the relentless cycles of adversities that time delivers, eventually, to us all. 


   As an organization, CEC ArtsLink encourages artists to engage across cultures:  to further artistic cross- fertilization, mutual understanding, and positive change.  We hope that artists who visit the US gain from their experiences and that US audiences, likewise, learn from the artists. The case of Martin Papcún presents not only an opportunity to see a leap in scale from his previous work and to value the perspective on a complex and dire social phenomena seen through a lens ground into focus by another history and geography, but more remarkably, we have the opportunity to see an artist mature before our eyes. These involved and physically demanding works in Cleveland are rich with actual and referenced social engagement and they move Papcún into an entirely new sphere of artists and keenly sharpen our appetite for more.



Fritzie Brown

/ executive director CEC Artslink NYC




/ catalogue "House, turned inside out" / NYC, USA / 2011

photo: Ryan Pearl / David Jurca

video: David Jurca /



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