Project by Charlie O’Geen and Frank Fantauzzi. Text by Phreddy Wischusen
Some things to know
845 West Washington Blvd. was once structured to hold cars
845 West Washington Blvd. could hold 125 cars if full, resting on 500 tires
500 discarded tires were used for this work
500 tires weigh 4 tons (8,000 pounds)
500 tires are discarded every 90 minutes in Chicago, Illinois
12 million tires are discarded every year in the state of Illinois
12 million is approximately the current population of the state of Illinois
2.8 ft3 is the space occupied by both the human body and a single tire
Some things to consider
Buildings are bodies
Tires are bodies
Buildings are made of units (bricks)
Tires are units (bricks)
Buildings are made of layers
Tires are made of layers
Buildings are made of bodies
Tires are foundations for cars
Cars are buildings
Once the spinning has stopped
Charlie O’Geen will tell you that his collaboration with Frank Fantauzzi, Dizzy, is about potential. The work demonstrates that used tires, the most onerous refuse of urban sanitation departments, have use as a building material. Dizzy as an architectural study, proves the usefulness of second stage tires with cheek and aplomb. But after having viewed their piece in Chicago’s VOLUME gallery (a design gallery), I feel obliged to also consider Dizzy in the context of “art”. And as art, it tells a more challenging story. The story not just of the can-ness but the importance of the how-ness. Not simply of potential, but maybe even hope.
I was fortunate to get to see Dizzy as O’Geen de-installed it. I got to avoid crowds of people most likely smarter and slimmer than me. I’m always paranoid that these slim witty art gallery people are judging me or at the very least taking note of every trip I take to the complimentary cheese and cracker table requisite at most art openings. And it’s hard to listen to the work over a cacophony of neuroses.
The installation consisted of two large structures each approximately ten feet tall and made of 250 coiled tires. One, I shall refer to henceforth as “Pyramid,” was a very sturdy structure with a wide base that as it swirled upwards narrowed into the impression of a pointed spire. I say impression, because by nature there is nothing pointed in a car tire. The spire effect is part of Fantauzzi and O’Geen’s whimsical genius. The inside of Pyramid was hollow but for a dizzying kaleidoscope of wooden supports. I could still easily step in to the center through a portal cut in the tires. The atmosphere inside was both energizing and calm. Within the Pyramid’s embracing bosom, I swear I was one bong hit away from totally understanding Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. The concept of building a dwelling from the tires is relatively simple, but the artists’ execution was remarkable. Tires are normally a bland necessity I’ve learned to unsee in the world around me, but somehow Fantauzzi and O’Geen had rendered something not only feasible but charming. If I wasn’t concerned about coming off “weird,” I would have chilled in there for hours.
Across from the Pyramid was a structure I will refer to as the “Cyclone.” Its black mass hung over me like a bad dream. There were tension wires and 1x2s to keep it from engulfing me. Cognitively I knew escape was both easy and not necessary but the logic of my body, the logic of my panic told me that I could not. Could not just wake up. Could not just get out from under it. Top edges swirling wide over its tiny base. Beside me the Pyramid stood placidly, uninterested in responding to Cyclone’s Dionysian chaos. Its imminent threat. Truth cannot stoop to the moment—it stands in the harmony of eternity.
Structurally, I learned, Cyclone was almost as sound as Pyramid, maybe more impressively so given its counterintuitive design. O’Geen proved this as he scrambled over the lip of Cyclone’s summit and descended into the eye, armed with a drill and a reciprocating saw. There was precipitous movement in O’Geen’s act of liberation. The wires were loosed and the structure sagged over. Heaved and leaned. But didn’t fall. After the wires, he turned to the supports. With rapid precision, he sawed through the laced 1×2 center and the Cyclone was free. Ironically, unleashed Cyclone was no longer frightening. As it gently leaned and swayed, the structure reminded me that there is a magnificent architecture in trees. A single rooted core allows a broad stretch to blossom above. Left overnight the structure didn’t fail. It stood the next morning just as O’Geen had left it, undulating gently.
Divorced from youth in service of the oil wars, both tires structures matured into artistically dynamic pieces that strongly suggest they have undiscovered utilitarian purposes. The work then really questions not merely if we can live with our past but rather how we live with it. What can be upcycled is not simply a material concern but a design concern as well. Aesthetics are inalienable from utility. As a hulking form of sagging tires attached to the ceiling, Cyclone was scary. In order to repurpose, Fantauzzi and O’Geen seem to encourage us to loosen our holds on antiquated infrastructure and trust an engaged process and good material to hold things together. To trade the neurotic nostalgia that is failing us politically and emotionally for honest self-reliance, openness and creativity.
The wall is a threshold
The plaster walls prove the point. Whiteness as neutrality is a mutually agreed upon lie. The wall is neither smooth nor colorless. We ignore the walls so we can see the room. See it as definitive. Defining boundaries. Bounding our experience. Our experience “inside.” Inside a “room.”
Beneath the plaster is a layer of honeycomb metal lath. Beneath the metal lath is more plaster. Beneath that plaster is wood lath running side to side—all hips and no legs. Beneath the shimmied lath are vertical furring strips. They are reaching for a sky they will never touch—never see. Beneath the climbing furring strips are the cool silent bricks. Bricks can neither move nor aspire. They are not cosmetic. They have purpose in the structure. Intrinsic purpose necessitates being taciturn.
Five circles in the plaster expanse—
one for each secreted layer.
Could you stack them together you wouldn’t make a wall, you’d make
a map into the development of that moment for you in the gallery,
an archaeology of time, an anatomy of myth
of the inside/out dialectic
to make a wall you simply have to put together what was removed
the contents, most likely, of a dumpster in the alley behind
but what remains is the story
and the story is the arrow
into the wormhole
into the past
into your moment in a gallery recognizing it’s the plaster
that really isn’t there.
Charlie O’Geen’s work involves architectural investigations that respond directly to site specific conditions and often utilize found objects as building materials. He received a BSArch and an MArch from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo and then went on to earn a second MArch from Cranbrook Academy of Art. O’Geen currently teaches architecture at Lawrence Technological University, is the construction manager for Powerhouse Productions, and lives in Detroit where he works on full-scale architectural and building experiments.
Frank Fantauzzi is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. He has taught in numerous architectural programs in Canada, the United States, and Finland. His research focuses on the question of alternative forms of critical architectural practice. Parallel to teaching, Fantauzzi has also been engaged in an active art practice founded in 1989. His work is often collaborative and focuses on large-scale installations and outdoor constructions. Fantauzzi’s work is multidisciplinary in nature and explores the built environment and cultural dimensions of society and the parallels between social and tectonic structures.
Phredy Wischusen received a BA in Classics from Florida State University in 2001. He writes for “America’s most progressive” newspaper, the Michigan Citizen, and performs live as stand-up comic, musician and story-teller. Currently, he lives on a dead-end street in a bucolic neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan.
www.phreddywischusen.com | @PhreddyWisch