In the course of his work, renovation contractor and emerging artist Reece Terris of Vancouver, B.C.-based Terris Lightfoot Contracting removes and dumps tons of building materials. Some of the fixtures and fittings removed from his residential renovation projects are in good condition and perfectly useable, but are simply out-of-date aesthetically. For the past two years, Terris saved landfill-bound items that interested him, harboring ideas of how he might use them in his artistic pursuits.
Eventually, he says, his ideas coalesced into a concept for an art installation that explores how consumers' notions of "home" and interior design have evolved and considers the relationships between the functional and fashionable elements that people choose to use in their homes and those they throw away.
The result is the six-story Ought Apartment currently installed in the main rotunda of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The tower is divided into levels, with each showcasing a different decade's interior design and decorating mores—from the 1950s on the ground level through the oughts on the top floor—using the materials Terris saved from his own projects, as well as contributions from several friends in the business. Each level includes a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom and illustrates the changes that decade brought to interior design in response to social, cultural, and economic changes and technological advances.
"It's like a core sample from an archaeological dig," says Grant Arnold, the Vancouver Art Museum's Audain Curator of British Columbia Art.
Visitors to the gallery enter the installation in the 1950s living space, where they can interact directly with the fixtures and design elements: sit on sofas, open cabinets, contemplate the fireplace. As they progress up the rotunda steps, they have clear views into the 1960s and '70s domestic spaces, and re-enter the installation in the 1980s level, where they encounter '80s decorating ostentation in all its glory. The 1990s and 2000s levels are viewed from outside on the rotunda steps and balcony.
The rapid acceleration of product and finish style life cycles becomes apparent as the exhibition levels approach the first decade of the new millennium. Changes in space and layout reflect the way domestic norms evolved over the years. For example, the 1980s level uses large-scale spaces to convey the sense of the period's monster homes, reflecting "the excessive idea of buildings and the space we need. It has subtle details like a large fish tank with one little fish and 110 gallons of space to move in," Terris notes.
The final level—staged to reflect home interior design and décor in the current decade—juxtaposes the openness of the living spaces against the shrunken scale of electronics and gadgetry, as well as against the containment and human isolation reflected by the furnishings and high-tech toys.
Ought Apartment comments on how changes in domestic interiors reflect our culture and concepts of "home" and the purposes it serves. "Home is a little bit less 'home' than it ever was," Terris says. "Especially in the last real estate push it became just an investment vehicle. The way people have decided to live and use it has become more transient. Also, people's relationship to place or where they're living has completely changed."
According to Arnold, the installation speaks to many different audiences: those interested in contemporary art, as well as those interested in critiques of consumer culture. "There's something that everybody will connect with," he says. "On some level it's based on nostalgia, but because the work is so unexpected for its setting, there's a sense of critical space where people start to think about how these [design elements] fit into their lives and how those elements might have shaped their lives. It also affects how people think about the domestic space that they live in ... They become a bit aware of the space; they think about it, and who it's designed for, and the parameters" for which it's designed.
Ought Apartment will be on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery until Sept. 20, 2009. View a time-lapse video of Ought Apartment's assembly in the gallery's rotunda here. To view other works by Terris, visit www.reeceterris.com/exhibits.