Text by Cameron Skene
- an apparatus consisting of a tube attached to a set of mirrors or prisms, by which an observer (typically in a submerged submarine or behind a high obstacle) can see things that are otherwise out of sight.
In Erika Dueck’s optical machines, the viewer can peer through a small opening into a near-pathological state of anxious disorder; a state of things half-accomplished and naggingly remembered. Assembled with the materials of architectural models, the large, rectangular foam core structures – attached with neat Velcro fittings, loose cords and connections, small LED pods stuck to the pieces like urchins – allude to the temporary nature of the setup. It’s a travelling peep show that immerses the viewer in a frozen moment of perceptual disorientation, fleeting by its very nature, and as hard to grasp as air.
The structure of the exterior contrasts markedly from the reassembled interior, when viewed through the periscope sight: recognizably mundane interiors belie the convoluted complexity of the machinery outside. It’s a trick with mirrors, in a long tradition of artists attempting to relate anomalies of visual perception with tricks of the trade: from 17th-century Dutch ‘Perspective Boxes’, through stereoscopy all the way down to the 42nd Street peepshow, with its diminutive arena for a large carnality.
Peering into Dueck’s machine, structural complexity compresses into a strange, illusory space that has reorganized itself into a strangely institutional interior, producing an environment that feels simultaneously squished and extended. Exits at the end of long hallways evoke a dream-like illusion of distance. Library shelving feels Escher-like in its nook-and-cranny organization. Scale is perceived in a refined tension: tiny building materials are stacked and stowed away for later renovation. Miniscule rolls of papers are stashed in shelves for a later date. The unfinished stage is always set with the suggestion of a future order, an anxiety extant in the eternal procrastination of the hoarder. The periscopic spatial distortion created by mirrors conjure exits that seem unreachable, spaces that seem anthill-like in complexity, all in a micro-environment as confining as a fish bowl: dream-like in its unsettling dysmetropsia, where the flotsam of normalcy morphs into a paralyzing spatial unease.
Dueck utilizes architectural idioms to create these uniquely urban anxieties of space: an absence of a sense of time, a numb feeling of eternally unfinished renovation, and a vaguely menacing distortion of scale. This language is accessed to tell the story of construction around us and to peer into our habitation as spiritual squatters in the dystopic arena of perpetual building. Our yearning for order becomes an eternally repeated request: the lengthening of a hallway, the quick creation of another nook for storage. Stairs to other spaces, with the destination yet to be determined.
An architectural model has its own language. It’s an illusory craft with a practical purpose: to evoke a sense of scale and space in a future building project. When we bend down to squint through the spaces, folded cardboard becomes a foyer entrance. Foam core becomes Travertine marble. We squirt ourselves into the space.
But a building is a machine for living, and a model is a machine for visualization. Dueck’s machines manufacture a fleeting subconscious moment, one sodden with temporal anxiety. The machine squirts back.