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Queer Phenomenology in Sarah Oppenheimer's W-120301

  • Author(s): Metzger, Cyle Michalka
  • Advisor(s): Kotz, Liz
  • et al.
Abstract

Sarah Oppenheimer’s W-120301 is an apparatus designed to generate new lines of sight within the architectural conditions of the Baltimore Museum of Art, to grant new insights into the power of architecture to shape our experiences, and to address vision as critical to our ability to understand, navigate, and disrupt those structures. The work is essentially a periscope made out of glass and aluminum with three viewing holes, not just two. The views through these three holes have been altered from the basic periscope model to give us sensations of double vision and twisted perspective as we look through each of them. Section one of this paper uses written descriptions, hand-drawn diagrams, and images to outline how each of these views is produced.

The images and diagrams show that most of the material of W-120301 is hidden within the existing museum architecture, making the work one that is looked through rather than looked at. Through the apertures of W-120301, views of other people and spaces are framed by the black aluminum of the apparatus. The glass that has been carefully arranged within the interior of the work is invisible to us. Section two of this paper uses Jean-Louis Baudry and Giorgio Agamben’s theories of the cinematic apparatus to explore the implications of a work of art that is not itself the focus of vision, but that is a tool for vision. Focusing on the work of art as a tool for vision puts the viewer at the center of the work, and, in doing so, W-120301 opens new possibilities for discussing how we become who we are within constructed space.

The third section of this project examines the phenomenological implications W-120301 as a tool for vision has on viewers’ relationship to architecture. Looking through the apertures of W-120301, our sense of spatial order and visual perception becomes skewed. We are presented with moments of double vision, we are required to look up to see an aerial perspective, and we are unable to discern whether we are engaged in direct looking or if our vision is mediated by reflective glass. Through all of these experiences, our sense of orientation becomes characterized by disorientation. The stable relationships to space we once thought we had disintegrate. Using Sara Ahmed’s notion of queerness as a form of fruitful disorientation, this section argues that the disorientation produced by W-120301 is a queer sensation, and, further, this queer sensation is productive means for questioning how we become oriented in space and how our orientations shape who we become in the world.

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