Art Lies, Volume 27, Summer 2000 Page: 79
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Northwood and Other Places
by Wendy Weil Atwell
At ArtPace, Joachim Koester, a Danish
conceptualist currently living in New
York, created a deceptively simple instal-
lation which incorporated photographic
images that explore the myth of the
West. In his second-story room, Koester
closed off the normal entry to his space
and routed viewers through an alternative
door set next to a rectangular blue-gelled
window. The light from this, and six
other blue-gelled windows on the oppo-
site side of the room, created an intense,
false twilight that was the room's sole
light source; and though the light
changed in the course of the day, the
room's details remained shaded and
slightly obscured. Across the room was a
26-foot-long wall, placed so that its
unfinished face confronted the viewer.
The wall's other side was gallery-finished
(sheetrock painted white), with five large
photographs leaning against the wall on a
shelf. The finished side of the wall faced
one of the building's outer walls, which
constitutes ArtPace's facade. Koester had
six 34-inch-square windows built into
this wall, set equidistant from each other.
The photographs were mounted on thick
black boards and placed on the shelf so
that they were off-center, yet their scale
and visual rhythm resembled the win-
dows and their placement.
The space's sparseness almost con-
cealed how Koester transformed it. In
fact, concealment was important to the
work; the site-specific installation was
drawn together by the artifice of facades
and the superficiality they may imply.
Koester's formal play of facades corre-
sponded to the content of his photo-
graphic images. There was no visible
narrative connecting the images, yet they
were thematically united by Koester's
examination of the mythical West.
When a place, such as the West, reaches
mythical status it becomes a generalized,
transcendent idea, thereby creating a
huge gap between the actual place and
the fantastical site of the myth, making
the place a site of contention. Koester's
common images-a gray suburbia, a pile
of dirt-provided a ground for the
Koester is known for such investiga-
tions; he has used video and photographs
to interrogate places with complex polit-
ical and social histories. For his carefully
selected images of such complex subjects,
Koester creates a provocative environ-
ment by altering the architecture of the
space, and adding sound or using a blue
filter. The latter is a cinematic tool for
taking night footage during the day; such
artifice also references the American cin-
ema as a myth-making industry.
Unlike his other work, Koester's
images of South Texas are not drawn
together by a similar history or question-
able past. The photograph of Northwood
subdivision depicts the back of a nearly
completed house, its yard a barren field of
filler material. Beyond the house, and to
its right, is the front of an equally new
house; there are shiny sports utility vehi-
cles in the cul-de-sac, and a sign reading
"Northwood Homes Available." Koester
has captured the formative stages of a
subdivision at a point where the fabrica-
tion is still visible and the still-vacant
houses, like empty stage sets, await their
various suburban narratives.
Koester actually did include a movie
set, from John Wayne's 1959 The Alamo,
which was filmed in Brackettville, Texas.
Koester's photograph of this set shows
the parking lot, where two men emerge
from a car with map and camera in sight.
The Alamo facade is not visible; only a
broken-down, adobe-looking wall signi-
fies the location. Since Wayne's film, this
set has existed as a mythical West in over
two hundred media productions, ranging
from films to music videos. The images
of this and the Northwood houses
demonstrate how facades may signify the
face of a myth and what lies behind it-
or how it is constructed.
Koester's two other photos, of a
mother and daughter walking down a
dirt road, and of teenage boys hunting
rabbits, incorporate people. However, as
photographic subjects, they are subsumed
by the dialectical nature of Koester's
images. The image of the hunters may be
considered stereotypical. Yet they were
the nexus of the installation, a corollary
to how Koester uses form to portray his
ideas, which are camouflaged amidst
commonplace stratagems for installation
art (lights, camera, action). Nevertheless,
this just may be the perfect format for
chasing down a myth.
Northwood and Other Locations, 2000
1/5 C prints on MDF
27" x 34.5" each
Photo: Ansen Seale
Courtesy the artist and ArtPace
ARTLIES SUMMER 2000 79
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Kalil, Susie & Bryant, John. Art Lies, Volume 27, Summer 2000, periodical, 2000; Houston, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228057/m1/81/: accessed April 20, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; .