The Rice Gallery’s last installation, “Intersections,” used only a cube and light bulb to fill a blank, white room with transient shadows. The space was so empty that it echoed. In great contrast, the gallery’s newest installation, Thorsten Brinkmann’s “The Great Cape Rinderhorn” fills the same space with an absurd and eclectic collection of used objects, from canes to a giant plaster bull’s horn to plastic vegetables.
The choice to employ pre-used objects in the installation is an exploration of Brinkmann’s experiences with consumer culture.
“In Europe people don’t keep things very long anymore, it’s more kind of a one-way culture,” Brinkmann said. “If you go to poorer countries you will see that they reuse objects much more than we do.”
These objects are repurposed in surprising ways as wall hangings and sculpture components. In this way, they transcend their retro and kitsch associations. Still, in their employ they create a rather domestic space, including a bedroom which can be accessed only by crawling through an Alice-in-Wonderland miniature hallway. At times, it begins to feel only one bizarre step from interior decoration, which fits well with one of Brinkmann’s recent projects, the interior of a four-story house in Pittsburgh. The careful curation of each object is incredible. They’re even skillfully arranged behind curtains and underneath furniture, inviting the viewer to peek and interact.
The space is fantastical, quaint, vibrant. Brinkmann’s high-saturation self-portraits and still lifes hang on the papered walls. In his self-portraits, which he creates using a camera with a timer, parts of his body are obscured by the same sort of “junk” objects that fill the installation as he parodies traditional styles of painting. The still life photos swap out the traditional fruit and flowers for the same used objects, which are often to a degree decayed.
The tongue-in-cheek photos rebel against highly respected canonized art and artists.
“I never was a big a fan of holiness in art,” Brinkmann said.
One component of the charm of “The Great Cape Rinderhorn” is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Inside the crate is a makeshift movie theater, the projector playing a film showing Brinkmann’s process of taking the self-portraits that fill the installation. He poses regally beneath and on top of a chair, a trash can on his head. The film stutters in a silent film fashion which adds to the slapstick feel.
This silliness extends into a more general sense of fun and play. I took a friend with me to the installation, who admitted that he is not usually interested in art. The moment we entered the lobby, his eyes lit up in disbelief at the contents of the gallery. By the time we left, his perception of art had changed completely and he couldn’t stop talking about the installation.
“I like the idea that people can sit on it, that they can walk through, that their experience is with the whole body, that you use all your senses, and if you want to see the whole installation you have to do it,” Brinkmann said.
I think that’s one of the most remarkable things about “The Great Cape Rinderhorn.” The way it makes you engage with it forces you to open up — you have to crouch, sit, crawl and poke your head through holes if you want to experience the instillation in full. For those who are not able, there are a few small video monitors and an iPad tour that feature the less accessible areas of the installation. Watching other visitors in the space, it became apparent that the delight my friend felt was not a singular experience.
In fact, the other visitors told me what they thought about the installation — I didn’t even have to ask.
“That’s the thing about the crate ... [With] a lot of people inside, they start to talk a lot, it become a social space,” Brinkmann said. “You have to communicate to get through the tunnel somehow.”
Visitors encouraged each other to explore the rest of the installation, pointed out interesting pieces, laughed together, asked questions and provided explanations. In this way, you become part of the environment, a guest or resident of this eccentric home.
“The Great Cape Rinderhorn” will be on view until May 15. The Rice Gallery’s hours are 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. Thursday and 12 - 5 p.m. Sunday. It’s a great experience even for those who are “not usually interested in art,” but be sure to come dressed to crawl so you can see all the installation has to offer.