Playing house: artist Ian Strange creates an eerie portrait of American suburbia
From 2011 to 2013, the Brooklyn-based artist Ian Strange artistically defaced abandoned houses across the United States – in Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Alabama, New Hampshire and New York – documenting each one to create ’Suburban’, a cinematic photo and video installation now on view in Standard Practice’s pop-up exhibition space in Lower Manhattan.
Originally from Australia, Strange searched for houses that had a certain iconic quality to them, embodying his outsider’s perspective of the suburban American Dream. He then painted, burned and spray painted images on the homes (with permission of the local communities) to visually ‘archive the emotions of the people who lived in them’. The resulting series of eight houses has an eerie, post-apocalyptic quality to it, reminiscent of the Southern Gothic style as popularly depicted in True Detective or Cormac McCarthy’s novels. However, Strange didn’t choose the sites to make a statement on rural America; rather, he selected them for their specific architectural features and his ability to obtain permission to use them.
Strange’s process began with sketching and drawing on paper, gathering inspiration from each home’s surroundings. ‘I like to paint on the houses – it’s a conscious act on the house,’ he says. ‘Painting the house one colour makes it lose its specificity and compresses it into one giant object.’ When explaining why he opted to burn two of the houses to the ground, Strange says, ‘It was the final work for this series. The other houses could still function as homes, even though they were painted; I wanted to offset that aesthetic destruction with a literal destruction.’
Combined with the poetic quality of filming and photographing the isolated houses, ‘Suburban’ challenges the standard view of the home as a permanent structure by exposing its vulnerabilities.