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Using Houses as a Medium: The Work of Ian Strange

Artists are always pushing the boundaries of what they can create with and the work of Ian Strange is no exception; in fact it’s a shining example of the idea. Strange uses houses as a medium, through which he explores and alters the idea of home. Working in addition, subtraction, construction, and destruction, Strange breaks down spaces and presents his projects in a variety of means. While archival photography and film are the primary means of displaying his site specific work, Strange has a distinguished artistic touch and regularly mixes things link drawing, painting, and sculpture into his exhibits. These exhibitions are the culmination of his projects and he is a master at displaying the experience of what he and the teams behind his projects have done. There is more to Strange’s work than just painting a house or cutting a whole, there’s an exploration of architecture, space, and an idea that exists in everyone’s head, “home.”

One of Strange’s breakout bodies of work was his series Suburban, which was created across six U.S. states and seeks to destroy and re-present the icon of the suburban home. The project is created by either painting homes or burning them to the ground. When the homes were painted, Strange and his team used bold colors and shapes to flatten out the homes, make them stand out, and destroy the common understanding of the icon while still allowing it to exist in a new manner. When they were burned it was both literally and figuratively a total destruction. However, the documenting and presenting of the acts is what makes these experiments so fascinating. The work was presented as a collection of photographs and videos with accents of a few sculptural pieces, but this is where that alteration of “home” becomes so strong. The painted homes were displayed in clear suburban settings which amplified the alterations and made them stand out in a rather unsettling manner. While the display of the burned homes was more focused on the home itself, that feeling of unrest reigns across these as Strange selects photos that still clearly illustrate a house fighting to stand through the flames. The idea of home and the quiet, easy suburbs is one that exists in most people and the destruction of that understanding is what makes these photos and videos so striking and fascinating.

Following the success of Suburban, Strange looked to push his work even further as he took another ambitious step in altering the idea of home with his series Final Act. In the wake of a brutal earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, Strange and filmmaker Alun ‘Albol’ Bollinger went into the areas “Red Zone,” where nearly 16,000 homes were abandoned and scheduled for demolition, and manipulated four homes to create a new series of photos and videos. While similar in nature, Suburban and Final Act are very different in their outlooks. Final Act shows houses that have had large portions cut away and then had light flushed through the holes. The series has a calming feel to it, a sense of positivity reigns through every photo because although the houses feel broken, light prevails. The sentiment of this series and the positivity that’s shown through the images was necessary for the local community as many of them had lost their homes, their understanding of home had been destroyed, but Strange presented the idea that there may be light in that destruction.

In the 7 years since these two series were created, Strange has pushed his work in so many different and fascinating directions. There’s so much to digest with this artist and the bodies of work that he creates. The alteration of an object is an interesting concept, but when the alteration can be documented and displayed in a way that evokes an individual experience for every viewer, then it becomes something more. This is where the work of Ian Strange stands out because the concepts of what he’s doing alone are interesting, but the beautiful and immersive exhibitions that he creates with the documentations of his experiments is masterful.

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