Roof shingles, bird cages, rusty window frames, broken lamps, fishtanks, postcards. Most people would look at this collection of items and think “garbage,” but artist Dennis Maher sees beyond this so-called “junk.”
Maher, a professor of architecture at the University of Buffalo, has always been interested in how art and architecture relate to demolition, renovation, and restoration. And so, in 2009 he purchased an abandoned property from D’Youville College.
What started as a small reconstruction project soon turned into a full-fledged quest for re-use. The interior structures of the house have grown so much that the house has practically become a living organism.So what is it like living in a space that is constantly growing and adapting? Find out after the break!
As Maher shared with us, it all began when he was first searching through his house: “The items that I found in the house were household objects which I began to build into the walls, floors, and ceilings. Over time, I accrued other objects, such as dollhouses, model train houses, and cast-aside furnishings. These were then turned into other aggregates: miniature cityscapes, landforms, and other surreal environments.”
As the project progressed, he started scavenging flea markets, dumpsters, and thrift shops for materials to add to the structures on the walls and ceilings. Even Maher’s neighbors got into the act, contributing to the project by dropping off their old items on his front porch.
Even with the hundreds of objects and sculptures covering almost every surface, the house still has an organization to it. When Maher finds an object, he adds it to the spot that he finds most fitting. For example, old chests, screens, and closet parts are installed in the Wardrobe Room. The Entertainment Core holds the entertainment center. The Room for the Image and Reflected Image’s walls are covered with mirrors, cigar boxes, postcards, and medicine cabinets. Therefore, a room in Maher’s house is never actually complete, but will instead always be added to and manipulated.
Maher’s goal is to create a practice that combines art, architecture, and civic activism. This unique mindset led him to be chosen as Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s 2012-2013 Artist-in-Residence. For his Artist-in-Residence project, House of Collective Repair, Maher invited local tradespeople from the demolition and construction industries to his house and explained his process of renovation to them. He then had them create small sculptures using the materials of their trade, ranging from wood, glass, masonry, and roofing materials. Maher incorporated these sculptures into his own installation that is on view at the House of Collective Repair.
Buildings are owned by different companies; houses adapt with their various residents; the function of rooms is subject to change. However, Maher’s evolving house is an example of a dynamic architecture taken to its extreme. He has developed his own renovation process of constant addition , designing not for the present, but for the future.