To be in on the "joke" that Keith Krumwiede lays forth in Freedomland, a biting architectural satire on display at the Woodbury University Hollywood Gallery (WUHO) gallery in Hollywood through 19 February, a little American history goes a long way. Specifically, one must remember (and does remember, with some prodding from an introductory text hanging at the gallery entrance) that under the Land Ordinance of 1785, America was to be divided by grids into square townships of six miles per side, each containing 36 one-mile square sections of 640 acres. To demonstrate the tongue-in-cheek tone of the show, I quote directly from the introductory text: "This grid, the framework for Thomas Jefferson's vision of a rural democratic society of citizen farmers but also a great game board of rampant real estate speculation, provides the underlying structure for Freedomland, a new settlement model that reconciles resurgent dreams for an agrarian urbanism with long-habituated domestic appetites, it now being fully established by learned persons, and increasingly acknowledged by laypersons, that our current settlement patterns are both unlovely and unsustainable." In other words, Krumwiede, who is current assistant dean at Yale School of Architecture, sets off to both solve and repeat the problems of the housing bubble with a series of housing "squares".
But first, I'd like to set the scene of Freedomland's opening night. WUHO gallery is just blocks from the Hollywood Walk of Fame; an area that is perhaps the closest thing Los Angeles has to Times Square. Here, weirdos rub shoulders with tourists, and grown men dressed as Spiderman rub shoulders with Michael Jackson impersonators. So while most people who showed up at WUHO that evening did so because they meant to, others just walked in on a whim, drunk on the excitement of previous blocks and in search of complimentary champagne. By the expressions on their faces, it was clear that those few stragglers found themselves unable to place quite what they were looking at. And I can't help but think that, in their confusion, they actually got the "point" of Freedomland even more than those of us who came to the show having read the press release. Freedomland is designed to make you scratch your head – and not just over the show itself, but over that which it parodies.
Abstracted from its strong architectural premise, Krumwiede's show could be regarded as art. For one thing, it is highly graphic (as in grid, as in diagram): on the walls, one sees a series of square sheets, with square contents, symbolizing square footages, in varying shades of greens and greys. On a visual level, the show is a monotone kaleidoscope of repeating shapes. This, of course, ties directly into to the conceptual force of Freedomland. Krumwiede's proposal to reshape America – spiritually, physically, financially – boils down to reshaping it… cubically. Essentially, Krumwiede suggests remodeling America's squares into different squares, as a modern riff on Thomas Jefferson's vision, reconfigured to fit the best of rural, urban and suburban life all into one grid.
The squares on the walls of WUHO, then, are mostly plans – architectural plans, as well as plans for the future. Very cleverly, they are also plans built off of existing plans: Krumwiede uses the real-life house plans of some of America's biggest luxury homebuilders as the building blocks for his reconfigurations. Krumwiede's strategy is a neat mash-up of contradictions: it adheres to the "irrefutable truths" that local food (rurality) is good, that urban living is good, and that the luxuries of suburbia are good, too. Freedomland takes a jab at two competing stereotypes of America: the "have your cake and eat it" stereotype, and the "have you cake, but only eat it if it's fair-trade" stereotype. Freedomland weds these two crude representations and gives them a flag to fly above their "one-size-fits-all" neighborhood. To really drive home the absurdist angle of Freedomland, Krumwiede also sneaks the following "ordinance" into his proposal, toward the end of the introductory text: "Taking advantage of the increasingly short life span of our houses and in a manner similar to crop rotation, the entire estate, including the dwellings, which are dismantled and rebuilt, rotates counterclockwise every twenty years, completing a full rotation after eighty years. This has the positive effect of providing each resident, at regular intervals, with a new home that is exactly the same as their old home."
I talk to Krumwiede at the opening, and he tells me that several of his colleagues have begged the question: Are you serious? "Well, no, I'm not. But also, yes I am," says Krumwiede, further adding to the Beckett-ness of his smart exhibition. Again, I think it's worth repeating that part of Krumwiede's proposal includes residents rotating counterclockwise every twenty years to "change the scenery" a bit with exactly the same scenery. Then again, Krumwiede points out that his plans are influenced by the designs of some of the greats – "that one there is Frank Lloyd Wright, that one is Le Corbusier…" and so on. Well, that's the nature of satire, isn't it? To make us cry, "ridiculous!" at the very things that are most familiar to us. Perhaps the most striking part of Freedomland is that it's not all that outlandish. After all, the sight inside of WUHO gallery is not unlike the sight from the window of a Los-Angeles bound plane flying from New York City: one cranes the neck to see a series of square sheets, with square contents, in varying shades of greens and greys. Katya Tylevich
Keith Krumwiede: Freedomland
Woodbury University Hollywood Gallery
Through 19 February 2012