Dennis Maher Plumbs the Embedded Life of Stuff

<em>Common Cosmos: 287 F-14853</em>, by Buffalo artist and architect Dennis Maher (B.Arch. '99) on display in Sibley Dome.
Common Cosmos: 287 F-14853, by Buffalo artist and architect Dennis Maher (B.Arch. '99) on display in Sibley Dome.
A close-up view of the installation.
A close-up view of the installation.
An overhead view of the installation.
An overhead view of the installation.
Looking inside the installation.
Looking inside the installation.
A view from the mezzanine in Sibley Dome, showing the supporting joist for <em>Common Cosmos.</em>
A view from the mezzanine in Sibley Dome, showing the supporting joist for Common Cosmos.
Maher with his installation.
Maher with his installation.
Installation view
Installation view
Visiting Critic Alessandra Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable, in the John Hartell Gallery.
Visiting Critic Alessandra Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable, in the John Hartell Gallery.
Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable.
Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable.
Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable.
Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable.
James Blair and Mia Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space, in John Hartell Gallery.
James Blair and Mia Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space, in John Hartell Gallery.
Blair and Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space.
Blair and Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space.
Blair and Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space.
Blair and Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space.
Hybrid Prints exhibition in the Bibliowicz Family Gallery.
Hybrid Prints exhibition in the Bibliowicz Family Gallery.
Hybrid Prints exhibition.
Hybrid Prints exhibition.
Professor Jean Locey's photo processes class exhibition in Tjaden Hall.
Professor Jean Locey's photo processes class exhibition in Tjaden Hall.
Locey's photo processes class exhibition.
Locey's photo processes class exhibition.
Martin Hogue's 925,000 Campsites exhibited in John Hartell Gallery.
Martin Hogue's 925,000 Campsites exhibited in John Hartell Gallery.
Professor Mark Cruvellier's structural systems class examined the 3D structural systems used in buildings.
Professor Mark Cruvellier's structural systems class examined the 3D structural systems used in buildings.
Structural Systems exhibition in the John Hartell Gallery.
Structural Systems exhibition in the John Hartell Gallery.
M.F.A. group exhibition in Tjaden and Experimental galleries.
M.F.A. group exhibition in Tjaden and Experimental galleries.
M.F.A. group exhibition.
M.F.A. group exhibition.
B.F.A. Thesis Exhibition in Tjaden and Experimental galleries.
B.F.A. Thesis Exhibition in Tjaden and Experimental galleries.
Common Cosmos: 287 F-14853, by Buffalo artist and architect Dennis Maher (B.Arch. '99) on display in Sibley Dome. A close-up view of the installation. An overhead view of the installation. Looking inside the installation. A view from the mezzanine in Sibley Dome, showing the supporting joist for Common Cosmos. Maher with his installation. Installation view Visiting Critic Alessandra Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable, in the John Hartell Gallery. Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable. Cianchetta's exhibition titled Vers un climat: Building (with) the Unstable. James Blair and Mia Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space, in John Hartell Gallery. Blair and Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space. Blair and Kang's exhibition, titled Sound of Space. Hybrid Prints exhibition in the Bibliowicz Family Gallery. Hybrid Prints exhibition. Professor Jean Locey's photo processes class exhibition in Tjaden Hall. Locey's photo processes class exhibition. Martin Hogue's 925,000 Campsites exhibited in John Hartell Gallery. Professor Mark Cruvellier's structural systems class examined the 3D structural systems used in buildings. Structural Systems exhibition in the John Hartell Gallery. M.F.A. group exhibition in Tjaden and Experimental galleries. M.F.A. group exhibition. B.F.A. Thesis Exhibition in Tjaden and Experimental galleries.
News
October 10, 2013

Dennis Maher (B.Arch. ’99) likes to surround himself with castoffs of the inhabited world.

His home in Buffalo, New York, The Fargo House, is an ongoing installation project and archaeological dig, filled with objects Maher has selectively collected, including birdcages, dollhouses, jewelry boxes, and globes.

“Most of them are house-like in nature or are fragments of pre-existing houses,” he says. “[Their] outsides conceal a marvelous interior, as well as the residue of worn-out insides.”

He combines architectural and artistic practice in the house and its satellite exhibition Common Cosmos: 287 F – 14213, an installation in Sibley Dome through Dec. 20.

“I think about this as an architectural project — I am interested in how we live with and think about artifacts, and how they can suggest new kinds of spaces,” Maher says. “I work with objects in order to make us aware of the latent qualities of matter — history, surface texture, use values, and color. I joke sometimes that I wanted to be a painter, but I don't paint. Instead, I produce new images of the world with matter.”

More than 15 feet tall, the central sculpture of Common Cosmos resembles a 3D exploded-view diagram of the contents of a storage locker or barn: Pieces of chairs and tables; globes cut open to hold books and small knickknacks; a tabletop umbrella, a parachute, a trampoline, and various household, architectural, and industrial elements Maher has scrounged.

His primary interest, he says, is “the embeddedness in objects — there’s knowledge, and labor, and there’s time, and there’s energy.”

By combining, recombining and situating these random elements, Maher is investigating not only where they came from, but their potential to inform our imagination of houses and of cities.

“The context of Buffalo has so actively influenced how I think about the work. It’s a city where the forces of demolition are so often pitted against the forces of preservation,” he says. “It’s almost like the scene of a battle, and the creative life of matter has to engage in the reality of everyday use. Preservation often wants to isolate and freeze something. I’m interested in drawing the life out of things.”

Built before 1900, Maher’s Fargo House was slated for demolition when he bought it from the city in 2009. Over the past four years he has transformed it, uncovering layers, cutting into its walls, ceilings and floors and attaching objects to them.

There’s “a room for books; a wardrobe room; a gallery room with folding screens and such,” he says. “I started to think about how living in that house might engage the life of objects; to reconcile the animate nature of things … I try to think of the house as living tissue.”

The installation includes smaller pieces, self-contained environments and microcosms of their own. One sculpture incorporates sieves and metal bowls — “pieces I thought would help me with the relationship with the dome at a larger scale,” Maher says.

“I think the work has a voice, a character and an intensity that’s really unique and visible,” AAP Dean Kent Kleinman says. “He has an understanding of how the details of the city — a city like Detroit, a city like Buffalo – can be rebuilt and reimagined in a spectacular way.”

Associate professor of architecture John Zissovici curated the exhibition; Maher’s students at the University at Buffalo and Danny Salomon (B.Arch. ’12) assisted with the installation.

By Daniel Aloi, Cornell Chronicle