Catherine Wilmes: Identity Crisis

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White architectural models on a flat white surface.

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Exhibition Description

Identity Crisis explores new approaches to architectural elements by surveying Ithaca's built environment and proposing a series of eight artifacts derived from photographic documentation. Discrete components such as doors, windows, gutters, vents, and chimneys were analyzed, disassembled, and reassembled to produce novel building components. These hybrids begin to speculate on the possibility of new cultural and technical functions.

In his essay "Betwixt and Between," anthropologist Victor Turner has shown that various indigenous societies used a method of "componential exaggeration" to estrange everyday objects and employ them as didactic tools for the young to learn from. He argued that the deformed statues and objects that certain indigenous societies used, like the American Omaha, were made to have their youth question fundamental notions of beauty, courage, danger, and leadership.

Similarly, the eight designs shown here, along with the student work of the seminars Translating Elements of Architecture from fall 2022 and Mixed Mannerisms from fall 2023 aspire to be didactic tools for students of architecture to question our aesthetic assumptions when it comes to assembling building elements. The artifacts are understood less as end products than processes of collective questioning using methods of photographic, formal, scalar, programmatic, and semantic manipulation.


Design Teaching Fellow Catherine Wilmes is an architectural designer invested in the discipline's relationship with contemporary art and photography. Her work revolves around investigating the built environment through a photographic lens and perceptual analysis. She has practiced in architectural offices in New York City, focusing on residential and educational projects at multiple scales, including master planning, building design, interior architecture, and furniture. She specializes in adaptive reuse and has completed projects throughout the United States, Brazil, and China.

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