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Robert C. Tannen | BOX-CITY


Exhibition Dates: Feb 07, 2020—May 16, 2020

Robert C. Tannen | BOX-CITY

As the images accompanying these words attest, the concept of home permeates most of Tannen’s work. He posits home as a literal and figurative shelter where people develop a sense of self and purpose, but he is deeply troubled by how unsustainable society’s current notion of home is. His response is a utopian and experimental one that recognizes the greater efficiency of living in more dense urban configurations. In a future with more people and less to go around, greater efficiency will be important because it will leave more resources to sustain human endeavors and the various natural ecologies upon which we depend. With this in mind, BOX-CITY is a largely interactive exhibition using cardboard boxes as to-scale models that allow museum visitors to explore Tannen’s forward-looking urban design concepts as they relate to collaboration and civic discourse.

BOX-CITY, the monumental work of art for which the exhibition is titled will consist primarily of sixty 40” x 48” x 96” triple wall boxes visitors can use to create their own three-story metropolis. Each box represents a home unit and their interchangeability allows for a great deal of flexibility, leaving the possibility for individuality to manifest itself in urban planning instead of rigid homogeneity. While standardized, it is comforting that Tannen sees citizens as empowered to impact their environment insofar as it respects the needs of the collective. As a result, BOX-CITY is apt to drastically change aesthetics depending on who is interacting with it; sometimes resembling containers stacked with precision on a cargo ship, other times the chaotic and romanticized sprawl of pre-Haussmann Paris, and still other times a Minecraft-like world that walks the line between organic and geometric.

Cardboard is a versatile, relatable material and Tannen’s BOX-CITY positions it as something rife with metaphor and as a potential building material. If treated with a protective coating, cardboard could be a light-weight and weather-proof alternative to other heavier and less sustainable materials. At once a potential solution to a problem, cardboard is also frequently associated with storm debris. In a world with more frequent and severe storms, Tannen’s use of it at a monumental scale underscores the sheer size and importance of better understanding how our decisions impact mankind’s ability to survive in the future.

—Hilliard Art Museum