“Replacing the Hut: Dan Graham’s Two-Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube”

Contemporary Art About Architecture
Edited by Isabelle Loring Wallace and Nora Wendl
Ashgate, 2013

Opened to the public in September 1991 and accessible until January 2004, the artist Dan Graham’s Two-Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube was both a usable architectural structure and an installed artwork.  In his initial proposal submitted to Dia, Graham notes that his self-categorized pavilion sculpture “evokes the notion of a rustic hut.”  Conceptually revisiting and structurally revising one of the earliest forms of human building to which numerous architectural theorists have returned over the centuries, Graham participates in the history of architectural origins through the lens of contemporary arts practice.  By positioning such a pavilion sculpture alongside the hut, Graham questions the contemporary viability of architecture’s ideal model of spatial situation, while nonetheless re-invoking an ever-present longing to be secured in place and at home.  But how can the hut, as an historical motif and a material construction representing an intimate relationship between humans and their world, function now in full recognition and acceptance of our disorienting expansions into space?

Returning to one of the first human dwellings in an attempt to create continuity even in the face of discontinuous spatial experiences, Two-Way Mirror Cylinder Inside Cube engages with architecture’s repetitive impulse to situate its material advancements in the context of past constructions and spatial environments.  Yet in acknowledging this impulse, Graham’s structure also challenges the integration of prehistoric legacies and narratives of spatial situation into both modern methods of building and contemporary experiences of global displacement.  Rather than returning to the primordial hut in order to assure an abstract, nostalgic form of situated dwelling materially impossible in the present moment of its invocation, this paper will explore how Graham’s return instead proposes ongoing patterns of return, renewal, revision, and replacement that define current modes of spatial situation.  By bringing together Graham’s pavilion with the historical narratives of architectural origins, the material culture of early hut-building and the material complexities of modern and contemporary architecture, my focus is not on what the hut returns to, but rather the processes by which the return occurs and what those processes offer, both conceptually as well as materially, to present and future dwellers.  I address the ways in which various patterns of return to the primordial hut are initiated and how they continue to operate, arguing that Graham’s pavilion sculpture ultimately activates a process of replacement, in which the function of the hut is no longer to return to a past model of spatially situated dwelling but rather to continuously resituate an event of homecoming, occurring in the present and projected into the future.