Art & Art History
With Reasonable Accommodation
For his installation piece With Reasonable Accommodation, Stephen Lapthisophon incorporates a multitude of elements, including sound, vibration, sculptural intrusions, ladders, architectural details, ramps, obstacles, images, and signage. The installation, exhibited in the twelfth year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, underscores the efficiencies and inefficiencies of our collective response to issues of disability and access. Based on Lapthisophon ’s memory of the old wheelchair lift in the lobby outside of the Gallery 400 space, the exhibition places the viewers in the role of the impaired, constraining their movements and inhibiting their understanding of modern art.
Lisa Wainwright wrote in her essay, “Found Objects and the Art of Steven Lapthisophon:”
Found object art is uncanny in that it is both familiar (a recognizable thing from the everyday world) and unfamiliar (the thing retooled as art and presented in a gallery). The beauty of this fluctuation between the familiar and unfamiliar, the real and the imaginary, is compounded by the manner in which the ordinary is displayed. At Gallery 400, Lapthisophon choreographs our encounter with cardboard boxes, ramps, walkers, coiled electrical cords, and appropriated art. We trip across things, strain to see images, and maneuver around obstacles and situations throughout the space. It is all rather unsettling, if not ludicrous.
The exhibition was accompanied by a panel discussion with Andrew Metter, Annex/5 Architects, Chicago; Joshua Flanders, Chicago Institute for the Moving Image; and David Mitchell, Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago.
With Reasonable Accommodation was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2002 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago
Found Objects and the Art of Stephen Lapthisophon
Ever since Marcel Duchamp nailed a common coat rack to the floor (Trap, 1917), destabilizing our viewing orientation and undermining the aura of authenticity, artists who traffic in the world of everyday fare have sought out unusual framing devices for the display of their readymade goods. Stephen Lapthisophon is one of these artists who negotiates real things in real space. His work has always involved a kind of interrogation of everyday existence and found objects as well as found text often serve as the most suitable palette.
Found object art is uncanny in that it is both familiar (a recognizable thing from the everyday world) and unfamiliar (the thing retooled as art and presented in a gallery). The beauty of this fluctuation between the familiar and unfamiliar, the real and the imaginary, is compounded by the manner in which the ordinary is displayed. At Gallery 400, Lapthisophon choreographs our encounter with cardboard boxes, ramps, walkers, coiled electrical cords, and appropriated art. We trip across things, strain to see images, and maneuver around obstacles and situations throughout the space. It is all rather unsettling, if not ludicrous. Most of the work functions as a metonym, referring to a system of objects drawn from a registry of disability aids. And this is the catch, for Lapthisophon is legally blind and the work is about addressing sensory deprivation and its phenomenological impact. But what is interesting is how Lapthisophon transgresses the border between private and public by skipping between personal disclosure and social commentary. He wishes to speak to the problems of handicapped apparatus, which is often inconvenient or difficult to use, but ultimately he addresses larger questions about human access—sensory, spatial, and intellectual.
The project began with Lapthisophon ’s memories of exhibitions at Gallery 400 and the recurring image of the clunky wheelchair lift stationed outside in the lobby. For Lapthisophon, the contraption became an emblem of the disabled: dusty, cobwebbed, and out of place. But it also recalled a minimalist box, Tony Smith ’s Die, for instance. From here, the twin engines that drive Lapthisophon ’s process, the act of quotation and art historical association, revved into gear. He took actual disability aids and made them pointless. They became sculpture. He tackled social issues about handicapped experience, but extrapolated through a nod to post-minimal sculpture, engaging issues of space, site, and subject-object relations.
So at Gallery 400, a series of handicapped ramps end up going nowhere. Big cardboard boxes, decked out with wires and audio equipment, a reference to reading aids for the blind, emit garbled text. An aluminum walker dangles ineffectually from the ceiling above, and enlarged prints of Andy Warhol ’s dance patterns, guides for the “dancing impaired,” steer the viewer straight into columns or dead-ends. In all of this, Lapthisophon free associates between industrial production and sculpture. The ramps look like Robert Morris pieces and the cardboard boxes like Warhol ’s three-dimensional work. The walker mimics the Art Institute of Chicago’s famous Duchamp hat rack hovering in gallery 242 and the dance patterns are appropriated art about appropriation, transformed into minimalist queries on the nature of moving this way and that. Throughout, Lapthisophon uses the language of art history to “fiddle with an idea,” as he puts it. Lapthisophon refers to Minimalism to underscore the precarious nature of the body in space, he uses Pop Art ’s reliance on an increasingly artificial culture to address the nature of the prosthesis, and he culls from Duchamp ’s conceptual game-playing in order to reinforce how meaning always relies on temporal and spatial contexts. Indeed, the hanging walker as a double of Duchamp ’s hat rack suggests how the notion of a handicapped audience extends beyond the physically disabled to include the conceptually impaired—in this case, our inability to understand modern art. (Duchamp ’s work is certainly one the most perplexing objects for Art Institute viewers.) Lapthisophon suggests that negotiating our way around things is matched only by the difficulty of negotiating knowledge of a thing. Slippage is on all fronts. There are some who can ’t see, there are some who can ’t walk, and there are many more who can ’t know. Against the constraints of our various cultural systems—the mechanisms of power implicit in language, design, and art—we bump and stumble, trying to navigate and narrate a proper course.
With Reasonable Accommodation is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago, and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.
Special thanks to the jury that selected the 2002 At the Edge projects: Derek Fansler (artist and co-director of Suitable Gallery, Chicago), Steve Reinke (artist and UIC faculty member), Julie Rodriques (Curatorial Assistant, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago), James Rondeau (Acting Director, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, Art Institute of Chicago) and Lorelei Stewart (Director, Gallery 400).
With Reasonable Accommodation
An At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago project
October 29–November 9, 2002
Opening Reception: October 30, 2002, 4-7 pm
Panel Discussion: November 6, 2002, 5 pm
Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois at Chicago presents With Reasonable Accommodation, an installation piece by Stephen Lapthisophon.
“In marking 12 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Lapthisophon’s project incorporates sound, vibration, sculptural intrusions, ladders, architectural details, ramps, obstacles, images, and signage, underscoring the efficiencies and inefficiencies of our collective response to issues of disability and access,” said Lorelei Stewart, Director of Gallery 400.
Lapthisophon is an MFA graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has exhibited widely since 1977. Some selected exhibitions include The Public Art Show at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (1986); not/knot, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago (1993); Con/textual, Chicago Cultural Center (2001); and Sculpture in Chicago Now, Part 2, Columbia College, Chicago (2002). He has had solo exhibitions at Artists Space, New York (1982); TBA Exhibition Space, Chicago (2000); and the University of Texas at Dallas (2002). Earlier this year, he received an Art Council Award.
The project is the fourth part of the semester-long series At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago, which includes six one-person or artist-curated exhibitions. At the Edge unveils newly created works that are difficult to show in commercial spaces but extend a working artist’s practice and push the boundaries of art experimentation.
With Reasonable Accommodation, 2002
Mixed media installation
Stephen Lapthisophon has exhibited widely since 1977. He has had solo exhibitions at Artists Space, New York; TBA Exhibition Space, Chicago; and the University of Texas at Dallas. His work was also included in The Public Art Show at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; not/knot, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Con/textual, Chicago Cultural Center; and Sculpture in Chicago Now, Part 2, Columbia College, Chicago. Lapthisophon received an Art Council Award in 2002. Whitewalls published his book Hotel Terminus in 2001. His soundtrack the bells was released in 2003. Lapthisophon received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.