Last weekend, a house in Burlington’s New North End was transformed into an art installation. Mary Zompetti, the artist behind the “House/Home Project,” had been working on a series of photographs of her home when a colleague suggested hanging the photos on her walls to get a new perspective on them. Zompetti, who says she often advises her photography students at Champlain College to “live” with their work when they’re unsure of its direction, decided to install the photographic series in her house, which she plans to sell this summer.
“After I arrived home from our meeting, I walked in the door, packed my living room, immediately, and began to consider the ways in which I could use that space to view the work,” Zompetti explains in an email. “Rather than simply hanging prints for viewing as originally intended (as one would do in a studio space), the project evolved into a more complex, site-specific installation.”
And so last Friday Zompetti opened her home to the public to experience it. “House/Home Project” showed art and also turned the rooms themselves into artworks, employing the architecture and furniture along with photographs of same.
In Zompetti’s sunny living room, for instance, a large, black-and-white photograph of a sunbeam, tiled across smaller sheets, was laid out on the carpet where the original photograph had been taken. At first, it was hard to tell the photo from the phenomenon it recorded. “There is a considered dialogue between the work placed in the physical space of the house itself and the viewer’s interactions and observations,” Zompetti writes. The locations of her photos in the house often echoed an occurrence there — overlaying a recorded “memory” of the space on its current reality.
Zompetti is interested in how viewers experience art, and in what she calls “tension” between the moment when an image was captured and the moment when a viewer sees it — between “the act of visual observation and the inevitable inflection of personal experience.” It’s as if the photograph connects the photographer’s and the viewers’ respective moments in time.
Large photographs of the living room window, which looks out on a serene suburban street, were tiled across two walls of the living room. Beside the window — again, where the photos were taken — hung a column of smaller photographs of the potted plants that used to grow on the windowsill, and the soft curtains that fell around them. The actual curtains remained, further emphasizing the absence of the plants and — more pointedly — the absence of the home’s inhabitants. In the kitchen, a photograph of a fridge surrounded by the homey clutter of a lived-in kitchen hung on the cleared surface of the same fridge in the image. The contrast between the photograph and the kitchen seemed one of presence versus absence, of memory versus present experience.
Zompetti’s exhibition consisted of more than photographs of the house. In two rooms, she blackened the windows, allowing light in only through a small hole. In this way she made the rooms into cameras obscura, protophotographic image-making devices. Through her simple apparatus, the sunny outside world was projected upside-down on the walls of the darkened rooms. In one, the inverted house of a neighbor gained eerie clarity as the viewer’s eyes adjusted to the darkness. In another, a row of spindly trees became a lacy wainscoting in the room’s half-light. The inversion of interior and exterior space made the walls of the house seem conceptual and meditative instead of comfortingly solid and familiar.
In a corner of her basement, Zompetti projected an image taken in one of the camera-obscura rooms, further fragmenting her house into conceptual “rooms” that were themselves artworks. On another basement wall, a video work depicted an oscillating row of rainbow discs bobbing toward a bright white dot — the camera obscura’s projection seen from another angle. Zompetti calls the beautiful phenomena she recorded in the video “a happy surprise,” observed on her last night living in the house.
Up a narrow set of stairs, the angular-ceilinged attic space housed an installation on one side and two serene photographs on the other. One photograph seemed to record the light cast from a nearby window, installed in the place where the sunlight would fall, as with the floor photograph in the living room. Beside it hung a tiled photograph of rumpled bedsheets bathed in a soft, even light.
Across the room, a wine-colored, velvet antique sofa presided over an oblong rectangle of scattered photographs. All around the sofa and the photos, a web of fishing line stretched in wild diagonals across the space. This network of silvery lines prevented anyone from entering the area, and contrasted with the plush texture and warm color of the sofa and images. The work seemed to represent the impossibility of diving into the comfortable certainty of the past, perhaps suggesting that nostalgia is a trap.
While the obvious content of the photographs might have been “home,” Zompetti’s ambitious installation raised compelling questions about art installation and viewership. As with the couch in the attic blocked by illuminated lines, we can’t return to Zompetti’s installation, but it lives on as both a memory and a fresh idea.