Toy stories

By GREG COOK  |  May 28, 2008

Ten local emerging architecture and design firms have collaborated on “PARTI WALL, HANGING GREEN,” a “prototype green wall” on a five-story factory-turned-condo-building at 90 Wareham Street. The project is explained in a companion exhibit (which includes illustrations of the firms’ past projects) that’s up through June 6 across the street at pinkcomma gallery (81B Wareham Street, Boston). With the American Institute of Architects holding their national convention here in May, the gang wanted to do something to attract notice and show that Boston design has gotten hip. So they hung a grid of sedum (a stubby ground cover) panels from cables off the side of the brick building, to demonstrate how to green up blank partition walls in neighborhoods that are almost entirely paved over. And, in the process, “provide visual relief, color, and texture, as well as a range of ecological benefits including insulation, acoustic improvements, the reduction of storm-water runoff, and the mitigation of the heat-island effect.” Oh and “improve air quality.” That would be terrific, but it seems a tall order for what’s here, which looks like a lame aerial checkerboard of old carpet samples. It’s a start, I suppose. The organizers have no plans to measure the project’s ecological benefits, but I’m told it has demonstrated how such installations can be hung.

The Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery (539 Tremont Street) has up through June 15 “ARTADIA BOSTON 2007,” with the work of nine Boston-area artists or collectives who won the inaugural round of Boston art grants from the New York–based Artadia foundation. It’s a good mix of conceptual and visual art, though the show has more potential than payoff. Among the best stuff are Hannah Barrett’s paintings, which mix-and-match Civil War–era photo portraits to make witty weird male-female hybrids. The paintings mull gender and sexuality, but mostly they intrigue as freak-show personalities.

There’s also a pair of conceptual projects among the highlights, but they’re left underexplained. John Osorio-Buck’s U7K55: Sustainable Kiosk System looks like a coffee stand (with attached greenhouse) for the Apocalypse. It’s as if Joseph Beuys weren’t just trying to heal our psychic wounds but were aiming to provide actual disaster relief.

The National Bitter Melon Council (Hiroko Kikuchi, Jeremy Chi-Ming Liu, Misa Saburi, and Andi Sutton), meanwhile, poses as a product advocacy group while attempting to build community by sharing bitter melon, a common food among the city’s Asian-Americans. These folks transform the gallery office into their, uh, corporate headquarters and invite visitors to take a melon from a pile and leave something of equal value in exchange. People have left money, a pencil sharpener, shopping coupons, business cards, train passes, and a napkin with a phone number scribbled on it. A theme vaguely emerges of artists pursuing new social engagements, new sexualities, new ways to save the world at a moment when everything from our wars to the economy has gone to shit and it seems we have to help one another because our leaders have let us down.

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