Castle Hill on the Crane Estate
TunnelTeller, Alicja Kwade’s first large-scale, site-specific installation in the U.S., signifies her growing reputation stateside after a recent Public Art Fund project in Central Park and a solo exhibition at 303 Gallery in New York. The Polish artist is the third participant in the Art & the Landscape initiative sponsored by The Trustees (an organization committed to preserving sites of cultural, historic, and natural significance in and around Massachusetts). Launched in 2016 with independent curator Pedro Alonzo, the program brings contemporary art to these landmarks. Kwade’s project (on view through April 2019) echoes the Crane family’s collaboration with designers and artists during the construction of the Great House (1928), a focal point of today’s 2,100-acre Crane Estate.
The footprint of Kwade’s compelling installation responds to a former hedge maze situated on the east side of the Great House between 1920 and 1949. Stainless steel tubes, concrete walls, and orbs of striking blue quartzite come together in a robust form seemingly held in delicate equilibrium. Like the hedge maze before it, TunnelTeller commands views of Cape Ann and Crane Beach. Visitors may approach from all sides (there is no principal entrance), either circumnavigating or entering through openings in the staggered concrete walls. Like the works in Kwade’s 303 Gallery show (“I Rise Again, Changed But The Same,” 2016), TunnelTeller affirms her status as a master of material economy and spatial reconfiguration.
TunnelTeller prompts viewers to reconsider their spatial relationship to the work itself and to the site. On entering, visitors find themselves within multiple annexes with openings and entryways of varying dimensions, traversed by stainless steel portals. Variously sized quartzite globes punctuate the space, implying a narrative in which they might feasibly roll through the structure. The immovability of all but the smallest spheres and the discrepancy in scale between them and the adjacent openings, however, immediately call this supposition into question. One sphere, arrested inside a stainless steel tube, reinforces the impression of a space at once playful and disconcerting, prompting a recalibration of spatial relationships between compositional elements as well as between occupant and installation.
Walking around the exterior of TunnelTeller, one can shift perspectives between glimpsing the interior through gaps in the concrete walls and peering down the lengths of the tubes, which refract light and conflate the physical form of TunnelTeller with its reflected surroundings. It is possible to walk the periphery twice or more without finding a singularly advantageous vantage point from which to survey Kwade’s structure. Moving through the open plan gives the feeling of perpetually transitioning between interior and exterior. Meanwhile, the scale shifts encourage fluctuations between feelings of detachment and encapsulation. Kwade has deftly reconciled the uncanny with the familiar, both spatially and materially. The impression is unique, yet also akin to what happens in one of Mike Nelson’s modular installations.
While the historic hedge maze maintained a clearly demarcated periphery, TunnelTeller achieves a symbiosis of form and context, offering porthole perspectives of the Great House and glimpses through adjoining rooms. The variable dimensions of the tubes and orbs call into question real versus perceived distance. To successfully navigate TunnelTeller, viewers must reconcile their initial assumptions with the reality of the forms they encounter. Such filtering and subverting of expectations is a recurring conceptual and experiential dynamic in Kwade’s practice. Ducking, crawling, and climbing around TunnelTeller with enthusiasm, visitors come away with a singular and unprecedented experience of scale and space, as well as a new lens through which to reconsider the rich history and natural splendor of the Crane Estate.