“The House Party” didn’t disappoint on execution of concept and physical realization. The idea was to build a generic “could be anywhere U.S.A.” house in a warehouse in Brooklyn that is a perfect simulacrum, and throw a house party. Simple, right?
I talked to Andrew and collaborator Don Pablo Pedro about “The House Party” a few months ago at Andrew’s loft in Williamsburg’s Southside, where he told me the idea quickly and with considerably less theoretical fluff than I’ll go into. The deceptively simple idea, we agreed, could go terribly wrong through schlocky execution which would not adequately create the simulacrum necessary to provoke a genuine reaction from the participants. It could just be an dumb idea. Fans of Andrew’s work and party goers alike would have to wait and see.
Walking up to Pierogi’s sprawling extension space The Boiler Room at 191 N. 14th St. in Williamsburg, I viewed the standard round of young post-collegiate Brooklyners smoking rolled cigarettes and nervously trying to hide the first sign of what was in-store from any cops who may drive passed: the iconic red Solo Cup. Passing through a fairly typical industrial warehouse hall and through the crowd, I would later realize this practically indeterminate zone that had no gallery signage whatsoever, was a buffer between the Williamsburg we know, take for granted or snarkily complain about, and what Andrew and co. built inside, that turned out to be no less than both a representation and elicitor of a collected suburban subconscious assembled from the personal and fantastical anger that drove youths from the suburbs to NYC and then literally deployed on the ‘open’ (or to use ‘utopian’ in Rirkrit Tiravanija’s sense) space Andrew built just to do a “dumb idea,” or so he says. What I mean is by the end of the night a lot people’s (notably young white men) too cool Brooklyn blasé chicness was deprogrammed and the inner douche emerged.
I arrived at 8pm and stayed until midnight when Andrew unceremoniously yelled, “Party’s over! Get out!” when I was discussing Andrew’s work with his mom. At 8pm the house was still a perfect simulacrum of any house anywhere USA; not a single object had too much personality. Fox 5 played on the tube TV (i.e. not a flat screen) set in an eggshell wood laminate shelving system typical of any suburban house. A nondescript light blue fabric couch blocked your entrance to the living-room dance floor, one accesses through a sliding glass door. I presumed we enter through “the back yard” and not the front door. The kitchen, to the immediate right upon walking in from the “back” is as average as conceivable: fridge has with Eggo Waffles, Oscar Mayer balogne, Jack Daniel’s brand barbecue sauce, etc., sink, stove (all functional appliances), and central island filled with the neatly aligned rows of cheap American beer and red Solo cups typical of the generic house party in any town U.S.A. or a teen movie like American Pie. Notably, “The House Party” borrows in equal measures from the generalized kind of experience in anyone’s memory as well as from movies. But it’s dated. The participants, references achieved through objects and detail, the particular articulation of averages is indeterminate mid-2000’s white suburbs, not say, a Kid ‘N’ Play house party, which is both nostalgic and looks legitimately fun, to me, anyway.
I spent most of the time in the small back bedroom because the living room was too hot and packed with dancing people indulging in what looked like a lot of stupid fun (and I mean that in a good way; I’m just not that fun). On one hand people seemed to not care about looking cool, had fun, performed the signs of the suburban house party from when they were teenagers (probably some five years ago for many), like doing a keg stand, drawing on the wall, or yelling “Woo!” when the DJ cut the music for an instant. But in the small back room, after another hour passed, a sense of reality seemed to seep back in. People explored the bedroom closet, observing the tiny no name engraved trophies, played Playstation 2 (note, not PS3 nor X-Box 360 - a dated reference). A heterosexual couple made-out on the bed, and someone discovered Playboys under the mattress. But then people began exploring personal photographs in the closet, and a shirtless tattooed douche stole my beer (which is exactly what would happen at a “real” house party, I guess), and a guy dumped milk and minced pickles all over the closet, I surmise, “because this isn’t real.”
“The House Party” opened a mental space that produced tension between the real and the simulacra through its participants. Put simply, knowing this isn’t really someone’s house how are you going to act? Ohanesian’s work seems opaquely apolitical, but in this case, challenging the audience, or putting the audience in a position where, they must choose how to behave when the normative rules are somewhat suspended inscribed the participant in a dialectic about freedom, simulation an reality. On one hand the man who poured milk and pickles on the clothes in the closet (note,I had to remove my jacket, as I had been using the closet as simply a closet) indulged in a harmless and puckish act that asserts, “This is a simulacrum; I wouldn’t do this otherwise.” But it also shows an anxiety over the real and the simulated that reinscribes and affirms the subject in social convention. Most had no problem treating the simulacrum as real and acted as they would at any house party somewhere outside of Boston; that is, they had simple, gleeful, nostalgic fun. Scrawling on the walls with markers is somewhere in- between these polls; one person wrote, “I left the suburbs to escape this shit. -Some Guy,” which notably asserts an analogue of his being as a subject vis a vis the party. Another man destroyed a large glass mirror, with what seemed like genuine suburban white young man anger and then destroyed the frosted window in the “front door,” revealing the job site outside. He destroyed the frame delineating the limits of the simulacrum, as if he necessarily must force the real to flow back in, through the nonfunctional front door, no less, where no one entered. Perhaps the simulacra frightened him too much. Strangely, the house is constructed backwards. The bedroom and bathroom are by the front door and the kitchen is in the back, which I believe is not a standard for suburban dwellings. Perhaps this construction inversion produced an uncanny and disorienting effect, such as do Kubrick’s interiors.
The extent to which the interiors, style of music DJ’d (all generic/what you’d expect) seemed to subjectivise the partiers fascinated me because to a great extent I noticed people “seem” this way or that due to context. The great majority of people alarmingly made too much sense at “The House Party.”
But what are the limits of custom and propriety? Where would this “open, utopian simulacrum” stop? By about 10pm I thought the generic American imagination house party script requires a fight, and by 11:30 we almost got one. I hadn’t seen Andrew around all night until then and her quickly nodded hello as he walked on talking on the phone, saying, “Hey bro,” staying in character. At the sliding glass door entrance in the now totally disgusting, obliterated, graffitied, soiled and soaked living room a man appeared to pick a fight with another man sitting in the nondescript blue sofa that had been moved in front of the TV now showing static. We watched, waiting for “the fight narrative” to play out, and suddenly, appearing is if out of the ether, that is Reality, Pierogi gallerist Joe Amrhein broke up the confrontation like mom and dad coming home to discover the teenage wasteland, albeit not with the wide-eyed wonder Eugene Levy delivers. Meanwhile, Andrew escorted two people off the roof, which is not part of the piece. By now reality rung through simulacra and beer allowed people to just start doing dumbass shit, and having discovered and produced this intermediate confabulation of the real and the simulated all it’s own, Andrew yelled, “Party’s over! Get out!” and being sensible good-mannered Brooklyners, we left as if obeying a fire drill. On my way out I joked with Joe Amrhein that I discovered some hot sauce that is out of character for being “too Brooklyn” and removed it, and laughing he remarked “The House Party” may be ‘free therapy’ that, though in my view, subtly makes fun of the audience does so no more or less than any other product of American life, only more fun and even more excessively.