After several weeks building Thomas Hirschhorn’s Cavemanman, Walker carpenter/installation technician Doc Czypinski says he occasionally forgets he’s not in a real cave. The packing tape-and-cardboard structure isn’t necessarily convincing in its materials, but its winding corridors and arched ceilings capture a compelling kind of cave-ness: labyrinthine, embracing, immersive. Part of the show Heart of Darkness, opening in just a few hours, the piece’s construction transformed a museum gallery where only weeks ago Diane Arbus’ photos were displayed into a subterranean cavern of consumption and philosophy.
The installation, which is a mirror image of Cavemanman as it appeared in New York’s Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 2002, started out as an outline in tape on the floor. Fire-resistant (and therefore pink) 2x4s spaced a foot or so apart were bolted to the gallery walls, and traditional wall structures were erected to provide the exterior support for the cave. Additional 2x4s were bolted at angles to create the archways and walls. Shipping pallets stacked underfoot created the uneven elevations that simulate a cavern’s rocky floor, and plywood bolted over them, sometimes bent before bolting so they flex when visitors walk over them, make it a safe, but–befitting a cave–unsteady path.
Over this entire structure, pre-taped cardboard panels, the same ones used in the Gladstone installation, were set into place and seamed with brown packing tape (How much? Czypinski can only say that Hirschhorn shipped eight cases of the stuff here from his home base in France). While bookshelves were screwed into place, everything else in the gallery is adhered to the walls and ceilings with tape. The place is cluttered: tin cans on the floor; posters of Che Guevara, Bob Marley, Snoop Dogg and others plastered as if on a teenager’s bedroom ceiling; Xeroxed tracts from philosophy textbooks taped on walls; a tinfoil-covered family of mannequins stand near oversized (but blank) replica books and a fortlike assemblage of brown-tape boxes. Embedded in the walls are several TV monitors showing video loops of prehistoric caves.
Having been a virtual cave dweller for two weeks, Czypinski has his own interpretation of what Hirschhorn might be saying with the piece. “He’s taking Lascaux and putting it in a contemporary setting, and [just as those prehistoric caves bore images deemed important at the time] he’s asking ‘What’s important to our culture?'” He points out the many posters on the walls–Janet Jackson, two versions of Pamela Anderson in various states of undress–then focuses on a metallic trash can overflowing with soda and beer cans (visible at center, above). “The only thing wrapped in gold is this trash can,” he says, noting that while there are shelves filled with philosophy books, they’re mounted so close to the ceiling they’re entirely out of reach.