Simon Starling’s Modernist Haunts
Inverted Retrograde Theme, USA (House for a Songbird). 2002. Wood, iron, mahogany, and soundtrack of songbirds. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami.
Simon Starling’s installation at the Pérez Art Museum Miami features two towering structures turned upside-down atop tree branches and pinned tight against the ceiling; they’re replicas of a housing project designed in Puerto Rico in the ’60s by architect Simon Schmiderer.
With the rise of an autonomous local government, and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952, the plan, Villa Contessa as it was called, was designed to mimic an idealized suburban American lifestyle. The houses, constructed from concrete building blocks, had simple and open floor plans and were enclosed by stylized baroque gates.
Falling a little short of utopia, the architectural paradox forefronts basic box-shaped spaces juxtaposed by an ornate exterior. (Songbirds trapped in exchange for a highly aestheticized protection.)
(‘Birdsong’ emanates from within Starling’s structures.)
The birds “reference a contemporary population confined within the failed ideals of modernization.”