Margin of Safety 1991

Margin of Safety: A Collaborative Installation at the Museum of Contempory Art in Chicago with Monica Bock, Mary Carlisle, Cathy Lynn Gasser (Ono), Melissa Goldstein, and Sandrine Sheon

Wool blankets, plywood, bronze, aluminum, 16 mm film, video monitors, sound

Margin of Safety has as its premise the fundamental need for physical shelter and psychological refuge. The piece explores the tension between the need for secure boundaries and the impossibility of insuring or maintaining that security. In the face of both natural and social forces of displacement, the boundaries between public and private realms have been erased. Previously held notions about space and its connections to a sense of psychological interiority, completeness, and physical well-being can no longer be assumed. Yet within this slippage, a sense of home or refuge is constantly being made and maintained.

One enters the piece by walking among a series of solid life-sized drawers toppled from a nonexistent chest. Their cavities blocked, the drawers suggest an absence of useable space. Denying their function as containers of personal belongings, they posit the illusory nature of a unique and private self.

Beyond the drawers are two massive structures of folded and stacked blankets. The space created by the blankets provides retreat and a sense of interior self, a place where one hears one’s own breath. The refuge only becomes secure, however, through excessive accumulation; this exposes the structure to the threat of collapse and dispersal. Accumulation requires a constant and collective tending, while discouraging retreat of the individual into an idealized intimate space. The autonomy of the individual is questioned at the same time that its protection is sought.

Leaning against a side wall, the six-handled broom and dust pan are an absurd expression of the shared maintenance of habitable space. Projected on the back wall, the culminating image of hands shaking moths from a blanket underscore the individual’s persistent attempt to fend off decay. Like the collective maneuvering of a six-handled broom, it is at once a suite and hopeful gesture representing our desire to adapt in the face of change.