Daringly Unbuilt at prototype 180, 2017
10 January 2018

Daringly Unbuilt

by New York-based conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll is the final performance and culmination of the eighteen-year project that utilizes urban policy as artistic medium—prototype 180.

  • “Like many performances, this one (prototype 180) is a critically exaggerated and a transforming vision of life. It demonstrates, among other things, that urban space is never a passive environment; that rootedness and belonging are, or can be, resilient realities; that architecture can be socially proactive.” -Holland Cotter, The New York Times

      Houston’s recognized ‘no-zoning’ policy is the conceptual and practical foundation of prototype 180.  The project is temporally, physically, and structurally organized around a catalytic rotational transformation that took place on November 11, 2010. prototype 180 strategically intersects conceptual art projects, social activism, urban legislation, and economic processes. The 180-degree revolution of the single-family home and its surrounding property in the aging, first-ring subdivision of Sharpstown is conceived of as political theater, performed within the public realm. The structure is protagonist and stage. The reorientation registers aesthetically against a history of critical architectural alterations; architecture’s usurpation and formal incorporation of sculptural strategies; and administratively in relation to the condition of Houston’s unregulated land use policies and its absence of zoning. prototype 180 makes no judgments about Houston’s system; it simply takes as fact this specific political and urban condition and why Houston selected itself as the site.

      While the rotation and relocation of the structure and land interrupt the relation of the house to its context and to existing street typologies, these maneuvers also signify policy blindspots in aging postwar developments, and brings to light their potential futures. prototype 180 intentionally resists the popular model of gentrification or urban renewal thru programs that utilize the artist as an accomplice and/or as real estate developer. Systemic adaptation here, rather, is achieved by utilizing law and policy as an anathema to civic amnesia and private regulation.

      “Mary Ellen Carroll practices land art in the city in her prototype 180 where she projects a figure as powerful as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty onto the Houston subdivision: a house that has been lifted with its slab and rotated while looking out at the surrounding neighborhood from each of its facades with a permanent digital feed. This is art that is zoned for life.” – David Joselit, Distinguished Professor of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY

      Leading up to the event on November 11, 2017 a week of programming was realized that included a performance by the acclaimed artist Joseph Keckler. Carroll continued the model for the programs that she developed in 2009 when she organized a public forum on land use with Houston’s mayoral candidates, as part of the exhibition No Zoning at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, curated by Toby Kamps. She also organized an invitational charrette that brought together twelve of the leading architecture firms in Houston to reconsider the the site of the Sharpstown Shopping Center (Plaza Americas) as a part of her exhibition Policy at the Architecture Center in Houston. prototype 180 was an aligned community initiative of the Rice University Building Institute. The ongoing process for prototype 180 has been exhibited widely; venues include the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery, Buell Hall, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, New York; the Generali Foundation, Vienna, Austria; Galerie Stadtpark, Krems, Austria, amongst others.

      Since 1999, prototype 180 has engaged countless individuals from the public, private, corporate, educational, and institutional sectors. According to Carroll, “the best questions begin with a what and how. A successful work of art makes us aware of our own existence in relation to that ‘thing’ and that is all one should hope to accomplish. We are living in the political epoch and policy can be treated as a material, and the instrumentalization of that policy is made possible and by which, ‘in others we count.’

      prototype 180 utilizes the temporal field and the expectation of simultaneity to capitalize on our particular historical moment, in which we are still self-conscious about the ease with which activities are being digitally captured. In 2009/2010, this project was one of the first works to utilize a high-definition simultaneous video feed that streamed the 180 degree revolution from within the structure, capturing what we recognize as “the reaction shot.” The final performance, Daringly Unbuilt, was live streamed as well, nearly twenty years after Carroll envisioned the capability for a wireless transmittal process.

      Daringly Unbuilt at prototype 180 is made possible by the generous support of:

      Surpik and Paolo Angelini, Morteza Baharloo, Bank of America, Michael and Lilliane Carroll, Center Point Energy, The Law Office of Steven Duble, EJ Farhood, Greg Feldman and Melanie Shorin, Andrew Francis and Lucinda Zilkha, Nina and Michael Zilkha,  The Graham Foundation, The Guggenheim Foundation, David Hariton and Tod Lippy, Healix Incorporated, Stephen Henderson, William J. Hill Land and Cattle Company, Mary Hoeveler, The Joan Hohlt and Roger Wich Foundation, Johann Jacobs Museum, James LaForce, Rose Lord, Marc Melcher, Sara Meltzer, OFPC-LLC, Suchi Reddy, Charles Renfro, Rice University, The Rockefeller Foundation, Mary Catherine and Michael Russell, The Stardust Foundation, The Strypemonde Foundation, Martha Claire Tompkins, Transart Foundation for Art and Anthropology, and an Anonymous Donor.