Few artists have as hands-on a relationship with the built environment as Vancouver’s Reece Terris, who has supported his interdisciplinary studies and practice by working as a builder and general contractor. As demonstrated by his site-specific installations, photographs, videos, performances and exquisitely rendered drawings, Terris’s interest is in the way we encounter architectural space: the intersection between public and private, the contrast between conformity and individuality, the way the structures we shape give shape to us. All of this is grounded in a deep understanding of how to put buildings together—and how to take them apart, both literally and figuratively.
As a contractor, Terris has specialized in renovations, and his years of tearing out perfectly functional floors, walls, windows, doors, cabinets, appliances and lighting fixtures, hauling them to the dump and then replacing them with brand-new floors, walls, windows, doors, cabinets, appliances and lighting fixtures have left their mark—on him and on the Vancouver Art Gallery, where his six-storey installation Ought Apartment was shown last summer.
Installed and built in the VAG’s neoclassical rotunda, the work consisted of six full-scale apartments stacked one on top of the other. Each represented a decade, from the 1950s to now, and included a fully furnished and accessorized living room, kitchen and bathroom. Most of what went into the sculpture was recovered by Terris from renovation and demolition sites. The work provoked a riot of ideas about archaeologies of taste and how the post–Second World War production-and-consumption machine has manufactured our desire to constantly update our domestic spaces, at a stupendous cost to our natural environment.
In his debut installation, American Standard (2004), Terris took on Duchamp in the men’s washroom of the Alexander Centre Studios at Simon Fraser University. As water splashed downward from and over 15 functional urinals mounted in a triangular formation on the wall, Terris addressed thoughts about the readymade, its history, the mutability of subject and context and the subversion of architecture.
Terris’s most lyrical work to date, Bridge (Wooden Arch), from 2006, was a four-storey-high structure that extended from the balcony of his small house to arch over the roof of his neighbours’ house and end on their veranda. Its bridging metaphor spoke to community while its extravagant form, like an ancient wooden bridge from a Japanese woodblock print, reminded us how much we appreciate the curvilinear in a rectilinear, urban world.
This is an article from the Winter 2009 issue of Canadian Art.