School of Art Announces ‘Expeditions in Usonia’ Exhibit

Posted: January 26, 2011 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: January 25, 2011 at 9:15 pm

The Floating Lab Collective collected screams from the public expressing their economic angst during the summer of 2009. The collection of screams was composed into music and then played through the "screamers" in front of various financial institutions in Washington, D.C., and New York City, such as the New York Stock Exchange.

The School of Art announces an exhibition titled “Expeditions in Usonia” by the Floating Lab Collective (FLC), a group of artists from the Washington, D.C., area that includes Mason faculty members and students.

The exhibition features work from the group’s four-year project, “43.5 Actions in Usonia,” and will be on display from Wednesday, Jan. 26 through Friday, Feb. 18 in the Fine Art Gallery in the Art and Design Building on Mason’s Fairfax Campus. An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. This exhibition is free and open to the public.

Founded in 2007, FLC has been working nationally and internationally in the public sphere, exploring issues of representation, participation, inclusion, empowerment and social change.

The group emphasizes community engagement through sculpture, performance, new media, sound, participatory art and public intervention.

Responding to social issues, the FLC uses mobiles, sculptures and alternative forms of display and engagement to articulate a social discourse about community, consumption and the creation and conceptualization of art and culture to suggest an alternative role for art institutions in communities.

The group has produced projects primarily in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, but has also brought its work to other cities throughout the United States.

“43.5 Actions in Usonia” gets its name from two sources — 43.5 comes from the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and “Usonia” was coined by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who used the term to describe his utopian vision for the American landscape.

The exhibition features several works from the project, such as “Scream at the Economy,” a participatory piece in which people were invited to call a number and leave a recording of themselves screaming at the economy, which was subsequently used to create a musical composition by various international composers and was made available for free download at the website.

“The American Landscape of Dreams” is another work, in which Hispanic day laborers from the Baltimore area constructed miniature houses to represent their own aspirations and engage with the community, which were then displayed in public locations around Baltimore.

And “Mapping the Route of the Ordinary” is a commentary on the daily displacement of individuals living in the constantly mobile Northern Virginia community, in which a video camera was suspended by balloons attached to a person’s jacket in order to film a visual geographical description of a person’s journey.

“We are using Frank Lloyd Wright’s term ‘Usonia’ to re-map and redefine the American landscape based on ideas of alienation, inclusion, migration and assimilation as it relates to the changing culture of the American dream,” says FLC co-founder Edgar Endress, an assistant professor in Mason’s School of Art.

“As a result, the geographical Usonian landscape becomes the laboratory to question the public’s definition of community, social participation and utopia.”

The exhibition also features work made with the Modular Environmental Transporter, a device modeled after the two-wheeled Modular Equipment Transporter (MET) vehicle that was used to explore the lunar surface during the Apollo 14 mission.

The NASA MET was equipped with devices for observing the astronauts’ operations and gathering data from an alien landscape while the FLC Modular Environmental Transporter is a device equipped with instruments for engaging the community. It invites individuals on the street to interact with it and the collective to initiate actions of art.

For more information on the Floating Lab Collective, contact Sue Wrbican at swrbican@gmu.edu or 703-993-8570.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu