Volume 19, Number 2 | May 26 - June 1, 2006

Have home, will travelMets vs. Nationals

By Nicole Davis

“The future is now,” said the design visionary David Shearer on Tuesday, standing in a gallery space turned showroom for the vehicles, homes, and people who have brought the present day up to warp speed. From May 21-23, Soho’s Skylight Studio housed the 24-foot-tall shell of Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye dome; an Airstream tricked out with a flat-screen TV; two concept cars; a shipping container that doubled as a well-furnished home; “campers” from Sweden, and dozens more iterations of “Mobile Living,” the name of this temporary exhibit Shearer co-curated with Miguel Salvo as a comment on our modern, mobile lives.

“We can communicate while we walk down the street, we live in hotel rooms, and work in airplanes,” continued Shearer, a one-time Tribecan and former owner, along with his wife Gail Schultz, of the now defunct design store Totem, on Franklin Street. Today Shearer, wearing a svelte suit and black-rim glasses, runs Exhibitions International, a not-for-profit that organizes art exhibits.

He says the idea for Mobile Living began first as a book idea, “but what I started seeing was that the book would be outdated quickly.” Each technological advance created a life more moveable. “We’ve reverted back to being nomads,” he says, mentioning how a friend, industrial designer Karim Rashid, now travels 200 days out of the year for his work.

So the book idea was scrapped for an exhibit, one that would be timed to run concurrently with the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at the Javits Center. He began organizing the show last fall with friend Miguel Calvo, a compact, Cuban-born New Yorker who seems to dabble in just about everything involving design, from restaurants like Global 33 and 71 Clinton Fresh Food (which he also co-owned), to the concept car design for Toyota’s Scion line.

Calvo was instrumental in facilitating one of the most provocative, yet purely conceptual parts of the exhibit: a selection of grad school theses on caravan living from Douglas Fanning’s architecture students at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. In one corner of the 18,000 square foot space, a half-dozen color posters depicted incredible ideas for mobile living. One from Andrew Dahlgreen illustrated a mobile unit for migrant workers; another envisioned an underwater RV. But the most poetic vision of our new, nomadic lifestyles was that of a portable meditation room. As Calvo explained, even meditation is a form of transportation—you just close your eyes, and disappear to some spiritual place. “Mobility isn’t necessarily a three-dimensional thing,” he continued. “It’s how you interact with the environment.”

On the opposite corner of the exhibition, around 20 Swedes from four different design collectives were doing some real, live interacting in an imaginary campground. A trio of curators, including P.S. 1 Deputy Director Brett Littman, invited the teams to set up shop at Mobile Living so that the American public could watch, and even participate in the post-modern Swedish design process — a lofty concept that looked, in practice, like a collective acid trip in an Ikea day care center. Viewers were invited to partake in various workshops scattered around the concrete gallery floor, each of which touched upon that old-school form of mobile living, camping. Seated in the middle was a circle of women from the design group defyra, who were sewing sausage-shaped cushions — sausage is the campfire meal of choice in Sweden— while in the corner towered a 15-foot canvas troll, fabricated by the designers of We Work in a Fragile Material as a commentary on their fear of this outdoor pursuit.

“This is the reality of what mobile living is,” said Littman, referring to the actual displacement of these designers who had traveled so far to be a part of this installation. However strange it was to observe, the “Happy Campers” exhibit within Mobile Living drove home the notion that for some, design is art, and these teams were no different from others artists who hop from one city to the next to participate in far-flung shows. In a way, Littman continued, “we’re trying to be the literal embodiment of what these concept cars and mobile units are about.”

Seeing these people stationed among all these vehicles and structures was a bit jarring, however, as was the experience of navigating through the Mobile Living exhibit itself. There was so much to take in, like Adam Kalkin’s Push Putton House, essentially a shipping container whose motorized walls unfurl to reveal a gleaming, compact living area complete with a bed, toilet, leather sofa, and chandeliered dining room. One had to be familiar with Kalkin’s use of shipping containers in home construction to appreciate what this build-out, first exhibited at Art Basel Miami, hinted at on a larger scale: namely the reuse of industrial, scrapped materials to fabricate modern homes.

There were many times when a label or simply an expanded brochure would have brought more meaning to the objects on view at Mobile Living, but in a sense, there was no time for such a comprehensive, museum-like experience. Shearer and Calvo had only one day to install the entire exhibit—a laughable timeframe considering just the Buckminster Fuller dome alone typically takes three days to install. (Shearer’s guys did it in five hours.) But regardless of these kinks, Mobile Living was still a huge success. Roughly 2,000 people came to the opening, and a series of panels at the Tribeca Grand were filled to capacity. Shearer and Calvo are even planning an updated version of the exhibit for the fall or spring of next year.

All told, there was only one real hitch: the Sustain MiniHome, a sustainable, pre-fab house that produces its own power using wind and solar energy, didn’t make it from its home in Canada to the show.

“It got stopped at the border,” said Calvo. Apparently not all mobile homes travel well.

For information on upcoming Mobile Living projects, visit www.mobile-living.com.


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