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Research Communications

Sculptures spark discussion about how shelter shapes us 

Balanced houses Photo by Ben SiegelBy Philip Barnes

Buildings are much more than just homes, shelters, or workplaces, says Ohio University graduate student Joey Behrens. They shape us as much as we shape them.

"Like us, buildings tell stories, and homes share the same role as the human body: they protect us from elements and vulnerabilities," she says.

Behrens explores this concept in her artwork: prints and colorful oil paintings of cityscapes, distorted skyscrapers, and, more recently, a wearable collection of sculptures that she calls Architecture Embodied.

The sculptures are set to be shown in her thesis exhibition at Ohio University's Trisolini Galley next spring. Each resembles a building, constructed with handmade paper from fibers of the Japanese kozo plant, which she prefers over traditional wood pulp for its resilience and skin-like translucency. The paper is used to create windowless paper walls, which she then nails to a scaffold of wooden stakes. This creates the framework for desk-sized apartment complexes, office buildings, and smaller, modest houses.

Behrens incorporates molds of shoulders, arms, and heads that allow her model homes to be worn. The kozo paper provides a durable structure for the pieces. However, over time, the sculptures are subject to tearing, which Behrens compares to the wear and tear of a normal occupied house.

For three weeks, on a trip to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Behrens wore one of her houses like a hiker's backpack strapped over her shoulders. It was a good conversation starter, especially in Starbucks, she says.

"Often times, objects are made and then just exist in the gallery," she says. "By wearing the house around on my back, so many more people saw it. It serves to interrupt people's normal daily expectations. There is something really exciting about art and everyday life bumping up against each other."

Behrens is currently seeking volunteers to model more of her sculptures around Athens, Ohio. With support from Ohio University's Anthony Trisolini Fellowship, she will continue to work with various materials, emphasizing her focus on theme rather than medium, in the project.

"In contemporary art, there is less of a focus on 'what it is you do' and more of an idea of 'what can you do to service the idea that you are working with,'" Behrens says. "It's about using the right medium to get your idea across in the best way possible."

This story will appear in the Autumn/Winter 2013 issue of Ohio University's Perspectives magazine.

Ohio University's Graduate College awards five Named Fellowships each year. For more information, visit: http://www.ohio.edu/graduate/fellowships.cfm.

Photo by Ben Siegel