Working on the Failed Utopia 2005
Artist: Christine Tarkowski (American, b. 1967)
Materials: screen print on rice paper and laminated fiberglass attached to steel geodesic dome
Provenance: Commissioned by the Art in Architecture Program, State of Illinois Capital Development Board
Tarkowski, born in Norwich, Connecticut, earned her BFA at Parson’s School of Design and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She lives and works in Chicago.
Working on the Failed Utopia highlights elements of Tarkowski’s methodology from earlier work while it points the way to some of her most recent installation pieces.
In sculpture completed between 2000 and 2004, Tarkowski examined the tenuous relationship between “fine” and “applied” art, wrapping buildings in wall paper wrought at a monumental scale. Not only did this call attention to the decaying inner city structures involved, but it shifted the viewers’ perceptions of the potential for lowly wallpaper to transform an object or space into an aesthetic statement.
Working on the Failed Utopia incorporates print technology developed in these earlier works but instead of transforming an object, the objects used in the screened images are themselves transformed as they are applied to the structure. Tarkowski photographed the urban detritus near her studio. By carefully composing a repeated image, she elevates this garbage (discarded roman candle tubes, Modelo beer cans, chicken bones, Newport cigarette boxes) to the level of pattern and creates a visually unifying surface design.
Tarkowski writes that the piece, "is not a dystopia . . . but like all utopias, failed even before the first shovel struck dirt . . . It doesn’t matter if the utopia is in fact realized . . . it is doomed from the moment its founder pronounces the capital “U.”
In a 2006 exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Tarkowski incorporated elements of the geodesic dome structure in Imitatio dei, an installation work incorporating wood, concrete, glass, and energy efficient lightbulbs.