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Tatiana Bilbao Estudio Transforms Domestic Space in Unraveling Modern Living

Tatiana Bilbao Estudio Transforms Domestic Space in Unraveling Modern Living

Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, from "Unraveling Modern Living," digital collage, 2019. Courtesy of Graham Foundation

Unraveling Modern Living is a site-specific installation by the Mexico City-based firm Tatiana Bilbao Estudio that transforms the former domestic space of the Madlener House, Graham Foundation’s home, to explore new forms of collectivity. The materiality of the exhibition underscores that a relationship with nature is fundamental, exists unconsciously, and enables communities to relate to public space and to each other. Local knowledge, building methods, and materials bring influences from Mexico to Chicago.

View of “Tatiana Bilbao Estudio: Unraveling Modern Living,” Graham Foundation, Chicago, 2019. Photo: Nathan Keay

View of “Tatiana Bilbao Estudio: Unraveling Modern Living,” Graham Foundation, Chicago, 2019. Photo: Nathan Keay

Developed in partnership with the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial, Unraveling Modern Living evokes the concept of the commons by exhibiting reconfigurations on the existing architecture to create a garden, a space for knowledge, a space for dialog, and a space for gathering. It is rooted in storied examples of shared space, including the Greek polis, Renaissance architecture, the feminist movement, community structures, cohousing, public institutions, and appropriation architecture.

In this project, in which Tatiana Bilbao Estudio finds another opportunity to connect with nature, a traditional house from the beginning of the 20th century is challenged through new kinds of spaces for contemporary life within existing architectural frameworks. Madlener House is a mansion designed for a single family in 1901, and the original conjoined living room and music room on the first floor is transformed into an interior garden. This space hosts readings, children’s storytime, movement classes, and an improvisational participatory performance by artist Anna Martine Whitehead, who will be in residence in the garden for the month of December to workshop her new piece, Force.

Looking to the natural world to facilitate a return to direct human engagement, the installation is activated through collaborative programming that embraces the inherent complexity of modern living to create spaces that support connection and encourage the exploration of new relationships.

Bilbao’s interest in activating public space through this contemporary lens stems from her belief in the basic human necessity of community and the important role that these spaces serve to foster collectivity. She envisions these critical spaces as places that nurture, serve as refuge, inspire, and aid in developing identity. In light of the increased pace of modern life, the depth and complexity of human relationships, and the penchant for digital over in-person engagement—particularly in urban environments—this installation provides space to nurture basic human needs, grounding this experience with opportunities to connect with nature.

Tatiana Bilbao’s work explores the site specific and creates built environments trough multidisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives.

At the core of Unraveling Modern Living is a modular furniture system developed in collaboration with Emmanuel Pratt and Sweet Water Foundation. The plywood cubes of the system stack and fit together like puzzle pieces to form tables and shelves or stand alone as seats. The pieces create a simple infrastructure to support groups of people gathering, sharing knowledge, and engaging in dialog. In this same vein, Tatiana Bilbao Estudio designed a new 1,000 square foot garden for the Graham Foundation that features over 45 native and regionally appropriate plant species in soil amended by Nance Klehm and punctuated by large-scale volcanic boulders and intricate brick carpets that demonstrate the design ethos of starting with local knowledge, building methods, and materials and transferring them from Mexico to Chicago. Initiatives such as the perennial garden will continue to thrive at the Madlener House beyond the life of the show. Additionally, resources, including the furniture system and book collection relating to the commons, will move to Sweet Water Foundation once the show closes, continuing the community cycle.

Unraveling Modern Living is the product of Tatiana Bilbao’s 2019 Graham Foundation Fellowship and is activated by collaborative projects, on-site talks, and workshops throughout the run of the exhibition with Archeworks, Colectivo 1050º, Cultural ReProducers, Fieldwork Collaborative Projects, Stefan Gruber, Nance Klehm of Social Ecologies, Lurie Garden, MAS Context, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Sweet Water Foundation, The Weaving Mill, and Anna Martine Whitehead, among others.

DATE :September 16, 2019 until January 11, 2020 / LOCATION: Graham Foundation / ORGANIZED BY Sarah Herda and Ellen Alderman, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs / IN PARTNERSHIP WITH 2019 Chicago Architectural Biennial / TEXT Press Release edited by NESS /

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