This summer Samuel Stewart-Halevy, a visiting artist in the department of architecture, interior architecture, and designed objects at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, visited the Library and Archives to research the MCA’s 1969 exhibition Art by Telephone. For Art by Telephone, artists phoned in instructions for artworks, which the MCA staff and local students used to realize the works in the galleries. Sam used archival materials from the exhibition as a springboard for a project in Long Distance Architecture, a graduate architecture studio he is currently teaching at the School of the Art Institute. Sam invited me to visit the class to discuss the exhibition with his students and to see their works-in-progress. The project is an interesting and rich example of how archival materials can be used to inspire and challenge students. Below he describes his students' process of interpretation.
Art by Telephone is an important precedent for our architecture studio at SAIC and so we spent the first weeks of the semester looking closely at the remote instructions that were delivered to the MCA in 1969. By cross-referencing electrical plans with installation photographs and a film made by David Katzive (the MCA curator at the time), the students reconstructed a scaled model of the original gallery space on Ontario Street.
Rather than attempting to re-present the exhibition in its entirety, each student took on a set of artists and tried to find out what they had in common before making alternative versions of the work. The techniques of administration, delegation, and correspondence that these artists employed have always been natural to architectural practice, even if they are mostly absent in the hands on context of the design studio. By studying these experimental phone calls, the students have developed their own proposals for long distance work that they are carrying out at the moment through contemporary channels of communication.