For four months last year, Los Angeles drivers were confronted with a sight worth documenting: In a sea of tin cans distinguished mostly by logos, here was a car missing its two front doors. Artist Nate Page had gone to court for the right to remove these barriers from his white 1996 Toyota Corolla, to drive around with the wind on his legs, to park without locking. "I don't know how to explain how terrible it felt," he says, of the initial terror of getting on the freeway without that thin sheet of metal and plastic between himself and the road. "Half the time, I was so ashamed. I felt like people were looking at me like I'm a f--king clown," Page says. "Or, I'd just want some privacy. But people would be smiling and laughing." It takes me a moment to realize that he means this as a good thing: "That never happens in L.A. It was like removing the car doors had created this happy cloud that followed me around."
Like much of the artist's work, the images of the #nodoors project -- which were taken by strangers -- fray the edges of routine and accepted boundaries: in this case, our unconscious acceptance of the demarcations between private and public space, especially under the guise of safety. "Things could be different, and I'm trying to show that, but it's even more complicated," Page says. "Things are different; they are different simultaneously."
This exploration of the space in-between runs throughout Page's practice. Despite sometimes requiring weeks of construction, his installations can appear as simple gestures, as innocuous as the architectural elements they disrupt. At Echo Park's Machine Project in 2012, Page removed the storefront window and rebuilt it twenty feet inside the building, carving out an accessible public plaza from the once closed-off interior. At the Armory Center for the Arts, in Pasadena, Page removed a guardrail and flipped it on its side, reinstalling it on a pedestal that bisected the main staircase.
In their subtlety, these site-specific pieces draw attention to our complicity in designed environments, all the foregone ways in which organization of space is "a record of human thought and decisions made," Page says. All space is at once, already, the existing order. There's no escaping it, Page told me, but this is a good thing. That our lives are constructed -- and our lifestyles performed -- is a sort of freedom, to hold out its components and turn them over, and rearrange out of the pieces something else.
This month, Page is the first artist to show at A Corner Door, a newly opened gallery in Eagle Rock run by sculptor Oscar Tuazon, whose practice similarly explores utility and space (and for whom Page once worked). The show, up through July 4, features a rug-like 10 ft.-by-7 ft. installation, three chunks of sidewalk balanced on discarded couch cushions that Page collected from nearby streets, each concentric search expedition going further into the neighborhood, "like a wolf-circled epicenter," he says.
"For me, this distinction between public and private is one of many possible thresholds; it is as much a metaphor for our internal and external experience of ourselves as it is a social boundary," says Page, who grew up in Wisconsin at the edge of suburbs, farmland and forests, riding motorcycles and drawing.
His early interest in picture-making, Page says, was a first step in cultivating that particular longing of "being in two places at once," of living in liminal areas. It's like Edward St. Aubyn's beautiful line about the hardest addiction of all: "that deep-down need to mean two things at once, to be in two places at once, not to be there for the catastrophe of a fixed meaning." But where St. Aubyn meant irony, Page veers towards intervention. Instead of words, "I'm doing the negotiation physically," Page says, with performance and installation. The result for viewers is a bodily reaction to structure -- a primal response to possibility, to even small changes in "how we see space and scale," he says.
Page has attached a large mirror reflecting the sky to a suburban house in San Gabriel, and is working on a piece that will be staged at the Gamble House, that Greene and Greene-designed landmark, in the fall. (It'll include nighttime and flashlights.) In another recent piece -- part of High Desert Test Sites -- Page built a set of wooden bleachers and half-buried them in the Mojave desert, so that you could sit above or below the sand, looking at nothing so moving as the mountains in the distance. There is no frame around the scenery but our vantage point, and the ideology of boundedness.
After all, the barrier we wrestle with most is the one between our interior thoughts and the outside world. "I find it interesting when design and psyche become fused somehow, or exchangeable or indistinguishable, like they are making out with each other," he says, "and it becomes difficult or irrelevant to distinguish between the environment and my own thoughts or actions." For Page, the space between ourselves and others -- and the ways we desperately try to bridge it with communication -- is as much a divide as a place of contact, as shifting and as open as any other construction.
"Nate Page: A Rug, Small Building and Two Photos" is at A Corner Door, 3351 Fletcher Drive, Los Angeles, through July 4.
For more information about Nate Page, visit the artist's website.
Top Image: "Suburban Reflecting Pool" (2012).
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