Architectural Legacies Toppled: A Review of Shannon Bool 1:1 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

Shannon Bool, “The Borderline,” 2021. Jacquard tapestry with silk and hand embroidery, 260 x 170 centimeters

Canadian artist Shannon Bool, who lives and works in Berlin, is anything but a minimalist. Her hugely nuanced, deeply philosophical works capture the viewer in a net of intrigue and fascination, and her social commentary is by turns amusing and deeply revealing. This exhibition’s title, “Shannon Bool 1:1” comes from the scale used by architects—one inch equals one foot.

Entering the museum, the viewer is faced with three enormous jacquard tapestries. In the first two, one sees couture evening gowns, but on closer inspection, they are composed entirely of modernist buildings. They are Dior gowns, from the exhibition “Dior: From Paris to the World,” and the tapestries are over-embroidered and hand embellished. Architect Shohei Shigematsu’s backgrounds from the Dior exhibit add linear interest and mimic the verticality of the buildings that adorn the mannequins.
The fact that the gowns are “filled in” with buildings from the New York City skyline and Zaha Hadid’s Leeza SOHO tower in Beijing make a tongue-in-cheek statement about architecture as fashion, how quickly trends come and go in both.

Shannon Bool, “The Weather,” 2019. Jacquard tapestry, 250 x 347 cm/Image courtesy of the artist and Daniel Faria Gallery

The largest of the three tapestries covers most of the third wall and is entirely black-and-white. Created from an image of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, the viewer looks outdoors through a glass wall as in many modernist homes which sought to erase the division between interior and exterior. Bool has over-embroidered blossom motifs from Roman tiles, as if they are printed on the glass to delineate the demarcation between in and out. However, she has cleverly hidden portions of the designs behind the tree, confusing the issue of separation. These subtle amusements are common in Bool’s artistic vocabulary and give her work a depth that provokes extensive contemplation. One cannot just glance fleetingly at this work; it draws the viewer into the dialogue.

The fourth tapestry is enormous and in its own room, lit by three gas lamps on tall poles. The subject is a golf club project, designed by van der Rohe for Krefeld, Germany in 1930. Although the club was never built, a temporary 1:1 scale replica was built in 2013, photographed and then destroyed. It is this photograph that Bool has digitally decorated with rosewood and onyx paneling to make the avatar-space look like the real thing. In the foreground of this atmospheric room, Bool has placed a pair of metallic stiletto-heeled boots redolent with feminine power and sex appeal.

There are two other series worth mentioning—“Horses of Oblivion,” in which Bool has collaged images of horses with architectural fragments by Jean Renaudie, Aldo Rossi and others. These reference the strength and power wielded by male architects, and in their absurdity subvert the over-sexualized objectives of the architects themselves.

And, in a dimly lit room, the series “Bombshells” features Le Corbusier’s erotic drawings of women in Algiers, interwoven with his sketches for his “Plan Obus” of that city, making it difficult to separate the two, thus fusing his work with his erotic intentions.

“Shannon Bool 1:1” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 South Michigan. Through April 2, 2023.