Looking Back

James Casebere

January 3, 2020

We asked James Casebere to tell us about a picture that means something to him, and why. James Casebere: On the Water’s Edge is at Sean Kelly Gallery through January 25.

After making a body of work devoted to the houses of architect Luis Barragán, in and around Mexico City, I tried to incorporate his aesthetic and spiritual ambitions into structures of my own making. Borrowing bits and pieces here and there, I found myself making structures resembling cabanas, changing rooms, lifeguard stations, and beach houses.

In returning to the shore and the subject of climate change, I wanted to create an image of dauntless fortitude in the face of such change. I discovered that in order to make buildings of my own, even if only for a photograph, I needed to deal with issues of structure and form that go beyond the image and focus on strength, durability, material, texture, and the visceral impact of spatial relations in a way that acknowledges all the senses. Initially, I wanted to make structures for survival: spaces of rescue and refuge. Coincidentally, I found that a number of contemporary architects such as Frank Gehry began their careers designing houses with towers resembling lifeguard stations or, like Pascal Flammer, designing a lifeguard stand, pure and simple, which seemed to be about connecting with the archetypal nature of building. 

The Red/Orange Solo Pavilion was my first attempt to envision the core module of a larger compound structure that might aid in the rescue of migrating populations. They could be temporary housing, modifiable by the occupants. This grew into imagining proposals for larger maze-like pavilions akin to earthworks. While I wanted a structure that faced the future with resolve, the distorting mirror of water creates havoc with the stability, certainty, and solidity of the building, juxtaposing the clarity of conscious intent with the murkier and twisted image of the unknown and the unconscious.