Meet The Two Artists
Living in a Giant Hamster Wheel

March 6, 2014 | Rhett Jones

“A lot of people associate it with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Others think of a hamster wheel,” artist Ward Shelley tells ANIMAL, standing 25 feet above ground, perched on top of a large wooden wheel where he has been living for four days. Inside the wheel is partner artist Alex Schweder. For ten days, the artists are eating, sleeping and pissing in/on the installation they’ve constructed at Williamsburg’s Pierogi Gallery.

This is the fourth collaboration between Shelley and Schweder in a series they call “The Social Relationship Architecture Project.” Each time they’ve built a different dwelling space that requires them to work together in order to live. This time, they’ve arranged the various components and furnishings of a home on a giant wheel. “In Orbit is a two bedroom apartment, in a sense,” Schweder says. “One is on the inside and one on the outside.”

A desk, bed, chair and kitchen are mirrored inside and out, so that if Shelley wants to go to the bathroom, both men have to “walk to the bathroom,” hamster-style. It’s all very precarious and uncomfortable. “Everything has to be done in an obsessively controlled way,” Shelley says. Every movement of the wheel fires up his fight or flight response, which would explain why both men look like they could use some sleep.

Schweder is one of a handful of artists who have begun practicing Performance Architecture. The idea is that all architecture is already performance — the “living room” is for living, the “dinning room” is for dinning, etc. The work of Performance Architecture aims to highlight the space between how we interact with our environment, and how our interactions are determined by our environment. Sometimes the building itself is performing: Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s “Blur Building” is made of vapor, as if pretending to be a building.

In an art world that has given us artists as hamsters on drugs, and various iterations of artists forcing themselves to be stuck with each other, the piece comes off as thoughtful. And it’s cool to see it in action.

When speaking about the project, both artists separately mentioned a Churchill quote as their inspiration: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” He said that in reference to rebuilding the bombed House of Commons. The irony is that Churchill rebuilt it exactly as it was before, while Shelley and Schweder seem to be building something quite different.

“In Orbit,” Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, Feb 28 – Apr 5, Pierogi Gallery’s Boiler, Williamsburg. Schweder and Shelley will only be living at the gallery until March 9th. 

(Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork; Music: @Falside)