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How We Dwell: Bryan Heyboer

By Martin L. Johnson | Posted 11/5/2008

Every few weekends Megan Lavelle, who lives in an unassuming second-floor apartment in lower Charles Village, has a house guest. Her one-bedroom apartment is small, so she stays with a friend so her guest won't be disturbed. When she comes home Sunday evening, Lavelle finds her apartment rearranged. The furniture might be pushed around, her wall hangings might be turned over, there might be strange objects or signs in her living space.

If this sounds like an art project, it is, but Lavelle's living experiment, titled How We Dwell, is quickly growing past its friends-and-locals stage to include artists from other cities. On Oct. 30, Lavelle hosted an opening for the Brooklyn-based artist Bryan Heyboer, the first New Yorker, and the first male, to live in the space.

Heyboer had asked Lavelle if there was an application to participate, and she made a form for him, half seriously, with questions about the board game Clue and a coloring section. Heyboer's responses are equally sly ("Occupation: Sponge"), and the exhibit he put together continues this cat-and-mouse game played between the two strangers.

Neither a well-stuffed collector's space nor a sparse, work-dominated studio, Lavelle's apartment is receptive to Heyboer's echo-like project precisely because many of her possessions appear to be so ordinary. Travel books and classic literature line the bookshelves, half-empty wine bottles top the kitchen cabinets. In response, Heyboer does everything from obvious one-offs--redrawing a photograph of a young sailor, and placing it next to the original with the label "this guy"--to more conceptual work, such as messages stuffed in plastic bottles that, when read, relay an idea for a sculpture that includes unread messages stuffed in plastic bottles.

Although Lavelle returns her apartment to its pre-visit state within the week, traces of each visit linger. Unlike the white walls of a gallery space, which serves as a relief to the art on display, the line between her living space and the space of the art is constantly blurred. Heyboer takes advantage of this fact by making small changes, such as rearranging the green kitchen chairs so they face another, that might be imperceptible to anyone except Lavelle.

Almost all of Heyboer's additions double back on themselves, which produces the effect of a winking redundancy. For example, Heyboer traces a hand, presumably his own, and then adds feet to the palm and a beak and sunglasses to the thumb to make it a bird. He writes on it, "talk to the hand," to reinforce the drawing's obviousness. He pairs it with a similar drawing, only this time the bird wears a hat. The two collectively suggest that Heyboer wants us to participate in his silly deceptions, to make light of living in someone else's space--not merely to get the joke, but to play it at the same time. At Lavelle's invitation, we're happy to go along.

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