Day Nine

House 187

House 187 is the second major project I did my junior year of college, Bloody Knuckles being the first. Like Bloody Knuckles, the idea for House 187 came from an ultimately unrelated idea. While working with plaster earlier in the semester, I began thinking about liquids other than water to set the plaster. The possibility of milk plaster intrigued me due to its decaying nature, but it took me until our next plaster project to think of an object suitable for the material. I thought of old-fashioned milk bottles; the glass kind the milkman would deliver to your home. From there I had two choices, really: set up a fictional doorway to deliver milk to or construct one of those knock-‘em-down booths you’d see at the fair. The former had much more potential. While the milk plaster never panned out due to insufficient water content, by the time I got to that point the idea had outgrown its origins.

The project spanned seventeen school days, or a little over three weeks real time. It was set up in the courtyard of Brodie, Geneseo’s School of the Arts building, where any Music, Art, or Theatre student would see it as they went to class every day. Each day the door changed: some days subtly, some days significantly. The following is an attempt at unbiased recollection of the events that befell House 187:

Day one: The delivery of one New York Times and four, sixteen-ounce bottles of milk to House 187.

Day Two: Another newspaper and milk delivery, but for some reason day one’s offerings hadn’t been brought inside the house.

Day Three: The doorway is crowded with twelve milk bottles and three newspapers.

Day Four: Four newspapers, but only three deliveries of milk. The unlocked front door is ajar. Any viewers curious enough to examine the inside of the house were met with this sight.

Day Five: Caution tape ties off the scene. The milk bottles remain in place, and there are now five newspapers at the door. The front door remains ajar.

Day Six: The caution tape remains, though it has flown free from its tethers. The newspapers continue to pile up.

Day Seven: The caution tape is gone and the door is closed. There’s a no trespassing sign on the door. A broken milk bottle lies on the stoop, its contents spilling out. There’s a new newspaper at the door and the welcome mat remains.

Day Eight: The same scene as the previous day. Another New York Times has been delivered.

Day Nine: The no trespassing sign is gone, replaced by a “For Sale by Owner” sign with a phone number listed. The broken milk bottle is gone and there’s a New York Times at the door.

Day Ten: The “For Sale” sign is joined by a flyer listing the features of the house and a contact number. The flyers are posted all over campus with an additional message about an open house coming up. There are two New York Times’ out front.

Day Eleven: Same as day ten, plus a newspaper.

Day Twelve: The door is open and a sign reading “Open house today” is taped to the frame. Visitors to the house may note the runner carpet on the inside, but also that the inside surface of the door is different from what it once was. Also inside the house is a table set up with snacks, beanbag chairs in the living room, and an auction sheet to place bids on the house. I played the role of caretaker to the house, answering any questions visitors had but making it clear I only knew as much as the owner told me, which was very little.

Days Thirteen and Fourteen (Nine and Ten): Visually the same as days nine and ten, with one and two new newspapers, respectively. During this time, I entertained offers on the auction sheet and fielded questions at the listed phone number.

Day Fifteen: The flyer is taken down and the “For Sale” sign is covered up by banners saying “SOLD!!” A newspaper is at the door.

Day Sixteen: The same as day fifteen, but with a second New York Times.

Day Seventeen: The “For Sale” sign is gone. There’s a new paper, a new set of milk bottles, and a new owner of 187 Brodie Court.

Conceptually, this piece was a portent of projects to come, particularly part two of my senior thesis. Both projects were designed to be open-ended; but where the nail project was open-ended for the sake of extracting meaning, House 187 was this way for the purposes of storytelling – a choose your own adventure book, of sorts. Rather than me, the artist, dictate what the viewer should or should not derive from the work, I wanted viewers to be active participants in the creation of narrative.

This is why I tried to give an “unbiased recollection” earlier. I didn’t want to share my narrative for the piece before you got a chance to form one for yourself. Instead, I listed the “building blocks” for narrative in the sequence the Geneseo students received them. While it’s generally agreed that something sinister happened beyond the threshold of 187 Brodie Court, there were so many open-ended bits to the work that it’s hard to imagine any two people who really considered the work coming to the same conclusion. Things like unexplained handprints on the door, the New York Times that never ceased to come, the nametag on the doorknocker reading “Doe,” the house being for sale “By Owner,” the volume of milk that came to the house every day and the length of time it took for the door to be first opened all raise interesting questions for the observer that wishes to pursue them. Even the house number raises questions about the nature of the work, as 1-8-7 is the police code for homicide.

The public’s reaction to the work was very positive. I received a lot of compliments from Brodie dwellers that looked forward to seeing the changes made each day. The open house was particularly gratifying, as about fifty people showed up during the course of the day to show their appreciation and ask questions about the work. At the open house and during phone calls (the phone number on the flyer was my room phone junior year of college), I had to be very careful to answer questions in a manner that built on existing information but didn’t preclude any narrative possibility.

If I had to regret anything about the project, it would be that the milk plaster didn’t come out as I wanted it. The element of decay would have been a really great addition to the piece, and my quick fix idea – sopping paper towels with milk and putting them at the bottom of the milk cartons – didn’t add anything at all. Aside from that, I was very happy with the way things turned out.