Dummies of life
As a kind of dummy of life, the Californian bungalow embodies what Rainer Maria Rilke in a letter written November 13 in 1925 at the Château de Muzot identified as a fundamental trait of American culture: the collapsing of past and future into an eternal now where death is abolished. Houses built on American soil supports no ghosts, allows no haunting temporalities, Rilke asserted. This is particularly the case with the bungalow. As a product of the Arts and Crafts movement it was designed with pre-fabricated patina as a stylistic feature. Bungalow life is a dwelling without history where life starts from zero, again and again, leaving no traces.
In Anna Kleberg’s images of twentyone bungalows at Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena, California, this suspension of time is explored and made visible. The Bungalow Heaven series folds the time of the dummy’s ever-new now by the decontextualising effects of photography. Kleberg’s photos may be taken as a mere testimony to the spatial order and seemingly undisturbed tranquility of these one-story bungalow dwellings. But scrutinised more closely, Kleberg’s photographs provides no clues whatsoever to the inherent spatial relations or actual location of the Pasadena bungalows. Rather, they pose like detective photos of hidden stake outs.
In any case, what the twentyone photos taken at Bungalow Heaven reveal is the differences between the Pasadena bungalows as objects in and of time. Uprooted photographically, Kleberg places the bungalows in a sequence of discrete images, almost cinematic in character, where the individual differences of the buildings become visible. The photographic series thereby produce a sort of temporal surplus value that run counter with the bungalow’s utopian ideal of timelessness. Although the bungalows still contain an element of anonymity, their individuality comes to the fore when placed side by side as photographs.
Kleberg’s pseudo-imitation of the allegedly consecutive spatial organisation of the buildings documents the temporal fallout that results from the confrontation between the object and the photographic act. Although the temporal disjunction that results from this clash is impossible to represent in “itself”, it lives on in the bungalows’ material differences that the photographs render visible.
As mimetically true to their objects that Kleberg’s images may seem, they nevertheless question the aura of authenticity that we tend to ascribe to buildings and objects that bear visible traces of the passage of time. In that sense, the Bungalow Heaven photos takes on critical value in so far as it shows us houses where the provisional character of every building is particularly visible. Kleberg’s interest in the production of ”the real” and how it interconnects with how we organise our surroundings and lives reveal America as not only a culture of the replica but also a culture of the substitutable. More than being just the fulfilling of an American ideal of privacy and independence the bungalow also attests to the provisional, accidental nature of the artificial aspects of culture.
Originally the idea with the bungalow was to provide people of modest means with an affordable house that combined style and simplicity. This was rendered possible by relatively cheap material and simple building plans. Due to its simplicity the bungalow can as easily be set up as be removed. The bungalow provides an instructive example of how arbitrary and fragile the relation between space, place and material constructions actually are. The identity of a place is to a large extent determined by its buildings and monuments. In all its simplicity the bungalow accentuates this with prosaic rigor. What that makes this relation even more vulnerable is the fact that the bungalow entertains the fantasy of belonging to another, more exotic place than where it actually is spatially and historically situated. Borrowing architectural elements from as diverse sources as German alpine huts and Japanese tea buildings the bungalow is alienated from its surroundings. Its radical non-belonging to space, place and nature is thereby underscored. It should be noted however that this is structure of non-belonging marks all buildings, although it seldom is as obvious as in the bungalow.
Now, by choosing bungalows as her photographic objects, rather than buildings that are less visibly integrated with their surroundings, Kleberg subtly detects the logic by which the real is constructed. Furthermore, her documentation of the buildings in a sequential manner makes evident the process of decomposition and change that is disguised in the bungalow’s incarnation of an ideal of the identical and the timeless. In so far another, more troubling temporality is allowed to co-exist alongside the empty time of the dummy.