Queer Time and Architecture: Embodied Memory in Cybele Lyle’s Shifting Spaces

Figure 1. Cybele Lyle, Shifting Spaces (2012), Oakland, Pro Arts 2 x 2 Solos, 40′ by 12′ by 8′.

Architecture has been put forth as the first and most primordial art. It functions as a purely material and spatial discipline, drawing boundaries between natural and built environments to create a space from which all other arts emerge.1 Architecture’s claims to permanence, dominance, and absoluteness attempt to contain bodies rather than create openings for new potential movements. Building systems guide bodies through established milieus of organizational codes and structures. Conversely, human spatial orientation varies based on associations of cultural significance, memory, and ritual. These temporal modes of existence extend from pages and walls to the natural landscape of humanity’s animal origins. Constructed space functions by directing not only the movements, but also the identities of bodies, which necessitates a survey of the relation of architecture to other natural processes and creative disciplines.

Bay Area-based interdisciplinary artist Cybele Lyle uses non-traditional photography, video, sculpture, and collage to extend the language of architecture to the surrounding environment. In Space, Time, and Architecture, (2012, fig. 2) a collaborative exhibition with Luca Antonucci at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Lyle’s intimate photo collages depict vibrant red and orange landscapes that jut up against “walls” of sky formed by tilting two-dimensional planes. She cuts other photographs into forced perspective images of clouds, steel, sea, and soil and reassembles them into new forms of landscapes, tunnels, walls, and doors. Lyle’s artworks tend to hover somewhere between two- and three-dimensional space, interior and exterior, making the virtual and the real ambiguous.

Figure 2. Cybele Lyle, Space, Time, and Architecture (2012), Oakland, Royal Nonesuch Gallery.

Her immersive installations, such as Shifting Spaces (2011, fig. 3) in the Placemakers group exhibition at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, destabilize traditional spatial constructions. Lyle alters the historical and literal walls of the building with digital and still-projected images of landscapes and a human figure traversing them. Light stretches across multiple walls and columns, allowing building structures to function in more than one way. As the slide show changes and projected images cycle, viewers pass through the space, slowly adapting to its particular sense of time. This artwork creates an ephemeral, indeterminate experience and renders constructed space into open-ended and changeable fields.

Figure 3. Cybele Lyle, Shifting Spaces (2011), Omaha, Placemakers at the Bemis Center (photo by Larry Gawel).

Instead of directing the movements of viewers, Lyle undermines any given way of passing through space. At the 2012 Pro Arts 2 x 2 Solos show, Lyle installs the next iteration of Shifting Spaces (fig. 1 and fig. 4) by building false walls that create the illusion of a room out of perspective. Large format photography fills a constructed wall panel with the image of an outdoor walking tunnel in Marin Headlands. A horizontal plane juts out from another wall panel, its photographic surface depicting an abstract interior floor. This chapter of Shifting Spaces includes a book (fig. 5 and fig. 6) of Lyle’s two-dimensional collages to accompany the immersive installation. The book’s pages reflect the walls of the gallery and connect several works in a series of spatial explorations. Walls and pages fluctuate between digital and physical manipulations, two-dimensional surfaces and three-dimensional constructions. The flux between book and installation components of Shifting spaces breaks open the gallery into a changeable text through which participants move and explore new connections of body, mind, and memory.

Figure 4. Cybele Lyle, Shifting Spaces (2012), Oakland, Pro Arts 2 x 2 Solos, 40′ by 12′ by 8′.

Shifting Spaces (2012, fig. 1 and fig. 4) opens onto the surrounding exterior using tactile and sensuous rules for construction. The sculptural, life-size collage installed in Oakland’s Pro Arts Gallery is composed of soft, abstract, and closely cropped photographs that resemble intimate spaces of exploration. In the artist’s own life, photography serves as a memory aid, sketchbook, and meditative ritual without any pre-determined subject. Images usually consist of day-to-day places through which Lyle passes at any given time. This ritualized documentation of movement and life transitions allows the artist to negotiate habitable space through the changeability of identity. Lyle’s snapshots undermine the iconic imagery of photography and the rigidity of architecture by abstracting them into new textures and configurations, which viewers can agree to inhabit in many ways.

This ongoing negotiation among bodies, space, and identity redirects focus from the object-driven field of architecture to the queer time of Lyle’s process-driven explorations. This slow, contemplative, and more roundabout passage of time endures through continuous change in meaning, rather than a linear, uniform, or pre-determined measure. In Shifting Spaces (2011, fig. 3) Lyle transforms the walls of Omaha’s Bemis Center using video and still projected images from her artist residency in Marin Headlands. This site-specific application of time-based media to architectural space creates a dialogue between places and disciplines. The artist’s manipulation of materials through collage and installation opens a portal from the physical construction of the gallery to the queer space of memory and ritual.

Figure 5. Cybele Lyle, Shifting Spaces (2012), Oakland, Pro Arts 2 x 2 Solos.

In the queer time and space of Lyle’s artworks, art and process remain inseparable. The multi-dimensionality of Shifting Spaces (2012, fig.6) suggests several paths of movement and interpretation. Photo-collages are enhanced to become three-dimensional sculptures, then flattened out again, spliced, and bound alongside similar experiments. These images reappear in Lyle’s other artworks (fig. 2 and fig. 3) to form a series of connections between her personal relationship to time and her explorations of new spaces. In the Make featured Lyle in a January 2012 article, in which they write that Lyle gives power to non-normative spatiotemporal constructions, “creating a voice that speaks to architecture…with its own authority.”2 Installations like Shifting Spaces transform the everyday experience of place to create new potential modes of embodiment and rewrite the historical memory of architecture.

Lyle views architecture as part of the natural landscape as well as a text that is editable for the safety and support of queer identities. The openness of interpretation in Lyle’s artworks cultivates an architecture, landscape, and identity for a queer sensibility. Both queer theory and architecture remain uncertain disciplines. They lack self-definition and integration into other academic fields of the sciences and humanities. Queer theory serves as a critique, exploration, or negotiation while architecture serves as a physical and material incursion on identity and earth’s natural resources. Lyle’s artworks represent the ongoing need for experimental practice in both architecture and queer theory. Her works reveal the complementarity of these disciplines and strengthen their cross-pollination.3

Figure 6. Cybele Lyle, Shifting Spaces (2012), Oakland, Pro Arts 2 x 2 Solos,
12″ by 16″ 32 page stitch-bound book with digital prints on paper,
40′ by 12′ by 8′ installation.

Lyle approaches the field of architecture as an outsider and constructs spaces for anyone to contemplate and inhabit. Of her main influences, Lyle credits her father, a landscape architect, and her mother, a scientist. Lyle treats her process like a series of scientific experiments. In a Little Paper Planes article, Lyle says that she pushes the roles of video, photography, sculpture, and installation “in order to understand the language of architecture and to challenge and disrupt its sense of absoluteness and permanence.”4 In the same article, the author advocates for an architecture that “contributes productively to natural cycles of using resources,” rather than overpowering them. Instead of using literal figures to represent the human impact of architecture, Lyle incorporates the bodies of viewers as her subjects. Her installations allow bodies to navigate abstract textures and explore the malleability of subjectivity through constructed space.

Lyle’s installations undo traditional architecture’s location and confinement of identity and open onto new spaces of transformation. In her artworks, the language of architecture extends far beyond built structures to the outermost reaches of landscape and memory. Shifting Spaces opens portals to the surrounding environment, treating walls like the pages of a book or surfaces for projection. This new kind of space immerses and protects bodies that pass through, allowing them to explore a territory that connects all living creatures to the forces of their environment. Territories orient bodies in spatial fields or planes, which communities must share and inhabit. In order to change the rules of architecture, shared spatial provisions must be subject to the temporal qualities of landscape, memory, and identity. Lyle works alongside other artists and outsiders to build new histories and identities into the walls of constructed space insofar as the walls themselves continue to transform.

1. Elizabeth Grosz, “Art and the Animal,” Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Duke University Press: Durham, 2011), 171.

2. Nikki Grattan, “Cybele Lyle,” In the Make, January 2012, http://www.inthemake.net/Cybele-Lyle.

3. Grosz, “Embodied Utopias,” Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (MIT Press: Cambridge, 2001), 130-50.

4. Maggie Haas, “Now Featuring Cybele Lyle,” Little Paper Planes, April 2, 2012. http://blog.littlepaperplanes.com/now-featuring-cybele-lyle/.

About levitica

I am a multi-talented designer with seven years of professional experience in identity, advertising, motion, web, and interactive. My work spans multiple disciplines to push the limits of visual media.

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