Entropy, Ephemera and Visions of the Home in Tricia Middleton’s Form is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy

Daniella E. Sanader

Experiencing, describing, even relaying the title of Tricia Middleton’s Form is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy (2012) is an effort in harnessing the messy and the multitudinous. Housed at the Oakville Galleries at Gairloch Gardens in Oakville, Ontario, the Montreal-based artist’s installation saturated the entire gallery, flooding the exhibition space with the ‘uncanny aftermath of a natural disaster.’[1] Every surface was covered: the walls and ceiling were coated in messy smears of grey paint, and the floors were overlaid with rough slabs of cardboard or messily hewn tiles of tin foil. The entire exhibition space—once an affluent 1920s era country home[2]—became bloated with the accumulated refuse of Middleton’s artistic practice. Each room enacted a different feature in the artist’s fantastical post-apocalyptic landscape: the first room accessible to viewers contained a complex series of coral-like structures built of accumulated domestic items—teacups, bottles, shoes, flowers—coated over in coloured wax and glitter (Fig. 1); the second space to the left was bursting at the seams with a strange blend of organic and inorganic refuse—branches, yarn, ribbon, glitter, felt, tin foil, dust, tufts of grass (Fig. 2); and the final and most sparsely populated space contained two large cocoon-like structures, gaping pink and open like the visceral birthplace of the installation’s ruinous forces (Fig. 3). With an exuberant blend of destruction and fantastical germination, Form is the Destroyer of Force pushed the materiality of domestic space to its excessive endpoint.

Tricia Middleton, Form Is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy (installation view), 2012. Courtesy Oakville Galleries. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

(Fig. 1) Tricia Middleton, Form Is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy (installation view), 2012. Courtesy Oakville Galleries. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

In this paper, will examine how Middleton’s Form is the Destroyer of Force works to radically destabilize the architecture of the home and the phenomenological experience of its objects and spaces of intimacy. Relying on Elizabeth Grosz’s Deleuzian analysis in Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (2001), I intend to explore how Middleton’s installation utilizes excess, waste and the perceived threat of entropy to complicate the coherency of the architecture it occupied: a wealthy country home turned art gallery. Each of the spatial contexts of Gairloch Gardens and Middleton’s installation will be considered in turn, in order to fully trace the entropic genealogy she provides: from home, to gallery, to fantastical ruin. Firstly, I will consider the complex heritage of the home in feminism and cultural studies—discussing authors who have imagined the home as both a site of intimacy and the accumulation of memory, as well as the perceived locus of oppressive gendered social relations. Secondly, as contained within an art gallery, I will discuss how Middleton’s installation not only absorbs the space into its entropic logic, but also remains relationally dependent upon its direct opposite: the exterior surroundings of Oakville’s beautiful and well-manicured public park, Gairloch Gardens. Finally, I will explore how Middleton employs ephemera and waste in order to build a spectatorially disruptive, ruinous and potentially post-apocalyptic environment. Drawing upon a variety of sources on the politics of the excessive, the ephemeral and the ruinous, I will explore how Form is the Destroyer of Force’s destructive tendencies could create alternative temporal potentialities and affective associations. However, it remains clear that Form is the Destroyer of Force is not a wholly alienating or upsetting space: the varied uses of colours, textures and materials throughout the gallery offers up an exuberant, sensuous and perhaps almost joyous experience that becomes enfolded into my understanding of the installation as catastrophic or destructive. Throughout this essay, I will attempt to reconcile these conflicting affects in order to understand how Middleton’s entropic forces work to defamiliarize the familiar: creating a vision of the home that embraces the messy, ruinous and excessive in its very structure, Ultimately, using Grosz’s Deleuzian-inflected analysis in Architecture from the Outside to direct this close reading of Form is the Destroyer of Force will allow me to come to an understanding of architectural ruination that operates in a nebulous zone between seemingly opposing frameworks: a space that is both interior and exterior, destructive and generative and natural and artificial, somehow all at once.

The Home

At first glance, it is immediately clear that Form is the Destroyer of Force is building upon the domestic heritages that are offered up by the Gairloch Gardens exhibition space. Not only do the objects that accumulate and spill across the installation read as the trappings of a homely environment—teacups, flowers, children’s toys, ribbons, shoes—but the structural elements provided by the home-turned-gallery carry these associations further. A large fireplace accents one wall, and large bay windows allow a view of the surrounding gardens: this is not a space that has been stripped of its intimate and homely associations to create a supposedly ‘neutral’ gallery. Rather, in Form is the Destroyer of Force, the material culture of domesticity acts as the foundation for a newly mutated and hybridized layer of matter. Therefore, it is remains important to consider what phenomenological, philosophical and political affordances are made available through these domestic connections.

In his 1958 text The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, imagined the home as a site where the dweller’s accumulated memories, dreams and past experiences are stored.[3] Focusing on the phenomenological and oneiric capacities of domestic architecture, Bachelard was able to imagine how the space of the home could provide temporal and subjective coherency to its primary dwellers: ‘In the life of a man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man would be a dispersed being.’ [emphasis mine].[4] Bachelard’s home is one that creates coherency and stability for those who reside within it; man’s past, present and future become implicated together, protecting the accumulative weight of his memory against the perceived threat of dispersal or incoherence. Bachelard’s interpretation sees the house as a protective container—‘the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace’[5]—with architecture acting as the enveloping force.

Bachelard’s home protects its dwellers, yet in an essay titled ‘Women, Chora, Dwelling,’ Elizabeth Grosz uses a feminist lens to assert the gendered implications of such protection. In attempting to expose the phallocentric influences that bind the very notion of architecture to the social, corporeal and conceptual disavowal of women,[6] Grosz revisits Plato’s idea of the chora—the undetermined space that acts as a ‘mythological link between the intelligible and the sensible, the mind and the body’[7]—as the impetus for the construction of intimate/domestic spaces. As an imagined generative space that creates place, form and specificity, Plato’s chora carries feminine undertones: as a womb/nurse/mother/receptacle, the chora defines other beings and forms, yet lacks the capacity for self-definition and coherence.[8] Through this interpretation, the ontological space of the home itself is formless; like a womb, it is an empty vessel designed to affirm the boundaries of those bodies that dwell within it. And, given the strangely organic cocoon-like structures that loom ominously in one room of Middleton’s installation, these associations with the generative and formless space of the womb seem all the more appropriate. As Grosz explains, this mystical vision of the home puts women at a disadvantage. Through this model, gendered social relations are established through these associative connections with domestic architecture, as women become recognized in their role as the keepers of a space built to anchor the subjectivity of others; namely, men and children:
The containment of women within a dwelling that they did not build, nor was even built for them, can only amount to a homelessness within the very home itself: it becomes the space of duty, of endless and infinitely repeatable chores that have no social value or recognition, the space of the affirmation and replenishment of others at the expense and erasure of the self […].[9]
These philosophical iterations of the home provide a conceptual model for imagining how domestic space—and the objects it accumulates—could become understood as formless or ontologically blank, accruing value only as it comes to act as an extension of the subjectivity/memory of the bodies it houses. And, as Grosz indicates, the capacities for that formlessness to become directed towards certain privileged subjectivities over others have contributed to the uneven gender relations that characterize domestic space.

While acknowledging the heritage of the well-established feminist critiques of the home by Grosz, Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray and others, Iris Marion Young has considered how women have made use of activities in homemaking as forms of creative agency and subjectivity-building. Homemaking allows for the organization and preservation of the materiality of a life: as objects, keepsakes, heirlooms and traces of things accumulate in lived space, homemaking renders these items coherent and understandable as metonymic traces of lived experience, as ‘material support to the identity of those whose home it is.’[10] In Young’s interpretation, preservation becomes the key activity. The preservation of domestic objects allows for the stabilization of meaning and the rendering coherent of identity against the ever-present threat of entropy.[11] However, the work of preservation is never complete. The tasks of preservation and organization in the home require constant repetition and re-iteration in order to keep the entropic at bay: ‘recurrence is the temporality of preservation. Over and over the things must be dusted and cleaned. […] The stories must be told and retold to each new generation to keep a living, meaningful history.’[12] Preservation in the work of homemaking involves establishing and enforcing control over the materiality of domestic things, of bracketing their multivalent affective and sensuous capacities into a coherent narrative of memory and personal intimacy. Domestic objects—from furniture to trinkets and heirlooms—are dusted, cleaned, reupholstered, or placed in glass cases: as if their capacity to carry memory and sentimental value is linked solely to their material coherency and stability, or their ability to resist submission to the entropic or catastrophic.

Ultimately, Bachelard, Grosz and Young each touch upon two fundamental features that organize the philosophies of intimate space and its corresponding objects. In order for domestic space to function as domestic—as the architectural extension of human subjectivity, or as the backdrop to/container for a life lived—the home must be both materially stable and spatially familiar. Stability and familiarity allow the home to operate as a nurturing vessel for the subjectivity of its dwellers: presupposing a unidirectional relationship wherein the bodies enact their influence on space, without being influenced in turn by their surrounding environment. If domestic space is meant to function in its material formlessness, operating as a blank architectural vessel (house) where the identities and subjectivities of its dwellers take root and accumulate into a space of intimacy and familiarity (home), how does Middleton’s installation complicate these processes? Does Form is the Destroyer of Force de-neutralize this formlessness, providing it with new, hybridized, incoherent shapes? What kind of (in)coherent subject (or “dispersed being,” [13] to return to Bachelard) could exist at the centre of her vision of the home—or has the possibility of a dweller been eradicated by this unstable material environment?

A home in ruin could be read as a failure: the home failing to shelter the material lives of its dwellers, or conversely, those dwellers failing to adequately care for their home. Yet, as Middleton’s installation tempers destruction and decay with exuberance and vitality, an alternative narrative begins to form: the home in ruin as one that has grown beyond the need for human life—opening its architectures to the influence of inhuman (and fantastical) bodies and matter. As mentioned, Form is the Destroyer of Force renders the space of the home phenomenologically non-neutral, allowing its material objects and referents to grow wild and become over-exaggerated, spilling out across the home in domestically ‘inappropriate’ ways. Middleton’s home is one that is destabilized, transgressive, bursting at the seams: it is a home made strange, excessive, and uncanny. Indeed, if I am to follow the Freudian term straight to its source, Form is the Destroyer of Force transforms the home into something unheimlich, a home made unhomely.[14] Left to the whims of external forces, the objects that sediment in strange layers in the Gairloch gallery space are prompted to mutate and break down in a variety of sensorially complex ways. Middleton’s installation embraces the destructive, to be sure, yet the layers of coloured wax and glitter that coat its objects could also be understood as an alternative form of preservation. These domestic items have been left to form new hybrid shapes, developing thickened skins to withstand the threat of external forces. Therefore, I would argue that destruction is only half the story in Middleton’s installation: perhaps the memories stored in these items have not been lost or obliterated—they have simply transformed into something unfamiliar and new. Middleton’s home in ruin is something generative, its leftover items forge new material relationships with the surrounding space, like the glittery “coral” growing from teacups and children’s toys in the central room (Fig. 1). Their new mutated structures have allowed these objects to assert their material presence in the face of domestic dwellers that would otherwise rely upon their transparency and familiarity.

Tricia Middleton, Form Is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy (installation view), 2012. Courtesy Oakville Galleries. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

(Fig. 2) Tricia Middleton, Form Is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy (installation view), 2012. Courtesy Oakville Galleries. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

As Sara Ahmed writes in Queer Phenomenology, home furniture also acts as a way of directing bodies in intimate spaces towards appropriate forms of embodiment: ‘Furniture too is an orientation device, a way or directing life by deciding what we do with what and where, in the very gesture toward comfort […].’[15] Furniture, as it works to naturalize the organization and function of domestic space—for instance, the implicit awareness that the room in which you sleep is the room that houses a bed[16]—also conceals its own material presence and specificities in order to direct the bodies it supports. She argues that a fundamentally ‘queer’ type of furniture would reemerge from the background of a human life in order to enforce its influence and complicate what is understood as merely ‘given’ or ‘neutral’ in the spaces of domesticity:
Is the queer table simply one we notice, rather than simply the table we do things ‘on’? Is a queer chair one that is not so comfortable, so we move around in it, trying to make the impression of our body reshape its form?  The chair moves as I fidget. As soon as we notice the background, then objects come to life, which already makes things rather queer.[17]
Queer furniture does not simply provide a surface for the body to manipulate and use; queer furniture, inversely, impresses itself upon the bodies that engage with it, exerting its material influence. The immersive landscape of Form is the Destroyer of Force is populated with iterations of Ahmed’s queer furniture: Middleton’s chairs are rendered unusable under piles of trash and generous layers of coloured wax and glitter, and her amalgamations of domestic items are often entirely unrecognizable in their new forms. The installation offers a queered vision of domesticity, transforming the home into a complex landscape that is ominous, disruptive, and euphoric all at once. Ultimately, Form is the Destroyer of Force’s relationship to the institution of domesticity is an ambivalent one: both destructive and celebratory in turn. Middleton’s exaggeration of a home in ruin provides visitors with a queered relation to space that is charged with fantasy, sensorial complexity, and the ever-present threat of entropy.

The Home-Turned-Gallery

If the domestic home relies upon familiarity and stability in order to function, the gallery is equally dependent upon these normative factors. As Brian O’Doherty argued in his well-known text Inside The White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, the normative gallery requires a level of sterile neutrality in order to build a spatial environment that is entirely separated from the messy influences of the outside world:
A gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church. The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. […] The art is free, as the saying used to go, ‘to take on its own life.’ [18]
As should be clear, Form is the Destroyer of Force does not abide by this logic of neutrality. Visitors to the exhibition space have to negotiate with a complex series of objects, materials and debris that accumulate in each room, piled up haphazardly across the floor. As mentioned, every surface of the gallery was coated over by Middleton’s influence: the walls and ceiling were smeared with grey paint, and as I walked through the installation, my footsteps were alternately accented with a light crinkle of tin foil, or awkwardly muffled by long slabs of cardboard. As a result, the spectatorial experience of Form is the Destroyer of Force is radically disorienting. Ahmed understands disorientation as a queer positioning that occurs as certain bodies are not provided with coherence in space: ‘The ground into which we sink our feet is not neutral: it gives ground to some more than others. Disorientation occurs when we fail to sink into the ground, which means that the “ground” itself is disturbed, which also disturbs what gathers “on” the ground.’[19] Locating disorientation in the awareness of how space unevenly distributes stability or comfort to the bodies that occupy it allows Ahmed to advocate for the political importance of disorientation for the articulation of feminist, anti-racist and queer sentiments. For my purposes, it also allows for a reading of Middleton’s installation as one of ‘disturbed’ domesticity—complicating the all-too-easy assumption that the space of the home is wholly nurturing, wholesome, and happy for all the bodies that dwell within its walls.

Additionally, as an immersive environment, Middleton’s project not only absorbs the gallery space into its entropic logic, but the installation is also relationally dependent upon the exterior world that surrounds it. Middleton deliberately chose to remove the window blinds that typically separate the gallery from the outside—avoiding O’Doherty’s sterilizing, ‘white-cube’ tactics of curatorial display—instead allowing natural sunlight to function as the only illumination in the exhibition space. In this way, the exterior world exerts an influence over the spectatorial engagement with the installation: subtle shifts in sunlight or cloud coverage create altered tones and shadows across Middleton’s piles of debris. Ultimately, the environment of Form is the Destroyer of Force and its entropic chaos is immediately coupled with its spatial opposite: the perfectly manicured scenery of Gairloch Gardens that surround the exhibition. Each space informs the other, and the architecture of the gallery/home becomes understood as potentially porous, like a membrane that connects the interior and exterior instead of an irrefutable barrier between them.

For Grosz, considering the porosity of architecture creates space to complicate the binary-based divisions that typically govern western cultural theory: teasing apart the divisions between inside and outside, self and other, nature and culture, et cetera. Operating in an in-between space, this re-visioning of architecture posits that the built environment acts not as the incursion of the cultural upon the natural, but as an interface between the two.[20] Destabilizing the ontological divide between interiority (the domestic, the space of culture) and exteriority (the presumably ‘natural’ world) allows for an alternate reading of interiority and exteriority as mutually constitutive spaces that continually create impressions across each other:
Can the effects of depth, interiority, domesticity, and privacy be generated by the billowing convolutions and contortions of an outside, a skin? […] The boundary between the inside and outside […] must not be regarded as a limit to be transgressed so much as a boundary to be traversed.[21]
Imagining the architectural environment as an ‘in-between’ space works to problematize the natural/cultural divide, yet the situatedness of Middleton’s installation adds another layer of nuance to Grosz’s anti-binaristic politics. Standing in the gallery, I became aware of how ‘constructed’ or architectural the surrounding gardens seemed in comparison: the perfectly landscaped pathways and sculpted hedges seemed altogether more artificial than the messy, disastrous installation that surrounded me. The gallery—which, of course, is also an ‘artificial’ space, one constructed by culture—appeared ravaged by so-called ‘organic’ forces, while the exterior ‘natural’ landscape was visibly constituted through cultural mitigation. In the relations between Middleton’s installation and its exterior, the labels of ‘nature/culture’ and ‘organic/artificial’ oscillate frantically, and the distinctions between them become messy and unclear. Ultimately, they prove to be awkward and unhelpful: determining how Form is the Destroyer of Force is situated in its surrounding landscape requires further nuance than binary-based divisions of matter and space can provide.

The Home-Turned-Gallery in Ruin

Just as the porous spatial relationship between Form is the Destroyer of Force and the Gairloch Gardens complicates the divisions between interior and exterior space, the chaotic installation seems to anticipate the entropic endpoint of the well-manicured gardens that surround it. Thus, an awareness of the excessive, the ephemeral, and the ruinous or catastrophic aspects of matter in decay becomes an integral feature of Middleton’s project. In Architecture from the Outside, Grosz discusses the ways in which architectural space negotiates with its own excesses. She indicates that any architectural project that works toward ordering, systematizing, or controlling community and knowledge must cast out those bodies or materials deemed excessive, marginal, abject in order to affirm stable boundaries.[22] She wonders what an architecture that embraced its own excesses could look like, how it could function, and how it could organize and shelter bodies in a way that avoids exclusion for the sake of coherency:
Building would not function as finished object but rather as spatial process, open to whatever use it may be put to in an indeterminate future, not as a container of solids but as a facilitator of flows […].[23]
For Grosz, this is a fundamentally political and feminist endeavour. It involves reconceptualizing space to consider how it naturalizes uneven relations between men and women.[24] Her model could be read in conjunction with Ahmed’s understanding of queer disorientation discussed above: both projects work to understand how spaces are active and fluid—fundamentally non-neutral—and how they privilege certain bodies over others through the uneven distribution of comfort and disorientation.

While providing some parameters for an architecture of excess, Grosz does not offer any examples of where and how this architecture might materialize. I would like to propose that Middleton’s architecture of the decaying home/gallery—as a sedimented space overflowing with domestic refuse and ephemera—could enact the model of architectural excess that Grosz envisioned. In Form is the Destroyer of Force, various forms of ephemera intermingle to create new amalgamations of matter: wax, dirt, glitter, cardboard, branches, garbage and ribbon all tumble across the floor and accumulate in haphazard piles. As José Esteban Muñoz writes, the ephemeral is ‘firmly anchored within the social[,][…][including] traces of lived experience and performances of lived experience.’[25] As evidence of the specificities of lived experience—the trace residues of a performance or action—ephemera carries associative capacities that extend beyond its brute materiality. Likewise, in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Jane Bennett outlines an ecology of waste and debris, considering how haphazardly assembled objects can accrue new vitality, evoking a material presence that operates in excess of human understanding or control.[26] She writes of standing on the street in Baltimore, observing an assemblage of trash on the grate over the storm drain—a glove, oak pollen, a dead rat, a bottle cap, a stick—and observing how the materiality of these objects began to ‘shimmer and spark,’[27] accumulating new perceptual significance in the assemblage they formed with each other, the street, the sunlight, Bennett’s own perceiving body:
I caught a glimpse of the energetic vitality inside each of these things, things that I general conceived as inert. In this assemblage, objects appeared as things, that is, as vivid entities not entirely reducible to the contexts in which (human) subjects set them, never entirely exhausted by their semiotics.[28]
Bennett’s brand of ‘thing theory’—of observing the material and affective resonances created by nonhuman things as they exist in excess of human subjectivity or agency—provides a helpful framework for considering how the debris of Form is the Destroyer of Force enacts a material or sensuous pull over the bodies that engage with it. Like Ahmed’s queer furniture, Bennett’s objects re-assert their ‘thingness’—emerging from the background of human life to influence our bodies and perceptions: as Ahmed writes, ‘As soon as we notice the background, then objects come to life, which already makes things rather queer.’[29] The objects that accumulate and form strange hybrid assemblages throughout the decaying home create evidence of the material life of things beyond the scope of human intervention—allowing viewers to imagine how this space could grow wild and fantastical if left in disrepair, and also supplying a queered and disruptive – relation to our own bodies in space.

Tricia Middleton, Form Is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy (installation view), 2012. Courtesy Oakville Galleries. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

(Fig. 3) Tricia Middleton, Form Is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy (installation view), 2012. Courtesy Oakville Galleries. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Additionally, Middleton’s reliance on refuse and debris not only points towards the entropic breakdown of domestic matter, but also ties the materiality of the installation to her wider studio practice. She has referred to her waste-materials as ‘runoff’: including not only discarded found objects but also ‘dust and debris created during her working process and remnants of past artworks.’[30] Dust and debris act as connective materials across Middleton’s artistic practice, bridging spatio-temporal specificities from her workspace, to the gallery, to her fantastical landscape of the home in decay. Just as Bachelard indicated that the past, present, and future start to influence each other through daydreaming and the sedimentation of memory in the house,[31] Middleton’s installation seems to imply the incursion of different temporal registers: an accumulated past that cannot be swept away becomes merged with an inevitable entropic future, as matter continuously breaks down. Understanding Form is the Destroyer of Force as the ‘aftermath of a natural disaster’[32] additionally complicates these shifting temporalities. As James Berger writes in After The End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse, imagining a space ravaged by the apocalyptic confuses common understandings of time—how do we represent what occurs after the end of time, the future after it has already happened? ‘Apocalyptic writing takes us after the end, shows the signs prefiguring the end, the moment of obliteration, and the aftermath. The writer and reader must be in both places at once, imagining the post-apocalyptic world and then paradoxically ‘remembering’ the world as it was, as it is.’[33] Placing the viewer in the centre of this temporal conundrum, Middleton’s installation seems to resonate with several stages of a catastrophic narrative without over-determining its trajectory: the Gairloch estate existed in its stable domesticity, was transformed into an art space before unseen forces caused the space to bloat and overflow with its own intimate matter. Were these forces externally or internally produced? Did they germinate in the strange blue cocoons that tower ominously in the living room? Are they the leftover traces of the Gairloch Estate’s domestic history re-infiltrating the art space and growing wild? In the aftermath of this destruction and decay, it seems that Middleton’s materials are still taking new shape, as the strange amalgams of objects begin to grow new waxy skins, and the glittery dust slowly begins to settle.

Dust is the residue of an extended temporality, the quiet sedimentation of waste matter (organic and otherwise) in unused and forgotten rooms. Dust, waste, and debris are also remainders, that which remains in material excess of a catastrophic moment.[34] As Georges Bataille has indicated, dust implies an inevitable futurity; pointing—perhaps apocalyptically—to the eventual breakdown of all things:
One day or another, it is true, dust, supposing it persists, will probably begin to gain the upper hand over domestics, invading the immense ruins of abandoned buildings, deserted dockyards; and, at that distant epoch, nothing will remain to ward off night-terrors[…][35]
Yet despite this inevitable entropy, Carolyn Steedman writes that dust also signifies the endless circulation of matter and the impossibility of anything completely vanishing into nothingness: ‘[Dust] is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone. […] Nothing goes away.’[36] In Form is the Destroyer of Force, dust and debris create the impression of a temporal and material circularity, where material breaks down and circulates through space in altered and multivalent ways. Yet, as it connects domestic space to exhibition space to fantasy space to studio space, Middleton’s decay is rendered playful, tactile, and exuberant: her debris is brightly coloured in pinks, purples, and blues, intermingled with sparkly bits of foil, glittering crystals, and fuzzy tufts of felt and yarn. Her dust has transfigured into glitter. Form is the Destroyer of Force indicates that ruinous spaces can never wholly be prescribed as sites of destruction, or sites of play: the installation rests uneasily between joy and alienation, engaging tactility and repulsive decay. This ambiguous relation speaks to the spatial complexities of the Gairloch Estate itself, and Middleton’s efforts to tap into its material histories by completing its entropic trajectory: from home, to gallery, to fantastical ruin. Ultimately, Middleton’s installation allows us to imagine how destruction, decay, and the provocative sensory affordances these forces engender operate across all spaces in a variety of quiet and mundane, or fantastical and complex, ways. Regardless of the gestures towards stability that homemaking and white-cube gallery tactics provide, Middleton’s installation indicates that, as Grosz has argued, ‘space itself needs to be reconsidered in terms of multiplicity, heterogeneity, activity, and force.’[37]


From home, to gallery, to ruinous landscape, Form is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy presents a fantastical vision of matter in decay. As I have argued throughout this essay, Tricia Middleton’s site-specific installation at the Oakville Galleries at Gairloch Gardens works to complicate the presumed stability of the gallery/home and its architecture, indicating how the accumulated traces of intimate life and memory can grow wild when left to the forces of entropy and decay. Middleton’s installation allowed the Gairloch estate to swell and assume new life as a living, breathing architectural entity, its walls functioning like a membrane between the interior galleries and the gardens beyond. By examining feminist and critical theorists who have engaged with the phenomenologies of home space and domesticity – particularly the work of Elizabeth Grosz and Sara Ahmed—I have attempted to trace a philosophical and conceptual legacy for Middleton’s project in Oakville, Ontario. Additionally, through a consideration of the politics and sensory affordances of ruinous space, I have explored how the image of the home in catastrophic ruin creates alternative temporal registers and complicates spectatorial experience through a reliance upon ephemera and waste. By following the oblique narrative her installation provides to its entropic endpoint, I have considered how ruinous space functions when met with the incursion of fantasy, exuberance and play. Middleton’s installation creates an ambiguous vision of the ruin, one where material destruction and creation are fundamentally one in the same.

Leaving the Oakville Galleries I came across a wedding party in Gairloch Gardens, evidently taking advantage of the beautiful scenery to take group photographs. Strangely enough, their colour scheme echoed Middleton’s installation: the men wore pale grey suits, the bridesmaids were clad in a vivid purple, and the flower girl had a bright pink fluffy coat. Struck by the uncanny congruencies between their group and the destruction and decay I had just witnessed, I found myself considering how the institution of heteronormative marriage is the quintessential process that establishes domesticity—a husband and wife join lives to ‘build a home together.’ Similarly, like the structures of domestic and architectural space that Grosz and Ahmed have critiqued, the institution of marriage works to ignore its own precarious future, casting away the excesses that threaten its borders in order to establish a coherent vision of companionship and eternal love. Perhaps the eerie, exuberant grip of Form is the Destroyer of Force gains power from the ways in which it complicates other structures—be they architectural, social, spatial, or gendered—that circulate around it. As it pulls everything into its ruinous orbit, Middleton’s installation indicates that all space is equally indeterminate, and all matter is subject to flux and change.

[1] Oakville Galleries, ‘Tricia Middleton: Form is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy,’ http://www.oakvillegalleries.com/1746.htm, accessed October 15th, 2012.
[2] Gairloch Gardens, ‘Gairloch Gardens History,’ http://www.gairlochgardens.com/History/history.html, accessed October 15th, 2012.
[3] Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space [1958] (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 5.
[4] Ibid., 6-7.
[5] Ibid., 6.
[6] Grosz, Elizabeth. ‘Women, Chora, Dwelling,’ in Space Time, and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies (New York: Routledge, 1995), 112.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., 122.
[10] Young, Iris Marion, ‘House and Home: Feminist Variations on a Theme,’ On Female Body Experience: ‘Throwing Like a Girl’ and Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 140.
[11] Ibid., 142.
[12] Ibid., 143.
[13] Bachelard, 7.
[14] Freud, Sigmund. ‘The Uncanny,’ [1919] in The Uncanny, trans. David McLintock (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 126.
[15] Ahmed, 168.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ahmed, 168.
[18] O’Doherty, Brian. Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (Santa Monica: Lapis Press, 1976), 15.
[19] Ahmed, 160.
[20] Grosz, Elizabeth. ‘In-Between: The Natural in Architecture and Culture,’ Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), 99.
[21] Grosz, Elizabeth. ‘Architecture from the Outside,’ Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), 65.
[22] Grosz, Elizabeth. ‘Architectures of Excess,’ Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001), 156-157.
[23] Ibid., 165.
[24] Ibid., 157.
[25] Muñoz, José Esteban. ‘Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts,’ Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory (8:2), 10.
[26] Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 4.
[27] Ibid., 5.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ahmed, 168.
[30] Oakville Galleries, http://www.oakvillegalleries.com/1746.htm.
[31] Bachelard, 6-7.
[32] Oakville Galleries, http://www.oakvillegalleries.com/1746.htm.
[33] Berger, John. After The End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 6.
[34] Ibid., 16.
[35] Bataille, Georges. ‘Dust’ [1929], Encyclopaedia Acephalica: Comprising the Critical Dictionary and Related Texts edited by Georges Bataille, trans. Iain White (London: Atlas Press: Documents of the Avant-Garde, 1995), 43.
[36] Steedman, Carolyn. Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 164.
[37] Grosz, ‘Architectures of Excess,’ 163-164.

Daniella E. Sanader is an arts writer and researcher based in Toronto, Ontario. Last year, she completed her MA in art history at McGill University, studying the use of discarded human hair in recent installation art. She is currently working as Curatorial Assistant at the University of Toronto Art Centre and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, and her writing has appeared in a variety of Canadian publications including C Magazine, BlackFlash, and the Journal of Curatorial Studies.