Porta Hedge observes--and alters--Provincetown's celebrated landscape

Tonight at the opening of an exhibition at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center entitled: "browser, inter-actor, coauthor, producer, nomad, Justin Shull parked his Porta Hedge and invited the public in from the outside (or in to the inside of an artificial version of the outside).

Justin Shull emerges from his portable hedge

Calling his project a "self-sustainable hedge," Justin said that the new solar panels just installed are now powering the hedge's ventilation fans, lights, videocameras, and computer. The exterior's hedge-like appearance (called "camouflage" in the artist statement) is achieved with the use of recycled artificial Christmas trees.

What appears from the outside to be, indeed, a hedge, is also a "mobile observation lab" outfitted with an "electronic remote observation system and satellite internet uplink," peek holes, an observation/escape hatch, a chalkboard (presumably for taking notes on observations), and a private porta potti (presumably making it unnecessary for researchers reveal their presence at inopportune times).

Parked at the intersection of play, whimsy, and something a bit darker ("escape hatch"? "camouflage"? "peek holes"?), Justin's Porta Hedge is a critical intervention disguised as plaything. It resembles the "critical vehicles" and "interrogative designs" of Krzysztof Wodiczko. Wodiczko teaches "interrogative design" at MIT, and describes it this way:
"Design research, design proposal, and design implementation all can be called interrogative when they take a risk in exploring, articulating, and responding to the questionable conditions of life. Interrogative design ... responds interrogatively to the needs that should not, but unfortunately do, exist in the present 'civilized' world."

interior of the portable hedge--an interactive space with swings, air filtration plants, and a chalk board

the outside as seen from the structure's "concealed interior for observation"

visitors are invited to swing from the superstructure of the hedge

To see the Porta Hedge as an interrogative design is to see it as a question.

Is a hedge ever anything but artifice? Is the distinction between "indoors" and "out of doors" becoming increasingly less meaningful because of the degrees to which humans have altered the land and recreated landscapes artificially indoors?

As an aesthetic response to today's "questionable conditions of life," the Porta Hedge/mobile observation lab even seems to question icons of environmentalism. The design mobilizes, after all, a number elements that are popularly associated with "sustainability" or "green design." But it does so in ways that don't quite add up: thousands of plastic Christmas tree branches are juxtaposed with high tech solar panels; a seemingly gratuitious remote, internet video surveillance system operates within an interior design that suggests a "green" aesthetic; the questionable carbon footprint of the unit's summer tour coexists with an indoor garden of "air filtration plants."

As a critical vehicle, the Porta Hedge turns the popularization and commercialization of "green" into a new, "questionable condition of life."

Porta Hedge vehicle and two hedges--one mobile, the other not

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