Professor Evan Pavka Joins Interior Design Faculty
The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History is thrilled to welcome interior design faculty member, Professor Evan Pavka. Pavka was formerly Senior Associate Editor at Azure magazine and a past sessional instructor in the School of Interior Design at X University in Toronto (see footnote). He is also the former managing editor for Inuit Art Quarterly, held editorial positions at Canadian Art and ArchDaily, has curated a number of exhibitions, and has worked with award-winning design firms in Toronto.
Pavka applies feminist and queer theory to analyze how history and memory are shaped, controlled, and commemorated through architecture and, more generally, the comprehensive built environment. “The relationship between the ideas of memory and history are often filtered through the built environment,” Pavka explains. “In this way, the built environment acts as a metaphor — there are both subtle and explicit ways that language and the built environment intersect.” These ideas are most clearly expressed in Pavka’s research into the implications of sexuality and gender constructs on funerary architecture and use in the 19th century. “Much of my work on funerary architecture speaks our need to commemorate, to memorialize, through sites, material objects, and spaces — all as conduits for memory,” he adds. “However, those memories are often circulated and controlled by people who not that person being commemorated. Memory is always in the hands of someone else. There are political and social ramifications of that.”
Pandemic Implications for Interior Design
Pavka’s work is especially relevant today, as designers and architects work to understand the impact of the pandemic on our interior lives. “I use feminist and queer theory to examine how interior metaphors relay ideas about bodies and social values and the way that we as designers intervene,” he says.
“We spend the majority of our time inside, and our homes are sights of labor and work. That is even more acute now. The bedroom, for example, has always been thought of as a hyper private space. Bedrooms are actually incredibly public, but especially now with the pandemic, bedrooms are facilitating labor more than they are relaxation and privacy.”
Pavka is taking a hard look at our domestic interior environments — and the devices in them — in this unique moment in time. He explains that “because of the radical economic transformations of the pandemic and the emergence of labor deeper into the house and deeper into the bedroom — where the private meets the public eye — we can think of devices like ring lights, tripods, cameras and these other kinds of choreography and prosthetics that are transforming our domestic environments into places on display. These little devices are shaping and reordering our interiors, and what does that mean for a new kind of domestic interior that is now on display?”
Thresholds and Voids
Pavka is also currently examining Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1975 architectural intervention Day’s End, in which the artist cut a series of enormous holes in the side of an abandoned warehouse on Pier 52 along New York’s Hudson River, which was historically a meeting place frequented by the city’s homosexual male community. Relative to this examination, Pavka is also analyzing Leo Bersani’s 1987 article “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” drawing connections between Bersani’s notions of “losing sight of the self,” photographer Alvin Baltrop’s images of the men who visited the pier and artist David Hammon’s recently completed skeletal replica of Matta-Clark’s work. The holes into Pier 52 brought the outside into the interior with deliberate intent, and to dramatic effect “cutting through notions of such divides in the bodies occupying the territory through their shared hollows, voids and other openings,” says Pavka. In bringing together the metaphors used in Bersani’s work with a deeper analysis of Matta-Clark and Hammon’s Days End, Pavka is “examining how the desire to enter, inhabit and occupy remains a condition of architecture and the queer bodies that they both reflect and conceal.” He adds that, “by gesturing to the traces of body-based metaphors, my project seeks to question notions of architectural and bodily interiors through the anxiety around their entrances, thresholds and ultimate possession through their connection to penetrative sexual acts.”
The Opportunity for Interior Designers
Pavka stresses that designers have a unique role to play in supporting health and wellness, while also facilitating and responding to social transformation. “Beyond facilitating healthy, suitable interior environments, our work also materializes social order and social dynamics,” he argues. “The built environment is often slow to accommodate social and cultural transformation.”
Designers are increasingly focused on equity and inclusion, and there is a unique role for interior designers to play. Pavka explains, “Interiors set up what kind of bodies are permitted, what kinds of bodies are allowed, what kinds of actions are allowed, and which bodily actions are deemed wrong in certain kinds of spaces. As designers, it’s our role to directly question these ideas and start to imagine what could exist instead. For instance, we can perhaps help to discard stale notions of gender through actual spaces.”
Bringing Theory and Practice to the Classroom
Pavka is excited to bring some new theories and frameworks to interior design students at WSU, stretching our students and our curriculum in new directions and engaging closely with issues of the day. Part of my role as an educator is to allow students to engage with the literature on feminist and queer theory that they might not encounter otherwise. I want to bring this thinking, and a host of writers within and outside the discipline, to our undergraduate seminar classes and studios, where students can be invited to engage in these different topics in a variety of ways: reading, discussion, and their own creative projects.”
This semester, Pavka’s students have been envisioning design concepts for the ground floor of Michigan Central Station. As a part of this work, they are reading about the imaginary of the ruin and the fetishization of decay. Through this project, Pavka is bringing the concepts of memory and metaphor to his students in tangible ways. “It’s very important to take the opportunity to ask students to reflect on this very important architectural monument that’s right in front of our faces,” he says. “Through this project and in all of my instruction,” he adds, “I try to offer a variety of positions to help students analyze in different ways, not just through one theoretical framework. This way they can consider the collective, individual, and social memory of the building and the larger practice of adaptive reuse. Detroit is so well suited for this kind of analysis because there's so such rich architectural heritage here along with so much transformation. But this transformation can’t be top down or pejorative. There are connections between the theoretical ways in which we [are] framing the city and the ways that the city itself wants to be seen.”
* X University refers to the institution formerly known as Ryerson University, whose namesake is considered one of the primary architects of the residential school system. Until the university is renamed, an X replaces the former designation. Source: https://yellowheadinstitute.org/2021/05/11/welcome-to-x-university-an-open-letter-to-the-community-from-indigenous-students/