One of the most striking qualities of the bizarre house that artist and filmmaker Brent Green built for his new film, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, is that it feels particularly his while at the same time being someone else's. The house is a remake of sorts, a reconstruction of an off-kilter home that once stood on a block of more socially acceptable ones in Louisville, Kentucky. And yet wandering through and around it—or the half of it currently installed at Andrew Edlin Gallery—anyone familiar with Green's work will wonder that he didn't invent it himself.
The builder of the original Louisville home was a man named Leonard Wood, a hardware store clerk who created the structure in the 70s as both a labor of love and obsession. Wood intended it to be a kind of healing machine for his wife, Mary, who was diagnosed with cancer soon after their marriage and died about two years later. With a laundry room boasting 23-foot-high vaulted ceilings, a bedroom that started halfway up the wall so one had to climb in to enter it, and dropped ceiling tiles serving as wallpaper in another room, the house was bereft of all logic except Leonard's, who was apparently convinced he was speaking to god through its construction, pleading to save Mary and, after her death, get her back.
Green saw the house just before it was demolished in 2005, when Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty organized a concert there. Wood had moved out of the house and into a nursing home the year before, after falling off the roof, and had left behind most of his possessions—everything from personal letters to bank statements. The latter showed that he was pretty much broke all the time. Green, too, was broke at the time, and he was inspired: "I realized you're never going to die from running out of money," he said in a recent interview. "I thought about running everything down to zero to make something wonderful."
That something is his latest film, and his first feature-length one, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, which premieres at the IFC Center on May 7. It tells a fictional story of Leonard and Mary, set in and around a re-creation of Leonard's house, which Green built in his backyard in Cressona, Pennsylvania, along with four neighboring houses. "When I decided to make the film, it seemed completely impossible to build a town in my backyard," he explained. "That was very appealing to me."
Pieces of the set as well as short video clips from and about the film comprise Green's second solo show in New York, running at Andrew Edlin Gallery through June 5. For anyone familiar with it, the space is the old Bellwether Gallery, where Green first showed in 2007. The portion of the house installed there fits snugly in the main high-ceilinged room, but it's hard not to long for a more warehouse-y Chelsea venue where he might have been able to erect the whole thing.