Editors' pick

Joelle Dietrick: Grid, Sequence Me

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Joelle Dietrick: Grid, Sequence Me photo
Image courtesy of Joelle Dietrick and Owen Mundy

Editorial Review

Duo finds artistry in boom gone bust
By Maura Judkis
Friday, January 11, 2013

The housing market has turned the corner. And in Joelle Dietrick and Owen Mundy’s “Grid, Sequence Me,” its corners turn end over end in a perpetual tumble to the bottom, the top and the bottom again.

Dietrick and Mundy live in Florida, where the housing market fell further and faster. Their digital animation aims to capture the tumult of real estate in disarray, constructed to mimic the algorithms that started the problem.

For the artists’ new installation, they’ve taken plans for Washington area houses and public buildings and diced them into architectural fragments -- some windows here, a door frame there -- that loop across the gallery walls in a collage of competing forms.

A few elements will be recognizable, such as the brutalist outline of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, but many are stripped down to their most generic shapes, making rows of windows look like charts and bar graphs. The projections of some of those shapes echo and interplay with the forms of the Flashpoint gallery interior.

Dietrick and Mundy also scraped The Post’s listings of recent home sales, with architectural elements from some of those homes appearing before a dense thicket of live-streamed code. It’s a visual reminder of just how complicated the housing industry has become.

This custom coding is also a reference to the way information is transmitted through “packet switching,” which breaks data apart as it is sent over the Internet and then reconfigures it upon arrival.

There’s a sense in the animation that the structures are tumbling away from you -- just as homeownership has slipped out of the grip of many Americans. But the piece will elicit a different reaction here than in Florida, where the effects of the housing market crash have been far more pronounced. In Washington, we’ve mostly been insulated from it: Foreclosures are few, short sales are sparse. In the jumble of buildings and code, “Grid, Sequence Me,” may serve as a warning for those who haven’t experienced that sense of loss -- but who indirectly, though policy work, may have influenced the systems that led to the crash.

Before long, “Grid, Sequence Me” becomes a meditative experience. Spend a few minutes letting its shapes wash over you in soothing blues and greens and it’s no longer about the complexities of housing. It’s about finding beauty in transitions, in whatever form they take, from an orderly grid to a spinning assemblage of architectural debris.

The story behind the work
By Maura Judkis
Friday, January 11, 2013

Joelle Dietrick and Owen Mundy have lived in Florida and California, states that have struggled with high foreclosure rates. So when they came to Washington to install “Grid, Sequence Me” at Flashpoint, they were surprised to see that some of the statistics they’d used elsewhere wouldn’t produce the same results here.

“Originally, we were planning on focusing on short-sale homes,” Dietrick said. “I thought it was an interesting moment in the foreclosure process where the buyer and the bank come to terms, and it’s this graceful moment where it’s not an ideal situation but everyone breathes a sigh of relief. But there’s actually not that many short-sale homes within the District of Columbia.”

Instead, she zeroed in on Washington’s transient population, tracking recent home purchases in the area. Using open-source architectural models of homes and public buildings, she and Mundy fragmented and remixed the files, distancing their images from the originals in the same way that lenders rebundled and separated mortgages from buyers.

It took Mundy about seven months to write the code that powers the animation, building upon his other digital projects. Dietrick oversaw the aesthetics of the piece, and she titled it.

“I was thinking about the opposite of the grid at that point,” Dietrick said. “There’s this moment where you want the grid to make everything predictable, and that’s comforting.”

The chaos of the housing market is not just an academic interest of theirs. Mundy and Dietrick, who are married and both professors at Florida State University in Tallahassee, are experiencing it firsthand.

“We’re actually looking to buy [a house] right now,” said Dietrich. “It’s been amazing to be in the process and have this body of work.”

Their search for a first home has been as complicated as their art portrays it.

“It’s a wonder anybody buys a home,” said Mundy.

”But we all want our little parcel,” Dietrick added.