Splitting: Four Corners, 1974 322 Humphrey Street, Englewood, New Jersey
I came home from the office one day and Holly said, “Gordon wants to cut a house in half, have you got one?”
…After it had been cut, I felt nervous being in the house. I thought it would collapse at any minute. I really didn’t enjoy being in it, though I loved the way it looked from the outside, and I liked standing back and looking at it.
The house itself was very boring, a dumb suburban house in New Jersey. From outside the cut had a real formal look. The insides were like a chasm opening up the earth at your feet. Realizing that a house is home, shelter, safety – knowing what a house is – is one thing. Being in that house made you feel like you were entering another state. Schizophrenia, the earth’s fragility, and full of wonder.
Sawing a house in half – a wonderful thing, indeed! A lot of people would dream of doing that. A lot of people would take cameras along afterward to photograph such a thing…but Gordon did it!
When Gordon began chopping houses, the literary quality became literally physical. The houses made you think harder visually – how to build a structure, how to take it apart.
The piece I remember having the strongest impact was the house cut in half. Starting at the bottom of the stairs where the crack was small, you’d go up, and as you’d go further up, you’d have to keep crossing the crack. It kept widening as you made your way up the stairs to the top so by the time you got to the top, the crack was one or two feet wide. You really had to jump it. You sensed the abyss in a kinesthetic and psychological sense.
above all interviews with Joan Simon, printed in Mary Jane Jacobs, Gordon Matta- Clark: A Retrospective, exhib. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1985
In the spring of 1974, Matta-Clark arranged through Holly and Horace Solomon the acquisition of a whole building with which he could work. This building was a suburban wooden house dating from post-World War II, and was due for demolition to make way for re-development. Matta-Clark made this undistinguished, anonymous, typical American house unique and forever memorable.
This was achieved by making a cut through the whole centre of the house, from top to bottom. The building was then supported on one side by jacks, and the foundations slightly lowered at an angle on the same side. By carefully, and slowly lowering the jacks, the one half of the house came to rest on the lowered foundations, the cut opening and revealing a wedge shape that bisected the house. With porches on both back and front, the work took on a pure classical symmetry.
Within the altered structure, the sense of light between cracks profoundly transformed the hitherto cramped interior spaces, and continued the performance- like experience beyond the process of cutting to that of the visitor. In this way, Matta-Clark not only altered the notion of the stable middle-class American home as an immutable entity, but also broke or liberated the form of the house which had become subject to the regularity and sense of containment that make such houses uniform and isolate individuals in a kind of suburban alienation.
Splitting provoked irate reactions from architects:
‘One of them sent me a letter accusing me of violating the sanctity and dignity of abandoned buildings by interrupting their natural transition to decay or demolition. Another person saw what I did as out-and-out rape. There were also occasional accusations (particularly because of my architectural training) of my occupying an ideological position diametrically opposed to the practising architect and to all that the profession implicates regarding human problems.’
Interview with Matta-Clark in Matta- Clark, (exhib. cat.), International Cultureel Centrum, Antwerp, September 1977, p.10