The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs is a collaborative, multimedia installation by Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer and Cheryl Wassenaar that debuted at the Des Lee Gallery in fall 2018. The work explores the bureaucracy of the mind, imagining a group of government officials who preside over specific functions of the psyche. The installation is based on a series of Schlaifer’s poems that manifest this idea through the interior cabinets of Self-Preservation, Desire, Lesser Offenses, Confrontations, Retribution, Misgivings, and many others.
Merging sculpture, sound, video, text, and design, the installation centered around the cubicles of three cabinet ministers: Indulgences, Reason, and Unconsciousness. Each office was outfitted with materials and media specific to their occupant, from the paper-stuffed office of Reason to the obsessive collection of specimens in Unconsciousness to the cassette tapes, Polaroids, and surveillance equipment—dripping with glycerin soap—in the office of Indulgences. Text from the poems streamed across the wall in cut vinyl lettering, and unspooled across the floor on printed red tubing in front of the Archives of the Interior—a 30-foot wall of cast-sugar objects. Glitchy videos from the Press Secretary of the Interior and the Curator of the Interior broadcast throughout the space to create a kind of echo chamber, where the personal becomes the political and the political becomes the personal. In the gallery’s black box, a hybrid sound-video piece enveloped the viewer in crashing waves and voices. Executed in a restricted color palette of black, white, and red, the combined elements create an explorable mind-space of bureaucratic grey matter.
This is Schlaifer & Wassenaar’s third collaboration, and they were among a select group of artists to receive an Artistic Innovations grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance to support the exhibition and programming.
Elements of the work were created in collaboration with artists Zoe Grieze, Jonathan Navy, and Bryce Robinson.
Photographs by Liam Otten, Richard Sprengeler, and Stephanie Schlaifer.