Repression comprises four spaces built out of the two rooms of the original gallery. Two new walls in the first area effectively divide it into three rooms. A third wall with two doors, built in the entry to the rear gallery space, creates a fourth, enclosed room. These four spaces turn the original gallery into a visceral, kinesthetic, four-part narrative for viewers moving through it.
At first glance the installation is almost indistinguishable from the Arts Commission offices, except that it is compulsively neat and a ticking sound emanates from a partially open desk drawer containing a model handgun. The bookshelf behind the desk is filled exclusively with instruction books and manuals of all sorts plus a framed reproduction of a medieval Madonna holding an adult-proportioned Christ child reading a book. A globe sits upon the desk beside a neat row of pens. The theme of the room is control.
A formal gallery-within-a-gallery dead-ends to the left of the office. It contains Cradle/Coffin, Pair of Closed Shutters, and Forget, a series of lead sheets impressed with words and the forms of guns and knives.
The Repression room
Walking to the right of the gallery, behind the bookshelves, visitors pass a toilet and enter a kind of junkyard. There lies a fragmented office chair surrounded by glass shards, stones, and broken toys. In the corner sits a garbage can full of empty alcohol bottles.
The last space is behind the rubble, through the door marked "Exit." Fifty-three Clocks with Hands Removed rest along the top ledges of the walls which are painted indigo blue. The Book with the Hands from 53 Clocks rests open on a coffee table in front of a couch with a teddy bear.
The space is quietly filled with odd clicking, buzzing sounds. Suggestive of dozens of electric clocks, these sounds are in fact the cries of myriads of microscopic aquatic insects as recorded by David Dunn. The soundtrack is a loop of Dunn's bioacoustic piece, Chaos & the Emergent Mind of the Pond, 1992, from his album Angels and Insects, used with Dunn's permission.
While I was working on this installation, my mother lived in a nearby nursing home. She died on March 20, 1993, twelve days before my exhibition opened on April 1st. In Repression I was reconsidering her life and my experiences of childhood as her daughter. I presented a narrative of a tightly controlled life, continually teetering on the verge of violence, trying to ignore the damage behind the bookcases and the overly tidy desk. The art gallery contained the consequences of such attempts at denial.
The blue room, abounding with time and comfort, represented an alternative, a place of well-being reachable only after passing through the rubble behind the office.
The title of Repression and the concepts underlying the narrative of the piece were inspired by the theories of the Swiss psychologist Alice Miller.
It was not important to me for visitors to get a specific message. I wanted only to engage them and give them an opportunity to notice their sensations and feelings as they navigated through the installation.
— Ingrid Lahti, 1993