Objects of Independence

Michael Borowski

Lecturer, Department of Art and Art History
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

 Fig 1. Shaving Razor 01, 2012, Michael Borowski, ©Michael Borowski.

Shaving Razor 01, 2012, Michael Borowski, ©Michael Borowski. (Used with permission.)

I am an interdisciplinary artist and educator from Albuquerque, New Mexico, working in the intersection of art, design, and spatial practice. My performative sculptures examine the overlap of spatial and psychological experiences, specifically the interconnected themes of home and mobility. We live in a time of unprecedented global migration, made possible by technological developments. Each of us will likely refer to multiple places as “home” throughout our lives. Opportunity, desire, and need lead us towards unfamiliar lands. The world around us has become increasingly interconnected, and at the same time geographically unstable. With this new potential for relocation, how might that affect both the physical and psychological notions of home? Home is both a physical shelter and a place of belonging. Among these characteristics, relationships to others factor most prominently. [1] My creative practice seeks ways of maintaining this sense of belonging.

This work began, and was influenced by, living in a small studio apartment while pursuing my MFA at the University of Michigan. My apartment was one of six, sectioned out of a three-story 19th century-style home. I rarely interacted with the other residents in the house, despite us literally living on top of one another. Peter Sloterdijk refers to the architectural development known as the apartment complex as the material embodiment of co-isolated existence. [2] It expresses the problems of urban living on a personal scale, in which individuals are surrounded by others, but lack any personal attachment to them. This experience can be seen easily in apartments, but affects any highly populated urban environment.

My series of mobile furniture/architectural hybrids, Make/Shift, is an attempt to cut apart this solitary existence and share domestic activities with strangers. The series resulted in three sculptural objects, each addressing a room of the house. The first was a couch, hinged in the middle, which allows each sitter to pivot towards the other. A small shelter structure was built into the backs of the couch. When both seats are pulled together, the walls and roof form a small shelter around the sitters. The second was a bed that folds out of a portable cabinet. One side of the bed has standard legs, while the other side has a set of metal hooks. These hooks must be parasitically attached to a secondary bedframe in order to stay level. The third piece is a cut out section of the bathroom with a sink, mirror, and cabinet. These items are repeated almost identically on the opposite side of the structure. A small window has been cut out above the sink, allowing hands to pass through. When the mirrors and cabinet doors are opened, one can see straight through to the other side. I have photographed these objects in public settings and, in the case of the bed, in various bedrooms. They have also been installed in both gallery and non-traditional settings, encouraging interaction from audience members.

This led me to begin investigating the spaces and interactions established through smaller, more personal domestic objects. As technology develops, there is often an underlying assumption that increased self-reliance is an improvement: simply look at the wealth of information available through a smart phone. In addition, if one feels like communicating, Siri is available. Social interactions that take place in rooms and spaces have been transposed onto hand-held devices. To reflect this shift, I have been reconstructing small, household objects associated with particular, personal rituals: the coffee cup, shaving razor, clothing, and toothbrush. I reimagine the design of these objects to transform personal actions into shared activities. Examples include a shaving razor with two heads that positions two people cheek to cheek, a coffee cup sliced into segments that need to be held together by three participants, and a set of dress shirts with magnetized buttons.

Through these objects I imagine an alternative progression in the design of commonplace objects, in which people rely on one another. Instead of increasing autonomy, they encourage participants to share domestic rituals with strangers. These objects are problematic. They challenge a sense of independence and self-reliance. At the same time, they create a space for human contact in increasingly globalized and mobilized communities. These devices act as props for an imaginary world that embraces the complex and contradictory desires to be at home wherever you go. I have continued to use documentary photographs to suggest that my devices could be used. By employing photography’s inherent connection to the real world, they allow the viewer to imagine this alternative world and question the standard design of household objects.

My creative practice and research examine notions of belonging, community, and home within increasingly uncertain and nomadic urban environments. I build sculptural devices that combine function with fantasy. They challenge the space between individuals, establishing their own unusual environment. They place value on cooperation and shared risk rather than self-reliance, breaking the routine of individual, daily life. By playing with the boundary between public and private, my work makes the domestic portable, bringing intimacy and comfort into public space and between passing strangers.


1. Amos Rapoport, The Home: Words, Interpretations, Meanings, and Environments (Aldershot: Avebury Publishing Ltd. 1995), p. 34.
2. Peter Sloterdijk, Terror From the Air (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), p. 89.


Michael Borowski is an interdisciplinary artist and educator working in the intersection of art, design and spatial practice. He works with various media to create fictional designs for an alternative concept of “home”. His work has been exhibited in national and international galleries, and included in the public art festivals Art in Odd Places and FIGMENT. He holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, and a BFA from the University of New Mexico. He currently works as a lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History and the Honors College at the University of New Mexico.