Black lines covered the floor of the Center for the Arts (CFA)’s Project Space, depicting Buffalo’s highway systems. Entering south of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, one could walk all the way to Canalside. Viewers marveled at the ability to spontaneously transport oneself throughout all of Buffalo without leaving a single room. Immersed in the topography of Buffalo, viewers realized that in Vic Janis’ miniature world, they could be in Elmwood one minute, and Amherst the next.
With a long list of pre-event preparations to complete, Vic Janis ran around all afternoon, gearing up for the closing reception of “Duplex,” her Buffalo-themed art exhibit that occupied the CFA’s Project Space until April 6. After being displayed for a week, it was time for the duplexes — which represented the geography and architecture of Buffalo — to be demolished. But first, Janis, a senior studio art major, needed to set up the snack table and mingle with guests that ogled at her work.
During their travels through Janis’ “mini Buffalo,” viewers encountered photographs of 36 duplex houses printed onto transparent film hung from the ceiling by string. The maps on the walls — including those of redlining categories, a since-dismantled streetcar system, future metro line plans and the current highway system — drew guests into the geography Janis recreated.
The hanging sculpture and photo installation highlighted the inequities that Buffalo’s highway system and redlining have fostered. The photographed duplexes may look the same on the outside — suggesting equality — but the quality of life varies greatly from one area to the next. Inequity is hidden within the false outward equality of the identically structured duplexes.
Inspiration for “Duplex” came from Janis’ lower socio-economic upbringing as the daughter of two Polish immigrants in an isolated, rural area and her current residence. While Janis occupies a cozy student housing apartment built in 2016 on top of a nature park, her best friend in a house two blocks over (photographed in the series) puts towels in the windows to combat drafts.
Janis presented “Duplex” as a way of encouraging self-research and broader dialogues about the topics raised.
“It’s all about observation. Just open your eyes to the idea and look around,” Janis said. “You can come across some really incredible discoveries that you might not have if you didn't make those connections and take the time to be mindful and put the dots together.”
Janis’ reception persevered through various distractions — an attention-stealing dog, an overly curious Spectrum reporter and a child screaming while being whisked away by his parent.
“Ariana Grande, is that you?” Vic quipped as the child was carried away, still yelling.
Furthering questions about systemic inequities in Buffalo, Janis’ piece spoke to broader social problems while also encouraging self-reflection. Janis believes duplexes are human, and vice versa. She chose to look at duplexes in the same way one looks at another person.
“They all look a little different on the outside and they’re all unique in their own way,” Janis said. “But they all fit this little shape that the human body could be alike to, this shape that we’ve fit ourselves into. And it’s not really fair when certain people get looked at differently, and they don’t fit into human quality anymore just because of their differences when their differences are just stylistic, not necessarily identity that they are no longer human.”
Alex Novak is an arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Novak is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.