in my house 9 30/6/21
I’ve spent the past year and a bit putting on exhibitions that explore the domestic environment and the interchangeability of this space as a vessel for artwork. There are logistical challenges when allowing a space to influence an artwork and seeing what happens when art is confronted by the identity of the space around it. Each show took on the house in a similar yet boldly unique way, and it was freeing to allow a conversation between art space and art object to develop by simply putting one inside the other. The approach isn’t the same as a typical art gallery; each submission was arguably site specific but simultaneously granted free reign to exist as passively or assertively as it wanted. I’ve learned so much from a curatorial perspective about the relationship between art and its proposed environment, and the control or lack thereof we have as artists or consumers of art over how our practice exists in space. Yes you can pop a painting in a white room and control the environment as much as you want, but essentially these choices will still influence the work in a way you hadn’t intended.
The last show of this project includes 4 artists; Melissa Smith, Smriti Mehra, Terry Silvester and Elizabeth Withstandley. The premise of each work pertains to memory, nostalgia and a sense or feeling of home. Each piece encapsulated a different manifestation of these themes through archiving or documented display, which felt incredibly reflective of the In My House premise and therefore a great show to end this project on.
Melissa’s series ‘Broken Homes’ provoked a sense of nomadic nostalgia. When describing the series, she initially mentions how she’s lived in eleven countries throughout her life, suggesting her sense of self and comfort of ‘home’ has changed quite regularly and isn’t related to a specific place. There is perhaps freedom in this journey, but also a sense of uprooting suggested in the work’s title. The colourful fractures or glitches overlaid on Melissa’s photographs accurately emulate this sense of dis-ease. There is an atmosphere of temporality, that these locations captured aren’t permanent residences. One particular quote from her submission really struck me when curating; “the series attempts to reflect the turmoil of living in a fractured environment, in which commonplace activities become imbued with a sense of hazy menace”. I liked the impermanence of the work and wanted to experiment visually with the tangibility of the images as objects, finding a balance between retaining a physicality without weighing down its context. I have used projection quite a lot for this project but I thought this would be too loose of a medium to capture Melissa’s work, plus I wanted to present the images simultaneously as a cohesive series.
Using acetate sheets and fishing wire, I hung the images in two rows of four, keeping the scale relatively small and intimate to create more of a connection to the work when viewing. By displaying them this way it was difficult to view each image without visual interference from the others. It was encouraged that to view you must look closely and manoeuvre through the installation. Referring to Melissa’s interest in common activities becoming more menacing through visual manipulation, I ensured to document the work from different angles, allowing overlap and layering to occur. This gave the work a three-dimensional collage or sculptural installation effect. From some viewpoints the images are more defined, from others they are distorted and mashed together in a blurred spectrum of shapes and colours. With the backdrop of the living room and fabric sofa accompanying the work, the piece establishes itself in an ‘ordinary’ setting. But in its presentation it becomes slightly abstract and unsettling, embodying Melissa’s ideas about habitation and presence. The images have translucency, with the living room used as background to further manipulate the original images and uproot them as static places.
In the way Melissa’s work explores the notion of home and belonging through locations and settings, Smriti’s work explores memory and familial relationships through objects of sentiment. Her video ‘Like Dadima, Like Smriti’ was intimate in such a subtle and relatable way. In the work we see Smriti framed within a continuous static shot that captures her sifting through a number of items of clothing and possessions belonging to late relatives. Smriti began this process of sorting at the passing of her grandmother, and found an old trunk of clothing that belonged to her grandfather whilst sorting through her items. This process is symbolic of the value we place on material objects, particularly when they belong to people we love. It conjures the same emotional response perhaps as watching a home video of a relative and consuming their memory in this way.
There is focus on physical touch of fabric and the handling of each garment leaving an unspoken impact on Smriti as she handles it. Whilst the sound remains undisturbing in the background, the visuals convey perhaps hundreds of silent thoughts and emotions and she sifts through each item of clothing. This physical interaction felt like a powerful image to focus on when curating. I knew I wanted to project this piece outside, and I initially started with the brick wall. The work didn’t seem to fit well against such a harsh texture however.
I found a white bedsheet in the airing cupboard and hung it on the washing line, this visual bearing a similar resemblance to the clothesline Smriti was using in the video. Like her grandfather’s clothes, the video is draped over a clothesline and hangs there in suspended animation. From this perspective we view the video in an open-air environment, with the cotton bedsheet bridging the gap between the intangible process of projection and the tactile gestures in the work. We can almost imagine the textures of each garment and how they feel when Smriti is holding them. The process seems therapeutic and cathartic, with the repetitive motion allowing Smriti a connection to her late relatives. As the weight of each item bears down on the clothesline, the weight transfers from Smriti’s frame and eases as the clothesline becomes heavier and heavier with each item, perhaps a representation of the weight we sometimes carry with us when grieving.
We hear the sounds of traffic and the outside in the work, placing the environment within an ordinary day. The contrast between the bustling busy city sounds in the video and the subdued natural sounds of the garden space provides a comforting contrast between the passing of time both in the work and in real time as we view it. The light dims and the work illuminates the garden as a light wind breezes through the bedsheet and grounds the work in physical space.
Terry’s video ‘Fertile’ also warranted a large-scale presentation; its context resonating in a more spiritual realm. The work reminded me of Pippilotti Rist’s installations that use more subtle narrative visuals. I felt that using projection for this piece would make the work more immersive and disembodied. The scenes in the piece depict outside spaces, and I wanted to retain this expansive quality by keeping the work outside. I wanted to explore the juxtaposition between the garage door representing a physical threshold between inside and outside space and the visuals in some of the scenes in the work. I also found it interesting to consider how much the garage is considered a part of a home; being physically connected to the house but also essentially considered an extension of it. This perhaps relating to nature being an extension of our influence as humans and our impact on the environment. This disconnect felt relevant when displaying Terry’s work outside and onto a door rather than inside the garage itself.
The work begins underwater, with moving shots floating through the environment and remaining ambiguous until we see a scene of a male figure walking through a field and eventually ending up face down in a pond or lake. I found it striking to observe the boundary between the man’s head breaking the surface of the water and his features being completely submerged beneath the water. The man appears motionless and suspended between two states, perhaps life and death or more subtly habitable and uninhabitable spaces (inside vs outside). The scene appears quite spiritual and fixed in ethereality.
I found a similar imagery relating to thresholds in the scene showing a small child and its mother visiting a herd of cows. The child’s small hand reaches through a metal fence attempting to pet them. This then shifts from the animals being confined in a pen to walking and running through a field, with the cows coming close to camera and then trotting away and being allowed to roam freely. This contrast of the animals being confined in a tighter space so that we can interact with them vs them being allowed to roam relates subtly again to our relationship with nature and perhaps outside environments.
The word fertile pertains to people, nature and generally everything alive. Connotations of the word include abundant, yielding and fruitful. In this video we see our place within a fertile natural world and its meaning is explored through our interaction and mere presence within it. Does this word relate to the man in the field, the lush greenery he is walking through? Does it relate to the child and mother, the cows? Is it commenting on the meat and dairy industry and our exploitation of these animals? Or perhaps our dominance as a species to control nature for our own benefit? The contrast of experiences between the man and the child perhaps represent the innocence and wonderment in a child’s mind about the world, and the more ominous perceptions of the man having spent more time in nature to the point of being submerged by or succumbing to it. The work’s composition and cinematic narrative allow for subtle and more serious interpretations based on one’s personal experiences with nature.
Elizabeth’s video steers away from nature and physical space to explore the idea of performance and social impact through the virtual world of video content. Using multiple channel display, ‘A Brief History of Happiness’ shows the power of the internet and what a vast archive it is, putting together a series of YouTube covers of the song ‘Happiness’ by Elliot Smith. They are presented all at once, allowing the audio from the performers to overlap with excerpts from other online speeches discussing happiness. The work begins to become incoherent and overwhelming as a sea of voices that fade in and out. The use of multiple channels or screens illustrates the sheer abundance of content we can access online and how easily we can consume large amounts of information from the comfort of a screen.
The choice to display different iterations of a song called happiness could relate to a common strife that we often search for happiness or contentment in the external, particularly on a platform like YouTube where anyone can make their own channel and start uploading content. Because the platform is so popular and accessible, consumers are able to quantify themselves, uploading content to millions of people in the hope of achieving the same amount of views or likes and becoming susceptible to an algorithm that rewards consistency and engagement. Such an interactive space also communicates to me the permanence of the internet. Once you publish something online it will remain there forever for anyone to view. With the creation of this work Elizbeth also shows how we can lose ownership of ourselves when people often reuse or appropriate footage online. Even if the original content is removed, it may have been copied or downloaded and reuploaded by someone else. Our initial presence becomes distorted and edited to fit others’ intentions. It is the ultimate archive that captures memories and immortalizes them.
Elizabeth displays 25 of the 65 covers she found of the song on the platform spanning the past 12 years, and examines the similarities between the covers. Most performers are male, playing an instrument, filming in domestic looking locations. When grouped together it is apparent how much of what we view online is repeated and recycled, with slight nuances shown in the performers choosing a different key or tempo or instrument. The work is shown on a large screen in the living room, keeping the content confined to the parameters of a digital screen. As much as this piece describes our relationship to the internet, it also explores how we as humans respond to the things we enjoy; through mimicry, recreation or excessive consumption.
I felt by showing this piece in the living room, being one of the more social spaces within a house, it relates well to exploring the concept of parasocial relationships that can develop between audiences and the content they watch. It shows how unrelenting digital space can be and the sheer number of things we can access from our homes. I think a lot of people find a sense of comfort in browsing the internet and sharing with more people than you would usually meet in a normal day in real life. Elizabeth’s work reminds me how artificial this interaction can be, and my curating choices aim to explore this boundary between our real and virtual identities.
Thanks so much to all of the artists that collaborated with me on this project!