Playing at Home
eBook - ePub

Playing at Home

The House in Contemporary Art

Gill Perry

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eBook - ePub

Playing at Home

The House in Contemporary Art

Gill Perry

Dettagli del libro
Anteprima del libro
Indice dei contenuti
Citazioni

Informazioni sul libro

Art Since the '80s, a new series from Reaktion Books, seeks to offer compelling surveys of popular themes in contemporary art. In the first book in the series, Gill Perry reveals how the house and the idea of home have inspired a range of imaginative and playful works by artists across the globe. Exploring how artists have engaged with this theme in different contexts—from mobile homes and beach houses to haunted houses and broken homes— Playing at Home shows that our relationship with houses involves complex responses in which gender, race, class, and status overlap, and that through these relationships we turn a house into a home. Perry looks at the works of numerous artists, including Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread, Michael Landy, Mike Kelley, and Peter Garfield, as well as the work of artists who travel across continents and see home as a shifting notion, such as Do-Ho-Suh and Song Dong. She also engages with the work of philosophers and cultural theorists from Walter Benjamin and Gaston Bachelard to Johan Huizinga and Henri Lefebvre, who inform our understanding of living and dwelling. Ultimately, she argues that irony, parody, and play are equally important in our interpretations of these works on the home. With over one hundred images, Playing at Home covers a wide range of art and media in a fascinating look at why there's no place like home.

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Informazioni

Anno
2013
ISBN
9781780232294
Argomento
Arte
Categoria
Arte generale

one

FAMILY TRACES

Family Waste

In his crowded installation Waste Not, Chinese artist Song Dong (b. 1966) assembled the contents of the home of his mother, Zhao Xiang Yuan, amassed over the course of 50 years and encompassing both her personal history and his childhood during the Cultural Revolution (illus. 11). More than 10,000 family objects, including empty toothpaste tubes, rotting shoes, laddered tights, old handbags, socks, threadbare cuddly toys, bars of soap, bird cages, plastic bowls, rusting radiators, cracked sinks and window shutters, were gathered together in a display of his mother’s compulsive hoarding, and as a staged collection of the material traces of his family life. First assembled in Beijing in 2005, the installation then travelled in various iterations to centres and galleries around the world, including the House of World Cultures, Berlin, in 2008, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, in 2009, Vancouver Art Gallery in 2010 and the Curve Gallery, Barbican, London, in 2012 (illus. 10). The first version in Beijing was put together with the help of his mother, to assist her in getting over the death of her husband in 2002. The Chinese expression wu jin qi yong, loosely translated as ‘waste not’, is the cultural mnemonic that haunts every corner of the work. In the wake of the famine of 1959–61, the virtue of frugal living was constantly reiterated during the Cultural Revolution, and as Song Dong recalls, Waste Not ‘is not only the guideline for my mother’s life, but also portrays a whole generation of Chinese people. . . . In my childhood memories she always led a thrifty life, trying not to waste anything for the good of our impoverished family.’1
image
11 Song Dong, Waste Not, 2005, Beijing Hua Lang.
The artist’s mother had been born into a wealthy Chinese family in 1938. But her father was accused by the Communists of being a spy and was jailed in 1953. After her father’s release in 1961, her mother died of cancer and the family fell into poverty. As a means to cope with an increasingly frugal lifestyle, and revealing her emotional trauma, she began to hoard, crowding all her accumulated possessions into their Beijing house. As Song Dong has recounted:
For the Chinese, frugality is a virtue. But at the time it was the only way for a family to survive . . . In that period of insufficiency, this way of thinking and living was a kind of fabao, literally translated as a ‘magic weapon’, but in times when goods were plenty, the habit of ‘waste not’ became a burden. With the improvement in living conditions, it also became the basis of a generation gap: my mother not only refused to throw away her own things, but wouldn’t allow us to throw anything away either.2
Each version of the installation included a skeletal wooden house with partial doors and windows, evoking one of her impenetrable rooms. The open wooden frame was based on one originally situated next to the family house in the heart of Beijing which was cleared away for the Olympics, raising the politically controversial theme of urban evictions or ‘clearances’ in support of major cultural events, not to mention the trauma of ‘moving house’. Various versions of this wooden shelter evoked the impossibility of the structure (of the home) containing so much ‘stuff’. The Barbican installation of 2012, assembled after Zhao had died in an accident in 2009, and with the help of Song’s wife and sister, acted as a conduit for the artist’s grief over the loss of his mother – an accumulation of domestic memories embodied in multiple familial objects, combined with the partial (maternal) shelter of the wooden structure. The information provided on installation panels included Zhao’s recollections of her life in the 1950s and ’60s, with a moving account of the tedious procedures for doing laundry in order to save on the scarce commodities of soap and water: ‘For a three member family there was only one piece [of soap] and it was impossible to get more.’3 Piles of uninviting, discoloured bars of soap assembled on a wooden box alongside an array of brightly coloured plastic washing bowls reference this painful history. And laundry is, of course, an activity long-associated with feminine domestic labour and the repetitive tedium of women’s housework across historical and global cultures. Despite their cultural differences, Song Dong’s project echoes the 1977 refrain of American artists Miriam Schapiro and Melissa Meyer, ‘Waste Not Want Not: An Inquiry into What Women Saved and Assembled’.4
Song Dong’s family history is signified here through compulsive feminine hoarding. It is tempting to read this work, however, as offering a kind of voyeuristic insight into a personal history – a memory of traumatic loss. As Song Dong himself suggests, it is about much more than that. The installation positions an obsessive accumulation of domestic junk within a public framework of art and display, applying museum taxonomies and classification to the most banal everyday objects. Waste Not reminds us of the sheer materiality of domesticity – objects transform the house into the home. As if to emphasize this adage, the different versions of the work were also ‘performed’, with the assistance of members of the family, as part of an imaginative process of re-presentation. This involved careful positioning into groups of worn-out cuddly toys, squeezed toothpaste tubes, old shoes and so on. The work also speaks of a Chinese way of living or domestic culture that was perceived as a ‘magic weapon’,5 reminding us of the (political) contingency of discourse.6 These household objects are the products of mass production and repetitive labour, commodities that incorporate signs of an industrialized nation. Collected over the course of 50 years, they are also replete with the contradictions associated with the transition from Maoist Communism to the ‘mixed economy’ of modern-day China. These are not indexical traces or imprints, but rather carefully assembled groupings of readymades. In its celebration of excess, each pile of mass-produced objects has the potential to trigger a range of associations – banal, aesthetic, familial and cultural – offering the viewer an imaginative space for reflection and playful reverie. These ‘magic weapons’ can also function as objects of creative, critical enquiry and reminiscence, echoing some of the strategies of earlier conceptual artists and the Arte Povera group.

Tracing the Family Home

Waste Not reinforces the cumulative power of these hoarded objects to function as material traces of family life. Aside from the contents, the actual physical structure of the house remains a vivid signifier of the idea of the family home in visual representation. The concept of the ‘home’ embraces both a social and a physical or architectural space. Recognizable architectural units, such as the house, bungalow, apartment, cottage or hut, have traditionally been seen as dwellings that shelter the unit of the family. Definitions of the family, whether originating from the disciplines of cultural theory, anthropology, psychoanalysis, cultural geography or history, usually include the idea of a group (of adults and young) affiliated by blood or kinship, and by co-residence.7 According to sociologists Moira Munro and Ruth Madigan, ‘Ideas of what constitutes a “proper” family have shaped the ways in which individuals relate to one another in the intimacy of their domestic life, and the same ideas have influenced the physical design of the housing within which these social relationships are lived.’8 The spaces of the home can carry a heavy ideological burden: the various rooms of the house have become those spaces through which modern social, gendered and familial cultures are expressed. In the 1960s, Philippe Ariès traced the evolution of the modern conception of family life and childhood to the eighteenth century, when, he argued, ‘the family began to hold society at a distance, to push it back beyond a steadily extending zone of private life. The organization of the house altered in conformity with the new desire to keep the world at bay. It became the modern type of house, with rooms which were independent because they opened onto a corridor.’9
Ariès’ arguments are focused largely on middle-class European cultures, especially French and British, and offer a historical explanation for the modern specialization of rooms. This separation of private rooms began with the middle classes and nobility and was one of the greatest changes to everyday life.10 His steadily extending ‘zone of private life’ has since been the subject of much debate centring on the complex relationship between public and private spheres and their cultural histories. For example, in his much-quoted analysis of post-Enlightenment consumer society, Jürgen Habermas explores the disintegration of both the public and the private spheres. He asserts that in the period of ‘late modernity’, the ‘inner areas of a conjugal family largely relieved of function and weakened in authority – the quiet bliss of homeyness – provided only the illusion of a perfectly private personal sphere’.11 According to Habermas, the spaces of the family home became increasingly ‘personal’ as they were withdrawn from more socially controlled and protected zones and interactions, contributing to myths of ‘homeyness’. It is those same myths of ‘homeyness’, or ‘homeliness’, as blissful and harmonious that have inspired some thought-provoking work by contemporary artists.
Ariès’ view that our modern ideas of home and domesticity are tied to the evolution of separate spaces for different social activities, such as the bedroom and the dining room, both echoes and has informed many studies of the geography and psychology of the house, at least within ‘Western’ bourgeois culture. Although Gaston Bachelard’s conception of the (French bourgeois) house is steeped in nostalgia about a return to childhood origins, his interest in its topography and the psychic and social significance of different rooms is compatible with Ariès’ analysis of the social origins of family spaces and the desire for privacy. For example, Bachelard’s stairs, which ‘bear the mark of ascension to a more tranquil solitude’,12 might be seen in Ariès’ terms to enable the separation of the chambre from the salle in the eighteenth century, ushering in a ‘modern period’ when beds were increasingly confined to more private bedrooms.13
Given its potential to carry traces of so many aspects of personal and family life – from birth through to death – it is hardly surprising, then, that the bedroom, and more specifically the bed, has entered the iconography of many modern and contemporary artists, both male and female. The theme continues to inspire artists and their audiences, from Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed (1955), to the Arte Povera mattresses of Calzolari (1970s), Rachel Whiteread’s haunting negative casts of mattresses (1990s), Mona Hatoum’s Divan Bed (1996), Tracey Emin’s notorious My Bed (illus. 12) and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s House of Dreams (2005), the last a ‘a total installation’ at the Serpentine Gallery, London, in which visitors were actually invited to sleep on beds. This ongoing fascination is due to the tantalizing narratives of family life and everyday intimacy that this domestic object, the bed, promises to reveal or debunk. Despite the history that separates them, both Rauschenberg and Emin produced beds that addressed a defiant or transgressive sexuality. While Rauschenberg’s lurid, paint-splattered bedding could be seen to retrieve a domestic object for a form of Abstract Expressionism, it has also been read as an aggressive exhibition of his gay sexuality.14 Emin’s later bed, stained with bodily fluids and other (staged) evidence of a dissolute and dysfunctional family life, was derided by some as a headline-grabbing confessional. Whatever the diverse readings such re-creations of commonplace domestic objects have provoked, their presence in contemporary art has helped to reframe traditional relationships between the everyday, sexuality, the processes of art-making and the politics of display.
12 Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998, mixed media, dimensions variable.
image
French writer Georges Perec (1938–1982) also explored the typographies of familiar domestic spaces, including the bedroom. In his Species of Spaces, published in 1974, Perec offered whimsical meditations on the functions of various domestic spaces. Countering the sentimental nostalgia of Bachelard, Perec made an exhaustive, classified inventory of all the ‘Places Where I Have Slept’, offering a typology of bedrooms, claiming that the space of the bedroom worked for him ‘like a Proustian madeleine’.15 In a piece titled ‘The Apartment’, he also offers an account of the modular nature of apartments that are designed by architects whose plans map the sequence...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Front Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright
  5. CONTENTS
  6. INTRODUCTION
  7. 1 FAMILY TRACES
  8. 2 SCALED DOWN
  9. 3 BROKEN HOMES
  10. 4 BEACH HOUSES
  11. 5 HAUNTED HOUSES
  12. 6 GREEN HOUSES
  13. 7 MOBILE HOMES
  14. CONCLUSION: OUR HOUSE?
  15. References
  16. Select Bibliography
  17. Acknowledgements
  18. Photo Acknowledgements
  19. Index