The Unprescribed House (2015)
Resort Studios, Margate
Created by myself and artists Holly Rogers and Chihiro Yoshikura, the Unprescribed House was a collaborative installation that presented a synthesis of art and domesticity through a combination of everyday household objects and those considered more artistic. Home and social activities put on display in a gallery situation. It was our intention to create an experience that equalized these two distinct aspects, glamorizing domestic situations and normalizing the artistic. We presented an experiment into ambiguity, making it more difficult to decide which was art and which wasn't, what you were allowed to touch and what you weren't, what was edible and what you could play with. A faux domestic setting presented in a gallery space where food and novelty gifts sat alongside works of sculpture and illustration. Ultimately, we presented an experience to be enjoyed by anybody through notions of nostalgia and home, qualities that are familiar to everyone.
Notions of Objecthood
My mum went to Mexico and she brought me back a miniature sombrero – there's absolutely no use for it because it's too small to use as an actual sombrero, and it doesn't have any other function so it just sits there gathering dust. But it's a tacky blue velvet emblazoned with sequins and ribbons and I love it! The thing is, I like to amass objects, stuff. And everyone knows that I like to collect these random things, so I'm given them to add to the collection all the time. It's almost a weird obsession. So my shelves and bookcases are filled with all sorts of novelty toys and rocks and foreign objects and they collectively gather dust.
I don't really use them, so whether they have a use or not is irrelevant – I like that they just sit there as novelty tokens, squeezed in between everything else. It's odd because I don't really pay them any attention, or even remember that they're there half the time, but I would definitely notice if they were suddenly gone. I like being surrounded by things.
Art and Domesticity: At Home in the White Cube
The kettle had boiled and sat proudly amongst the art in the faux kitchen we had installed. Objects wrapped in tin-foil and little green lights blinked next to a bubbling tank, a broth of water and washing-up liquid. Plates of ham, the fake kind and the edible next to a bowl of plastic fruits and real ones. Boxes of cereal and bottles of fresh milk, croissants, bread, a radio in the background. In the middle of the seating area, the coffee table had been set with plates and cups and napkins… Breakfast was ready to be served! Shelves of objects that had been bought and found sat next to sculptural artworks, polaroids of family activities were displayed next to prints of artistic photography.
The intention of the Unprescribed House was to present a domestic setting that synthesized both art and domesticity. Homely and social activities put on display in a white cube situation. To some degree, it was an experiment into ambiguity, as it becomes hard to decide what is art and what isn't, what you are allowed to touch and what you aren't, what you can eat and what you can't play with. To another degree, it was a challenge to the typical white cube gallery and the way in which it functions. A faux domestic setting presented in a gallery space where food and novelty gifts sit alongside works of sculpture and illustration. It was an installation that could be experienced and enjoyed by anyone through notions of nostalgia and home, qualities that are familiar to everyone.
But how does nostalgia function within a white cube / within a gallery? When you visit most contemporary galleries (The Turner Contemporary, The Tate Modern, The Whitechapel Gallery…) they are all clean, blank spaces that have had an artists work imposed onto them. It is generally considered that for the most part, it is to allow the artwork to breathe; to allow art to exist as its own entity without interruption or interference. For the more academic, it is quickly established when reading Brian O'Doherty's Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space; Everything that is visible has been selected and allowed to be visible and that is all that exists. As O'Doherty suggests, it's about creating an eternity, a microcosm in which only the artwork exists and nothing beyond. Nothing existed before the artwork in front of you and nothing else will exist after it.
To some extent this is true, because typically you enter a gallery and you are there with the specific intention of experiencing the art. Nothing else can exist because it isn't allowed to in this situation. Nostalgia therefore cannot exist unless it is one of the intentions of the artwork. For nostalgia to operate, the objects and situations presented have to be reminiscent of those that people have encountered… For a tea party to be nostalgic the conditions have to be specific enough to allow the visitors to instantly recognise and enjoy it, but also vague enough for them to be able to impose their own memories. By imposing their own memories and recollections, they re-establish a connection that becomes personal and historical, historical in the sense that they experienced it themselves in their own past. To be specific, nostalgia is a sentimental affection relative to the past, therefore nostalgia cannot be experienced if visitors have never encountered a situation or object before, as Susan Stuart herself explores in On Longing: Narrative of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Nostalgia creates a context that becomes personal to each viewer, and without it, the white cube becomes a blank space lacking in context in which timeless artwork is being displayed.
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However, the white cube also allows the freedom to create whatever is desired. Perhaps it exists solely as a place for an artist to project their reality, to allow their fantasies to exist in the real world, an act of escapism. In this sense, the artist doesn't need anything else other than a blank canvas with which he can play God. But again, this is just the construction of another microcosm. Would it not seem more real if the fantasy existed in context of the real world?
The difficulty is in removing the boundaries that are already in place within the white cube. You have to open the curtains and the doors and let the outside in, let the fresh air of a breeze rustle the newspaper on the table. Allow people to come in and sit on a sofa with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Have a conversation about what they saw last night on the television while looking at an abstract drawing. All of these tiny details are molecules of the outside world, which shouldn't exist just outside of the gallery. Re-establish the contexts of space and time and history. The intention of The Unprescribed House was to allow the everyday and the domestic to blend with the artistic. It was an act of allowing the microcosm back into the world, or, allowing the world back into the microcosm. Using the white cube as it was intended, a blank space for the arts, but reintroducing it and art back into the world: a synthesis of domesticity and art.