‘Many things conspired
to tell me the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
or my hand touched them:
that they were a part
of my being,
they were so alive with me
that they lived half my life
and will die half my death.'
-Pablo Neruda "Ode to things"
The relationship between collected objects within the domestic realm and the architectural framework of the home itself is a contested ground that has long preoccupied artists and theorists. The construction of the domestic, through the material culture of the home, provides evidence as to how its occupants wish to be recognised. These constructions - some real, some fiction - signal not only the personal but also the cultural and social worlds of its occupants. Gaston Bachelard suggested that "a house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability. We are constantly re-imaging its reality."(1) This body of images mediates between the occupant's construction of themselves and actual or potential visitors.
These ideas set up a complex relationship between a house/home and its occupants. As John Ruskin proposed, "ones dwelling should be constructed as a framework to articulate an individuals temper, genius, character, occupation and history." Ruskin also added an expectation that the "[the] house would serve as a documentation of its owner, changing and growing with its occupants." (2)
By the mid-nineteenth century, the dwelling had become more than an instrument of self-articulation. Bachelard, perhaps the chief exponent of the domestic as "a critical medium for articulation of the self," argued that the "house actually takes an active role in articulating the individual resident's life practices." In so doing, the orientation of the relationship between dwelling and resident that Ruskin introduces is inverted. Instead of the house simply representing the character of the inhabitant, or progressively embodying that character over time, the inhabitant is transformed by capacities endemic to the house.
The Crafted Container addresses two themes; the home as an instrument of self-articulation and the idea that the home itself is inscribed and impressed with traces and stories of the occupants. It is the objects one collects which define the spaces we call home. Akkiko Busch talks about the "Opera of the inanimate - the quiet fatigue of an old quilt, the spiritual conviction in a perfectly woven Navajo rug, the solid persistence of an eighteenth century wooden spoon. There is a resonant narrative in physical objects, one which sometimes may tell stories more eloquently than people, and one which elicits a universal response." (3)
In thinking of home as a collection, this exhibition utilises the Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities as a framework in which to read the domestic. Fittingly, an oversized display case was devised for the exhibition, housing the maker's works and referencing childhood fascinations with collections displayed in cabinets out of reach. The subject matter of such a collection is both eclectic and personal, bound up with memory and imagination. As Walter Benjamin suggested, collecting is a depository of memories where "every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories." (4)
Stephen Brookbanks' works invert the usual scale relationships between modelled architectural representation and the objects of architecture's making. The makers world of memories is manifest in an intricate field that surrounds and suspends the object. To a stranger, Brookbanks found objects would have little if any value. In suspending these objects within an intricate and fragile structure however, they are visually inculcated with a sense of worth. Layers of memory and nostalgia latent in the objects are suggested to the viewer through the articulation of the fields surrounding them.
Developed surface drawings emerged during the eighteenth century as a new way of representing interiors, one that instead of privileging the site, building or planning, applied a new subject matter; ‘the room.' Jessica Barter's ceramic slip-casts draw upon this technique as a mode of visual investigation into the interior. The establishment of systems of organisation and compartmentalisation is as instinctive to human nature as is accumulation and collecting. Barter's works interrogate the shelves of a medicine cabinet, casting the objects in plan and elevation.
Busch talks about the medicine cabinet as a place of contradictions, "its contents articulating confusion about how we confront our fragilities. It manages to accommodate pleasure and pain, beauty, well-being, nostalgia and up-to-the-minute technology. It expresses all the assurance and sufficiency that come from taking care of ourselves, from individual choice and responsibility for one's own health. A small tableau for self-examination, it is a place of mixed messages." (5)
The Crafted Container engineers a confrontation between the inertness of domestic objects and the richness of world's latent within the objects themselves. Without the objects of memory and desire, the things that one collects, displays and hides, a place is not a home. It is in the comfort of objects that one's self is connected to a space, that space becoming their own.
- Jessica Barter
1. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Boston. Beacon Press, 1994.
2. Archer, John. Architecture and Suburbia from English Villa to American Dream House, 1690-2000. Minneapolis and London. University of Minnesota Press, 2005.
3. Busch, Akkiko. The Uncommon Life of Common Objects. New York. Metropolis Books, 2005. pp21.
4. Benjamin, Walter. Das Passagen-Werk, Vol 1. (Ed. Tolf Tiedermann). Frankfurt am Main. Suhrkamp, 1982.
5. Busch, Akkiko. The Uncommon Life of Common Objects. New York. Metropolis Books, 2005. pp140.