Changes [Sep 29, 2013]Home
...is an evolving art project centered on a house in Deal, a small seaside town in the south-east of England. Dover is seven miles south, Canterbury 22 miles west. France is 25 miles across the English Channel, and often visible.
I'll add more about history and landscape. For now, some images (to follow) and background to this project...
The house is the pebble-dashed one on the left.
It is a large semi-detached property built at the turn of the 20th century, the cusp of Victorian and Edwardian life in England. When new, it would have been almost surrounded by countryside - fields, marshland, with the sea a 10-minute walk away. The modern day address - Golf Road - alludes to the two championship links which lie over the sandhills to the north, towards the sweep of Sandwich Bay. Today the eyeline is dominated by a rising and falling gasometer.
I have known this house as my family home for 35 years.
When my father died in 2004, and my mother less than a year later, I was faced with a decision: sell the house, or keep it? My initial reaction was to dispose of it, and quickly, as part of the grieving process.
But as I went through the house, sorting, throwing, disbursing, packing-up, and storing its contents, I felt a growing, not a lessening, attachment to objects and building. My work has always involved telling stories: as a journalist, a writer, broadcaster, photographer, archaeologist...I had the sense I had one more story to tell, or rather I wanted it to be told, by the house.
As a beginning, I made a BBC Radio 3 programme, "Leaving Home" in which I walked around the house, talking about its life, and preparing to let it go. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/twentyminutes/pip/r6hwt/
Then that became the sound-track to an art piece shown at the contemporary archaeology conference, CHAT, in Bristol in 2006. This now included images taken quickly with my cellphone, as I watched the transformation of 58 Golf Road from my parent's home into my home.
The project was now taking a different shape. I began to hold onto parts of the house whch would normally be discarded during repair or rebubishment - old electrical sockets, pieces of rotten floor board, brickdust. These I will eventually use for on site artwork.
The idea was now grounded in the transitional; I had - still have - no clear idea of where I should stop.
Last year, a builder did some minor repairs to maintain the house, and I became bolder in making material changes. Cupboards off walls, carpets up, wallpaper painted over.
The process continued. But the more I changed things, the more aware I became of the other changes imposed on the house. I became fascinated by the layers of DIY practised over a century.
I visited the home of my elderly next-door-neighbour - the semi-detached mirror-image twin - and discovered everything my house was not. For his ornate Victorian-tiled fireplaces, I had geometric 1950s beige and brown tile; for his coloured glass panel, I had a moulded, frosted glass; for his wooden Victorian staircase, I had curved wrought metal. His was white-rendered brick, mine 60s pebbledash.
And I thought the differences, and my changing response to them, interesting.
Where not long ago I had despaired of the taste which had reduced my house to a hotch-potch of DIY trends, I thought it was time to celebrate them. I put forward a suggestion to a national event, Architecture Week, for my whole house as an art installation, and investigation of a house over time. Pointedly not an architectural gem, but a building which told tales of home improvement as an ongoing process of not leaving a home, but staying.
Architecture Week said: "Interesting...".
And so, from June 15th until 24th, 2007, my home with be given over to the public, a literal open house, a space to explore and in which to think about changing tastes, and expressions of home pride. From polystyrene-tiled ceilings, to stone-effect wallpaper, boarded over grates, and 70s light fittings.
A place to investigate how a house bears scars of its history - the mark of a flood, split paintwork, masonry cracks, and shifts in the walls over time. Finds made behind blocked up fireplaces, and under rotten floor boards.
One room is now stripped down to its soil foundations, revealing two layers of fireplace, a Victorian damp-course and new electrical cables of just last year.
Central to all this is the idea of "home" in 21st century Britain, a place with an almost obsessive interest in owning, selling, developing and restoring houses. Those of you in the US will know how important house prices are to determining a healthy economy; in Britain, home makeover shows, and experts surmising which location, location, location will bring best returns, have an unhealthy hold on the TV schedules.
Leave-Home-Stay is as much an opportunity to think and talk about "home" as commodity, and what that does to the psyche of a nation.
So, that's the background. I'll go into much more detail in later posts.
fyi, more on my work at http://humanitieslab.stanford.edu/ChristineFinn/106