Art and the Domestic

Through my own experience facilitating, supporting, attending and undertaking artist residency projects in domestic settings, a series of questions have been forming in my mind. Questions which I hope by vocalising will start to draw attention to the often overlooked use of the domestic space in contemporary art.

I seem to be searching for a means to explain why artists use the home as a place in which to host and facilitate the creation of art. To question how this changes, often heightens, our perception of both the domestic and of the work itself. Is this really just a simple quick-fix to the problems we face, particularly as recent graduates, of finding a residency; a venue; a gallery, who’ll have us?! Or is there more to this than first meets the eye?

The home appears to provide a ready-made, cheap and easily accessible space in which to create and exhibit, particularly when faced with a complex and network-focused art world. But so does the empty shop1 or the disused office block2. The projects these buildings house are linked by an underlying need to sustain our artistic practice through any means available to us; through the creation of our own opportunities when no others yet appear available. Those I have encountered have been empowering and inspiring for the practitioners involved; they have celebrated the variety of talent we are surrounded by and offered artists a supportive platform for their creative practice.

However, the domestic space, the home, offers us something else, something other than can be found in it’s fellow, DIY project spaces. That is not to say that the latter is without depth, but to explore an area of contemporary practice less talked about, promoted or understood.

Empty shops and disused spaces are in their very nature bare. Free of the cluttered narratives that come with daily life, they are that clean (!) space in which to escape to that we all know to be important. They remain the closest link to our art school studios or to our most common exhibition setting – the white walled gallery. Yet the home cannot provide the artist with any of this.

Despite being an easy, cheap and quick alternative to the established institutions, the home is a mine-field of back stories. It is muddy, complicated, full of the minutiae of daily life. The home is so often a private and isolated space that expresses our personality. It is intimate – burdened by our personal struggles and celebrations. It is family.

Yet it is this very context which can provide artists and curators alike with a wealth of opportunity and inspiration. In the Newcastle, for example, there are a number of projects, past and present, which have their roots in the domestic setting. 25 Stratford Grove (25sg) in Heaton is based in the 3 storey terraced home of curator and artist Carole Luby. 25sg has focused its programme exclusively on live art and aims to provide artists with “an incubator space for developing new ideas and thinking about fresh ways of creating”3. In contrast to both the duration and programming of 25sg, The Bank4 was an impromptu project that brought a nest of German artists working in installation, sculpture, film and drawing to a ground floor, Tyneside flat in Byker. The living room and spare room were emptied of domestic objects and converted to working spaces that hosted just 3 exhibitions over as many months.

Simultaneously the studio and the dinning room, the bedroom and the exhibition space, these projects provide a complex environment in which to create. Under one roof, they ask the artist to exist continuously on the delicate cusp of communication between self alone and self with others, against the backdrop of a constantly accumulating, personal narrative that is the home. It begins to stand for so much more than a quick-fix exhibition space or a cheap studio. The use of the domestic space becomes a unique context that can provide fruitful opportunities and inspiration to artists, and naturally negate the boundaries and social etiquettes that exist between art, artist and audience in more conventional settings. And yet I believe that there are still many questions left to answer.

Why have so few chosen to use this historically and contextually-weighted space, particularly on a long-term basis, and how far can this partnership of production and domesticity be pushed? Can it really offer us something that stands up to its contemporaries, or will it always be seen as the quaint younger sibling, only ever useful as a one-off experiment and inevitably leading us into the established mainstream anyway?

1Empty Shop, Durham. http://emptyshop.org

2The NewBridge Project, Newcastle. http://thenewbridgeproject.com

325 Stratford Gove, Newcastle. http://25sg.org

4The Bank, Ayton Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. http://thebankbyker.com/THE_BANK/THE_BANK.html

In a Constant State of Flux inspired this post….thank you Louise, Gen, Bridget and John and my lovely housemates at 151.

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