October 2010 -I transformed my home into an art installation ‘The von Heil Haus’ as part of ‘Showflat’, a Metal project. The show traced the partly fictionalised narrative of my German lineage and the wider context of ‘Vergangenheitsbewaltigung’ – ‘coming to terms with the past’. The project made explicit notions of the public and private through transforming the entirety of the domestic space into an installation, with full public access. The mundane took on extraordinary new sculptural identities within this new context. The show evidenced the plurality of my practice, incorporating drawing, found objects, sculpture, sound and film.
Reflections on the experience of installing and presenting the von Heil Haus
The show took around 6 days to install. This included removing all traces of the personal, the intimate. It felt like moving house without actually going anywhere, along with the inherent emotional stress of that event, as I packed everything away out of sight of the ‘public viewing’.
The final day before opening and over the weekend itself, I had the surreal experience of finding myself ‘living within the museum’. I had to find space to sleep at night without disturbing the artworks and like a modern day Sleeping Beauty, I’d awake to my once familiar bedroom infested with cobwebs, dismembered hands and lengths of mythically long blonde hair coiled around the bed.
There were many practical considerations also: as the artist, you don’t often find yourself cleaning the toilet on the opening night..but these things had to be done because not only were you being judged on your work..but also on the cleanliness of your house.
Regarding the exhibition itself, I have rarely experienced such an engaged audience in an art-space, they seemed to really identify with the work, which was particularly gratifying. Something about the intimacy of the domestic space encouraged the audience to really look at the work; was this out of respect? My home is an intimate space and the installation retained this, it is not a social networking space, as a private view in a ‘white cubed’ gallery usually is.
The entrance to my flat, through a courtyard garden, was marked by ‘museum’ red rope and metal stands, which reframed the domestic setting into a public one. The immediate impression in the hallway was of faded grandeur and artifice, by way of suggestion of my aspiration to a certain (German) aristocratic status. The ‘home’ environment definitely impacted on ways of seeing; I noticed a number of people commenting on the brass light switches and the fact that they are located unusually low down on the walls, much like prospective buyers or tenants would comment on a house-viewing (and indeed a ‘showflat’).
I think both myself and audience found ourselves ‘trapped’ within this ambiguous space, you could not easily ‘drop in’; if you were there, you were very much ‘there’. By all accounts, it was an intense and challenging experience for both artist and viewer. The visitor found themselves to be very much part of the action, of the story. After all, they themselves had transformed my home into ‘visitor attraction’.
The attraction to the project for me was always about the creative autonomy and freedom of ‘Showflat’ and this proved to be my experience. The ambiguous context caught me out when, at one point during the private view, with my kitchen packed with people, there was a momentary lull in what had been a real buzz of conversation; I instinctively asked for someone ‘turn up the music!’ But this wasn’t a house-party and there was no music. Or rather, there was: the constant eerie presence of ‘Stille Nacht’ being hummed from within the closed bathroom cupboard, mirrored by the distorted musical box soundtrack of that same old German tune, from the projected film in my fireplace, at the other end of the flat.
That disembodied voice in the bathroom worked to ‘activate’ the show: a lot of people avoided using the toilet because they couldn’t stand being alone in that dark echoing shower room, they said it was too unsettling.
There was a lot of stuff to read around the show, just as there is in a provincial museum. My intention was to remind you of a visit to a dusty, ‘unmodernised’ National Trust property. My text on the accompanying leaflet directly implied this. The fictions and details are what always catch your eye and direct attention to the most insignificant and seemingly uninteresting of objects. I particularly wanted to draw peoples attention to the absences, these were made physical by my covering various pieces of furniture in dust sheets and making other, more subtle, interventions. People insisted on lifting the cloth to take a peek beneath, I found it interesting that people felt able ‘to touch’ where in a similar public setting this would be prohibitive.
Each room was treated quite separately, people were quite vocal about their favourite rooms and pieces, again, much in the way they would if they were inspecting a prospective home rather than the more ‘repressed’ atmosphere of a gallery. Most popular were the ‘reversed’ bookcase, the film in the fireplace, the Victoriana ‘spirit’ pictures and the bedroom (Dressing Room): in its entirety.
For me, it was a convincing project in realising the increased plurality of my practice, how all aspects of my practice can work together. The drawings, which informed all the work, were seen in juxtaposition with found objects, sculptural works, sound and film. This was most directly presented in the bedroom, where the drawings of numbered dressing table accoutrements were seen in a ‘mis en scene’ within its physical reality. The objects appeared to be physical manifestations of the drawings, there was a ‘forensic’ relationship between object and image in terms of the identity and analysis.
The fact that I was ‘ensconced’ within the space, pretty much alone for such an intense period of time, meant that I was really living the process, the home became studio/gallery/museum. I played, experimented and shifted things constantly until it felt right. I was aware that having access to this uninterrupted space and time felt like a luxury and a privilege. The ‘culture shock’ was then suddenly having so many ‘bodies’ within my personal space: around 70 people passed through that night. It took me a long time to relax and enjoy the experience, because for me it was so psychically loaded.