House of art

This coming friday we leave Popps Packing. It's been a month now that we have stayed in this artist in residence and it got us thinking about the significance of the house as an art project.

I shall begin to describe our experience in Popps, that is where it began for us. Faina and Graem, Detroit artists and partners, have bought this meatpacking facility around nine years ago. They transformed it into a lot of things: a home, a gallery, a studio, a workshop, a guest house, a garden, a community cultural centre. This setup enables them and the residents to integrate art into daily life. It would have been totally different to stay for a month in some rented room. More secluded, the experience more into ' thinking' then into 'doing'. For us it feels good that we can do something. Building this chicken coop for Popps is our way of saying thanks and also a way to burn excess energy and 'construction building emotions'. I don't think either of us would be able to only observe, talk and write for a month.

But Faina and Graem are not the only ones transforming their home into a place for art. We have seen numerous examples, in all different disciplines, of people feeling the need to host some kind of cultural function. Do they tend to a need of 'the public' for a communal space? Do they want to create more cultural connections within their neighborhood? Or do they just want to make the house 'look nicer' and tend to their own need of expressing themselves?

One example of personal expression is Hamtramck Disneyland. It was built by an older gentleman who at some point started to paint on objects and placed them in his backyard. It grew and grew into this crazy installation with all kinds of texts that he wrote on it. Reading them, it gave me the idea that this fellow was dealing with some kind of personal struggle and thus retreated to happy shapes and colors connected to childhood. However, that's just my interpretation, the creator has passed away now. Most important is, that it started as this personal initiative. But when the installation began growing into the ally, it became known and is now a public attraction.

Another often seen example in all different sizes and shapes, is a public cultural space of which the outside is decorated in relation to its function. One totally engulfing its environment like an advertisement gone berserk, is The African Bead Museum. Imagine Catharina Grosse doing one of her spray paint pieces on a Detroit house. That would be twice the same thing: demolishing the house with her gesture even more. Although the artist who created his Bead Museum also covered a house with his art, he did it in a totally different way. More like a renovation, lovingly covering all of it with his art, making it more that just a decoration. A long process instead of a swift gesture. Though visiting it a second time, we would like to recommend him to keep going! It's not enough yet to be truly conquering. 

He started out decorating his house with paintings and mirrors. Receiving no protest from anyone, he proceeded covering everything around the first house, including the remains of a burned down building. The first time we visited it at night. The enormous amount of mirrors reflected the city lights, the rest were dark mysterious shapes. It reminded me of ancient african rituals, but then combined with this urban thing; strange and attractive. During the day, the artist who created all this over the course of years, sells and shows african beads. So the outside might have a personal expressive nature, it does tell you something about what happens inside and the cultural function of the house.

Again, there are numerous examples, to many to write about now, but here is one more.
In Hamtramck there are some houses with special names. The idea of these 'special houses' came from artist couple Mitch and Gina who felt that what their neighborhood needed was to be able to come together. They commissioned artists from Detroit to come up with a plan to transform and old abandoned house into a public artwork in which a certain activity could take place. This is still a major work in process. So there is or will be things like a public art library, a music house and stage for theatre and music events, and the one that we visited: the squash house. Squash is explained here as both the plant and the sport. The house, once domestic property that partially went up in flames and was abandoned, is being rebuilt into an indoor squash hall (and other related sports) and a greenhouse where squash can be produced. This house is becoming a work of art, but in contrast to other examples, not with rich decorations. All shapes are both functional as sculptural. The results that we have seen so far holds a promise of being impressive when finished.

This thought: the house as a sculpture, is something to bring with us to the Netherlands. It intrigues us. It is a form of art which is not exclusive. You can walk by it, see it any time, use it, without having to pay a ticket or walk into this 'temple for art'. These house are a part of the street, in contrast to a white gallery space which could be located anywhere, these houses are extremely specific. Also they have a public function, which means they actively invite all people to come in. These art houses integrate in their environment instead of being a lonely and closed art planet somewhere, anywhere.

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