|ARCHITECTURE: AROUND THE HOUSES|
Jacob on why artists wonít leave architecture to architects
There is a horror movie called House (1986) thatís the most eloquent description of the odd relationship we have with our homes. It features a Vietnam vet turned horror author with writerís block who inherits his auntís house after she has hung herself in it. Gradually, he finds himself battling with the house. Monsters burst out of the closet at midnight, doors lead into different dimensions, a mounted fish and various garden tools come to life. It shows that homes are only half real-estate Ė the rest is in our head.
Weíre all at war with our homes, just not quite as dramatically. The light bulb that keeps blowing, the tap that wonít stop dripping, the cupboard thatís not quite big enough. All these mundane details expose the uncomfortable fit between the house and the lives lived within it. Stairs become shelves, beds become tables, sinks become dustbins, gardens become strewn with discarded furniture. Homes spiral away from what they were meant to be.
Meanwhile, architects wage their own kind of war on the house. Reinventing it as anything but the traditional pitched roofed icon: a pod, a parasite, a MŲbius strip. For architects houses are a kind of yardstick against which they can measure themselves. A house is a kind of set piece which demonstrates what makes them different from everyone else and show just how radical they are.
For artists, the house is just as fascinating an object but in an entirely opposite way. Not through reinventing the form, but investigating the idea. Perhaps there is something that architects might learn about housing by looking at this kind of work. Something that might help them overcome their ridiculously optimistic utopian sentiments and actually engage with the world around them.
Which is why Iím walking around the replica version of his parentsí semi-detached house that Michael Landy built inside Tate Britain. Itís everything an architect wouldnít do with a house because itís so ordinary Ė an ordinary house shape made out of ordinary materials, with ordinary additions (an ordinary satellite dish, ordinary net curtains). Except that it is quite extraordinary. As though picked up in Essex by a hurricane and dumped like Dorothyís house in the cultural fantasy land of the Tateís Duveen Galleries. Juxtaposed with the neo-classical interior, forming narrow alleys between stock brick walls and Victorian grandeur.
Looking at an ordinary house in the rarefied atmosphere of an art gallery makes you look in a different way. Standing, stroking my chin looking at a section of brickwork with rainwater downpipe in a way that would alert neighbourhood watch. Maybe because itís in the sculpture galleries, Iím kind of expecting sculptural things to happen, looking at a bay window with the expectation of the sensation of looking at Rodinís The Kiss (1901-4). Iím starting to hallucinate sculptural marks where in any other context theyíd be bodged construction Ė the traces of the paintbrush in the glossed window frames, the feeding of a wire through a ventilation brick, the thumbprint in a lump of Blu-Tack holding the doorbell in place. Imagine Anthony Caro up a ladder fixing the guttering and Anish Kapoor spraying on pebbledash in a spiritual way. Ironically, this sculpture of a house is a lot less sculptural than the houses as sculpture that contemporary architects crave.
The attention to detail shown in Landyís house is a satanic version of an architectís obsession. Open a monograph on a contemporary architect and youíll see close up photographs freezing the moment that materials meet, shot with all the romance of Robert Doisneauís Kiss by the Hotel de Ville (1950) crossed with the pornographic view of one thing slotting into another. Landyís recreations of decay, age and imperfection twist the concept of detailing. Through the detail, architecture reaches for authenticity with truth to materials and honesty of construction. Semi-detached (2004) has a different order of truth. Not the architectís professional truth, but a warm human honesty.
All these details show the passing of time over the house. In this sense it is in the tradition of the picturesque. Ruskin differentiated between high and low picturesque. Low picturesque wallowed in aesthetic sentimentality. High picturesque identified with the pain and suffering experienced in the landscape. High picturesque was in effect a beautiful type of political and social critique. Here it is in blistered paintwork, dodgy wiring and bolted on satellite dish.
The picturesque landscape was populated with pseudo-ruined follies and symbols of mythical pasts that evoked a sense of deep sincere nostalgia. Landyís house might be part of a new kind of picturesque, one that mythologises the very recent past. A doorbell held together with Blu-Tack rather than a ruined temple.
This modern picturesque might also include George Shawís views into the beautiful boringness of post-war new towns. It suggests parks full of carefully burnt out Vauxhall Novas, water features based around semi-submerged shopping trolleys, a manicured wasteland with charmingly graffitied substations and topiary Kebab shops designed by the love child of Capability Brown and Corinne Day.
Other artists have shoved houses into galleries. Elizabeth Wright built a fragment of a bungalow at Londonís The Showroom in 1996. The bungalow was based on a 1940s design by the Stepney Reconstruction Group. It represented the kind of home that local residents preferred to the blocks of flats proposed in the County of London Plan.
Sometimes itís not about the complexity of politics but the sheer weirdness of putting something in the wrong place. Mathieu Mercierís Pavillon (2003) is a life-size fibreglass caricature of a house that looks like itís freshly popped into existence. Itís kind of banal and kind of lovely at the same time, mimicking the oddness of Polly Pocket dollsí houses on a grand scale. Putting a house inside a gallery is one way to shift meaning.