domestic tick tock and lifestyle blogging

PoorPolly

I’m not a giant fan of house/lifestyle blogs a lot of the time because they seem to always just read as either an enormous shopping list, or a continuous ad. Plus the way the internet makes it easy for people to show only the parts they want you to see, and in the best possible light, is kind of exhausting. It’s not that interesting to read (or look at, lets be real) perfectly arranged snapshots of a very select part of someone’s life, even if it’s very pretty. And a lot of the time it’s very, very pretty. So if I am in the mood for some quality interior porn, I usually tend to turn to tumblr or Pinterest, because every picture in the cosmos will be right there at my fingertips, without needing to filter through unnecessary crap.

However! I do have a few home blogs I really like, and you can find them in the links section to the left, but what they have in common is this very intimate approach that doesn’t try and gloss over the dirty little bits of life that we all know exist. I like when people post about things they’re actually interested in, that have relevance to their everyday lives. When Meg Zandi of the really fun Radical Possibility made a post about re-arranging her living room and put up photos of every possible furniture arrangement she was thinking about, it hit this switch in my brain where I was like Yeees, This Is What Home Blogging Should Be About – I want to get a glimpse into your real home and the real way you live your (domestic) life. The images in the r/p post, or maybe the idea behind these images, are also oddly soothing. Like there is this domestic rhythm that everyone has in their lives, and it was cool seeing a concrete demonstration of a small part of that.

The final Radical Possibility living room - isn't it it lovely though?? Also see Meg's tutorial for the HELLO here.

The final Radical Possibility living room – isn’t it it lovely though?? Also see Zandi’s tutorial for the HELLO here.

Back at uni I read this great essay called The Aesthetics of Everyday Life by Michael Owen Jones and I keep coming back to the ideas in there whenever I think about the culture of blogging, particularly home/lifestyle blogging. The text starts of by detailing the everyday, household, personal rituals of the author’s friends, Norm and Jean Smith. This elaborate, anecdotal list of their preferences was really intriguing to me and it set an atmosphere of a really tidy, calm domesticity, with a definite sense of different rhythms of living during the course of a day. This kind of thing has always appealed to me because I really enjoy the idea of people doing little things every day that create a kind of contentment – little things that enrich a person’s life. And that’s really what I’m interested in seeing in lifestyle blogs; something really personal to the author and also genuine, without ulterior aesthetic and/or commercial motives.

Michael Owen Jones goes on to say that what the Smiths do is to actually produce art, because “art consists of behaviors and products considered special that generate an appreciative, contemplative response in the recipient.” Putting aside the fact that this is a pretty limiting statement, what art consists of, according to the author, is certainly what Norm and Jean do, and what most people do as well, whether they’re trained artists or not, just by making sensory-based decisions daily – what colour to wear, what food to eat for lunch, how to arrange their living space etc. It’s a very democratic viewpoint – everything is worthy of notice and aesthetic appreciation, even the everyday things we choose to do (and sometimes don’t even think about while doing them) because they make us feel more content. I like when a blog becomes an archive of these small decisions on the blogger’s part, particularly because a lot of it is so glamourised and magaziney instead.

The author goes on to state that “most folk-art belongs to ordinary day-to-day experiences.” The assumption being, of course, is that ‘real’ art is removed from, or above ordinary day-to-day experiences, which is not something I personally agree with.  However, even though what Norm and Jean do every day can be read as art in this way, I’m guessing few people would actually do so. The essay does pose the view, though, that Norm and Jean have achieved “formal perfection.” That is, they have succeeded in being able to create things every day based on sensory and aesthetic decisions that give them satisfaction and enrich their lives. And also probably prompt compliments by other people, meaning Norm and Jean’s (and Ms. Zandi’s etc) creations are also appreciated by others.  And that’s really nice imo. A life doesn’t have to be airbrushed and hidden behind screens – there can be something good and interesting in even the most mundane things, or to be honest, in even in the most nasty little stains (there is a lot of those in my own life, but yeah I can see why people don’t blog about them).

P.S. If you are interested in reading this essay, you can find it in the book Self-Taught Art: The Culture and Aesthetics in American Vernacular Art edited by Charles Russel. The google books preview unfortunately doesn’t have those pages available for viewing, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find this book in your local library, uni library, or even on Amazon if you’re in a buying mood.

top 5 matisse interiors (imo)

5. Interior with a Goldfish Bowl, 1914matisse_interiorwithgoldfishbowlMatisse is one of the artists that just make me so happy that art exists. I feel satisfied just looking at his work and the colours and patterns etc. There’s that whole thing about the pleasure of painting and just basic visual pleasure, and Matisse epitomises that for me. Interior with a Goldfish Bowl was painted during the beginning of WWI at a time when Matisse was becoming more interested in Cubism and was making friends with Picasso and Juan Gris (as Spanish nationals, they were not subject to conscription, so remained in Paris). What I love the most about this painting is all the different blues in it and how tranquil it seems. Although he obviously uses certain Cubist concepts (rectilinear divisions, intersecting planes etc.) I really like how he doesn’t ~go all the way and we still get to be treated with this nice chunk of his studio. And those orange cigar fish lol.

4. The Black Fern, 1948
matisse_theblackfern
Bright colour and pattern everywhere (dat spotted jaguar skin…). Love the scraggly paint application and the different approaches to the various parts of the painting. LOVE that black chunk of paint at the bottom in which he’s scratched his signature and the date (Venice, 1948 – and basically ~mattise waz here~). Many of Matisse’s late-life works are interiors that have been squished into one plane, so like in this one, although the floor and wall are separated through colour and pattern they share the same plane, so that the rectangular window showing a ‘view’ of some nice trees actually looks more like a painting itself. And that fern! It has more sass than the human figure in the painting.

3. My Room at the Beau-Rivage, 1917-18
matisse_myroomatthebeaurivage
Apparently people were disappointed upon seeing the actual hotel room this painting depicts because it was nothing like Matisse’s inviting and cheery rendition. I like that he turned this default (and probs quite ugly) hotel room from something anonymous into a lovely painterly piece of candy. It’s just such an appealing and charming painting. It radiates light and colour and a kind of domesticated contentment.

2. The Pink Studio, 1911
matisse_thepinkstudio1911
This was one of four massive paintings that were later named Matisse’s “grand symphonic interiors“… !!!! It’s a very all-over painting and the eye is free to move around at will and greedily suck everything up. There is definitely an aesthetic delight in this, like in so many of his other works. To me it seems very happy (that pink!), but I also like how he’s included so much of himself in it, even without depicting himself at all. Instead he shows us the things he was working on at the time. The book I was reading about him described it as a “parade” of his work in every medium and I think that’s totally fitting!

1. Harmony in Red, 1908
matisse_harmonyinred
This is my favourite painting of all time ever. That red with the electric blue… It’s pretty stubbornly two-dimensional, so everything seems to only just cling to the surface. Like I just want to reach in and pluck things out and eat them. Also the garden view could again be mistaken for a hanging painting. I personally really like the lovely, colouredy, patterny domesticity of this painting, but I learned that to draw attention away from the human element and the human action in the painting, Matisse renamed it Harmony in Red, to place emphasis on the formal elements of the painting, when it was originally called La Desserte – obviously referring to the figure placing fruit on the table. For me this painting basically defines the phrase ‘the pleasure of looking’ and fills me with happiness. It’s just full of painterly fizz. This was one of the paintings people living at the time really didn’t like (like much of the Fauvist works of many different artists), because it was too wild for them and thought of as ugly, but like whatever shows what they knew which is NOTHING.

the weight of the things we own

Wedding Shower, 1951. LIFE Magazine. Photo by: Nina Leen

Wedding Shower, 1951. LIFE Magazine. Photo by: Nina Leen

There’s been this wave of photography and art work chronicling people’s possessions on the internet for a while now. From the anxiety inducing The Burning House, where people say that in a fire they’d save pens and their Moleskines over passports or family photos, to the shame inducing What The World Eats photo-set. From long-term fashion missions, like achieving the life affirming french capsule wardrobe of your dreams, to the slightly inexplicable, but still pretty, All I Own, where several Swedish students are photographed with all their possessions stacked in precarious piles next to them. From what I can see, it’s not even the artist, Sannah Kvist, that frames this work in such a political way (SWEDISH STUDENTS SHOW US HOW TO LIVE WITH LESS), but the legions of internetters who are obsessed with the ideas around documenting your possessions, putting them on display and that being a way of somehow finding out what is important.

Simon Evans; Everything I have; 2008

Simon Evans; Everything I have; 2008

There are also more diaristic projects, such as Simon Evans’ Everything I have and Kate Bingman Burt’s Daily Drawings of each of her purchases made over a number of years. And there are also more socially thoughtful art projects, without the internet gleam of a life on show, like photographer JeongMee Yoon’s Pink and Blue Project.

The Pink Project - Jiyeon and Her Pink Things, Light jet Print, 2007

JeongMee Yoon; The Pink Project – Jiyeon and Her Pink Things;  2007

I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly that’s going on here, but I feel like something’s bubbling just under the surface with this trend. Is it a trend? Obviously we all need certain things to survive (and that number is technically very small, unless you want to not only survive, but survive in relative comfort) and obviously we must all give thought to the things we need and what needs to be replaced or mended or bought, BUT is this something that we need to focus so much public energy on? I do admit that I find most of it really interesting, and I guess in 200 years it will be really good for some nice historian to get a picture of how a certain section of earth’s society lived in the 21st century, but what is the point of it all though… Is it just a comforting thing? Like a crisp list made in your brand-new diary, or a nicely arranged pantry. Is it all just a sensory thing?

When these projects cross a line between ‘satisfying list’ and end up in ‘curated’ territory, that’s when I start to feel a bit over it. There is something both comforting and alarming about these kinds of cleverly arranged sets of the objects we keep around us. I love a good solid photo of some things organised in order of descending size, or perhaps in a nice even sided square, but I can’t shake the feeling that there is a whiff of vanity and pointlessness about it all.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that a lot of these curated collections of the items we possess, are usually accompanied by an undercurrent of understanding that it is better to own a few things, of great quality or great importance, rather than fill our lives with the detritus of capitalism. I think that most of these subtle messages are really pretentious. If I want a million things in my home by god I will have them if I can.

I remember once talking to a friend of mine about clothes and she said of her sister that she always goes for quality over quantity, but that she herself always goes for the opposite – three cheap tank tops over one expensive one (of course in this conversation the expensive clothes referred to came from Glassons, so it’s not like we were even talking about a difference between that and a couture hand-beaded gown). I found that so refreshing at the time, because all we ever hear is the exact opposite. Buy this ~investment piece and you’ll be happy. OH YA this million dollar bag is an investment. It’ll last my entire life~~~

Even discounting whether this is true or not (because I somehow doubt a bag made of the thin,~buttery leathers in use today would ever last someone an entire lifetime, and even if it did, that they would like that exact bag in that exact colour and style every single moment of their perfect lives until they croaked on their walnut investment piece bed) it’s still such a call to consumerism. Thinking of buying less to such a ‘perfected’ degree is still just thinking about buying with a more sanctimonious name. Sometimes I feel like this neurotic tide towards minimalism and simpler living and a capsule wardrobe etc. is not that minimalist, or even as genuine as it pretends to be, simply because of the thought processes it requires and the sway and weight it places on people’s minds. If your brain is so full of whirling thoughts on whether this or that object fits in better in your curated life (not to even mention your curated internet/blog life), how truly free are you of the weight of your possessions?

edith amituanai and creating a home

Edith Amituanai, Daniel, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Daniel, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai is an Auckland-based artist whose photography I really admire. She’s still a really young artist and has achieved so much and consistently makes really interesting work. I can’t really help but view her work through the lens of an immigrant. Although I am not Samoan, I obviously come from a culture that is pretty different, both historically and in more contemporary times, to the English-based culture of non-immigrant New Zealand that dominates here, so as I was reading I came across a particular series of photographs she had exhibited, that sounded really interesting and relevant. It’s a body of work called La Fine Del Mondo that examines the immigrant experience in New Zealand.

Edith Amituanai, Bei Rei Pa (Talk), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Bei Rei Pa (Talk), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Tu Chha (Golden Couch), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Tu Chha (Golden Couch), 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

Her work on this (which through the magic of the internet I’ve been able to view, despite not seeing it in person) as well as what she talked about in various interviews, really ~*spoke~*~ to me. I feel like she’s one of the few people who make art about things that truly matter to people, like on an instinctive level. And those things are about the concept of home and community and how a person or family creates a home, especially when they’ve moved away to a new country, where their cultural practices cannot be taken for granted anymore because they’ve been eye-dropped into a bucket full of English (Western?) water. And then of course, what happens when this move is not voluntary, but forced and how does a family negotiate this new life in that context and when it’s perhaps not permanent?

Edith Amituanai, The Lai Family, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, The Lai Family, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

In 2009 Ms. Amituanai first exhibited La Fine del Mondo at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington. This is a body of work documenting the settlement of the Lai family, recently arrived from Myanmar, into their new lives in New Zealand and their new home in West Auckland. It is a series of photographic portraits of the Lai family showing their efforts in negotiating a new house, school, culture and life, and was complemented by archival footage about a wider immigrant experience in New Zealand, including clips of Polish children who came to NZ as World War II refugees, as well as a TV3 news story on the Tampa asylum seekers, who had just become New Zealand citizens.

I really liked what Ms. Amituanai talked about in relation to La Fine Del Mondo in an interview here, and in particular I was struck by this idea of the common immigrant experience in New Zealand (which I guess must be similar in other countries) and what affects people the most and the things they think about while creating a new home in a foreign land. She saw that a lot of what she had been exploring in her work through her own Samoan – New Zealand upbringing and culture appeared in the experiences of the Lai family –  “It occurred to me that many things that I had been looking at in my own cultural milieu could be found in other immigrant cultures”.

And in particular, this statement really spoke to me:

“The adjustment to a new environment’s climate, language, new systems and finding new communities is one major effort. While another is not always being fully accepted by the new homeland. Also the experience of feeling like being in two places simultaneously, one in the new adopted country and the other placed in the ancestral homeland seems to be quite common.”

Edith Amituanai, Nunu, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Nunu, 2009, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Mr. Lai, 2010, from the series La Fine Del Mondo,C-type photograph

Edith Amituanai, Mr. Lai, 2010, from the series La Fine Del Mondo, C-type photograph

I also really like how intimate her portraits are. I think her curiosity about people really comes across, and also a kind of realisation that she really tries to understand her subjects and never puts anyone on the spot. I also like the domestic scale of her work and how nicely they could fit in someone’s suburban home, even in the homes she depicts. There’s a nice feeling of a family snapshot in a lot of her work, and this is tempered by the fact that they are obviously works of art for the public, so there’s always a kind of shift between the two when you’re looking at them (especially in real life), which is really satisfying.

Also, this is much more superficial, but I really love that feeling of driving around at night when it’s quiet and people’s curtains are open and you get quick little flashes of their living rooms through the window as you drive by – a little whirl of warm light and things hanging on walls if their lamps are on, or flickering blue colour and little lightning bolt snippets of furniture if they’re just watching tv, that let you see for a short time how that person or that family lives their life, and the commonplace things they’re doing in that particular moment. That little secretive thrill, a flashing spy feeling, is what I love in some of Edith Amituanai’s photographs also.

All the photos in this post have come from the Pinterest of Anna Miles Gallery here, and you can also see more of Edith Amituanai’s work at the Anna Miles Gallery website here.

dust houses by maria a. lopez

Colombian artist Maria Adelaida Lopez makes these amazingly gloomy and sweet/sad houses by covering a cardboard model with vacuum cleaner dust. After moving to the USA for her Masters, she cleaned people’s houses for a living – the dust on the houses was originally taken from these cleaning sessions. Now that she’s no longer a student, but a practicing artist, Ms. Lopez receives filled vacuum cleaner bags to work with, but I just love the idea of the original dust houses so much.

I love how they are banal (because they came out of a really everyday, basic ritual), confrontational (because they boldly exhibit the dust collected in houses of rich people who don’t do their own cleaning) and quietly moving (because they are literally made up of the particles of matter that make up all our lives – the detritus of people’s lives is collected together in each house and “once you start getting closer you begin to first smell, then to see the hair, the skin, the lint, the debris… you have a physical experience”) all at the same time. Obviously there is also the loaded idea of the Latin American cleaning lady, but I don’t really want to talk about it, or know how to talk about it, since I’m not in the US and all I know is what I’ve been fed through movies and TV.

Lopez says that the models are of houses that “represent the ‘American Dream'” and that the entire series represents ideas around “domesticity and humanity, the meaning of dirt” and the idea of “putting one’s house in order”. There’s that whole thing about a house being like a directory of a person, where each room represents some part of the human body or personality, and I really like how these lovely objects connect to ideas like that as well.

You can read more about Maria Lopez’ amazing body of work here, and see more images of the dust houses, as well as a more thorough artist’s statement, here.

The Fisher’s Mansion; 2005

The Johnsons and the Ramirez; 2007

jessica stockholder – my father’s backyard, 1983

Thinking about our new and exciting backyard in the post below, I remembered this early work by Jessica Stockholder, whose art work I really like.

Jessica Stockholder; My Father’s Backyard; mattress, chicken wire, cupboard door, paint on grass; 1983.

I really like this particular installation because of how practical it is and at the same time so personal. When you’re young and have no money, it’s nice to be able to go to your parent’s home and make some art using the familiar structures and architecture found there. I think this work is really clever and fun and also I really like that feeling of making the absolute best of what you have, and how it can be a really spontaneous and productive way of working because it always turns out that it would never be better with more money/resources anyway.

It’s fun seeing the early work of really established artists. Her formalist orientation (her use of colour especially omg) and pictorial viewpoint are really interesting to me and it’s cool to see how constant these concerns have been for her.

I found these images here, and you can see more photos of this work there too. And also read in Ms. Stockholder’s own words what concerns her here. She is a really clever lady with really clever and enjoyable work.