tv home makeover unhappiness

I have always wondered if anyone has ever been unhappy about the makeover their house had received on a TV home makeover show, so this is a short list of just that.

  1. Trading-Spaces-Straw-on-walls-3A designer on Trading Spaces called Hildi covers a room in straw lol. Even if she had used a bit more it would be better, rather than this half-assed balding thing. You have to commit to stuff like this Hildi you’re in America go big or go home!!! The homeowners were not pleased and I read it took them 17 hours to scrape it all off haha.
  2. An innocent woman gets the nickname Crying Pam because she hates the denim makeover of her living room so much, she runs off camera during the reveal and sobs while everyone listens lol.
  3. A grieving husband loses his shit after his brother puts the man’s house up for a 60 Minute Makeover, in which the designer ends up removing all of his late wife’s belongings. :[
  4. Another Trading Spaces disaster, in which a woman called Ruth Nelson lies through her teeth during the reveal and then has to spend three months undoing the makeover.
  5. A homeowner tries to sabotage the designer’s work because she hates what is being done to her room so much.
  6. A Style Network’s Clean House makeover stop when the cameras do, leaving much of the work undone, and piles of rubbish for the unsuspecting homeowner to clear away.
  7. An unhappy family sues FOX’s Renovate after a shoddy makeover and a pool that nearly drowned their paralysed son.

Most of these are from Trading Spaces. What kind of hell house designers were employed by this TV show??

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.

suburbia and adventure

One of the things that had a big impact on me when my family moved to New Zealand was the existence of suburbia. Before moving here, my brother and I had spent our childhoods in our 1 bedroom apartment with our parents. We had a balcony with what I remember as a really amazing view of the city and grassy areas beside, and in front of, the building block where we lived. I remember playing outside in these places a lot with the other kids who lived in our building and the other neighbouring buildings. We knew a lot of our neighbours by name. While I was trying to find photos of our building, I came across this great photo of a street in Belgrade, by martincgs. It looks pretty much exactly like the building we lived in, and I think it’s actually the block of buildings right across the street from ours! However, below is a photo I took in 2007 of our actual apartment block. The railing that is somewhat visible in the background leads to the entrance.

Coming to New Zealand, we first had to live in a motel until my parents managed to find a house to rent. It was the strangest experience trying to make such a transitory place comfortable until we could move on. I had my one and only ~psychic~ experience in this motel ahaha when I correctly guessed one day that my Dad was about to return from his errands. My entire memory of this motel, and this week or two in our lives, is one of cold, being uncomfortable and feeling like something was about to happen. On one of our first days in this country, my Mum, brother and I went on a walk around the neighbourhood near the motel and took like a million photos of the houses there, because we had literally never seen anything like them. It was a really alien time in my life.

This is one of the photos taken by us during the above walk in August 1996.

This is another, taken on the same day.

Then finally we found a house to rent and moved in (and shortly after that moved into a different one). Everything was so new to us. To live in a house and have a backyard etc etc. I was really excited by the idea! I had spent a lot of time watching American movies and TV shows and had this golden fizzy vision of suburbs as places for innocent summer-time entertainment and adventure. I longed for my own room. I was enamoured by second floors in houses and staircases inside! Enamoured with trees to climb in the backyard and all the ‘secret’ places a house has, that an apartment never could.

One of the things which was the most amazing to me was wall-to-wall carpeting, which is pretty standard here, but not where we are from. It just seemed so tidy and quiet, yet was also suggestive of the history-less nature of suburbs. It was not only a cover-up to hide whatever lay beneath, it was somehow also an erasure of any kind of history. When we moved out of two houses, I remember looking around at the end of all the packing and seeing the empty shell of the house. And the carpeting, with it’s tidy, enveloping nature, seemed to somehow complete this picture and put a full-stop on our lives up to that point. This post, by Social Surrealism, is a really nice little ode to suburbia and the secrets and decay a perfect exterior can hide underneath.

This is a photo taken by my brother when he was little in the second house we lived in here in NZ. That was the exact carpet (and stair case) that had such an impact on me.

Some movies I loved as a child are The Sandlot, Stand by Me, Now and Then, and Hocus Pocus, as well as the TV shows Full House, Clarissa Explains it All, and Blossom. All of these cemented the following idea in my mind: that suburbs are safe, gold-tinted places, with all sorts of amenities, that, however, still retain some mystery and allow your group of oddball friends and you to go on happy-ending adventures. For a long time, I was (and am still in some ways) in love with the USA because of these ideas. It was like a child’s version of The American Dream. Quickly though, after living in the New Zealand suburbs for a little while, I realised that all this safety and well-to-do-ness and adventure WAS just a dream brought on by the genius of Hollywood and that actual, real-life suburbs would never deliver to us what had been promised. There was no mystery there anymore, just beige carpeting and a disappointing realisation that all the secret places in a house hid nothing at all.

I did go through a teenage “this-is-unbearably-lame-eyeroll” stage, but that has since been supplanted by an opinion more coloured by reality – that the suburbs here in Auckland are a good place to raise a child, but that is only because they are the default mode of living. Because Auckland is such a different type of city to the one we left long ago (much more spread out), living in the CBD here, in apartment buildings, will never be something that would make sense for a family. Now I have to catch myself when I start to romanticise my past and all those afternoons spent playing with the neighbourhood kids outside our buildings. Although I’ve since realised that the things we did were our own version of The Sandlot and Now and Then and Clarissa, I have to keep reminding myself that even this childhood memory is only burnished by the sunset-coloured glow of the bricks of the past, and that, as an adult, I have to keep in mind that I am just romanticising childhood adventure I never really felt this way about at the actual time it was happening.

In 2007 I returned alone for 3 weeks to Belgrade, to see the rest of our family and my school-friends. I visited our old apartment building and was shocked to discover how much smaller everything was than my child’s memories had it. The entry doors, once so tall and heavy, were now boring, standard-size metal and glass things. The massive hill in-between my building and the next, once so large and perfect for sledding down in the snow, was now nothing more than a slightly-inclined, scraggy urban patch of grass, with a newly-built dinky little playground in it. Somehow the most jarring of all was walking up to the covered entrance area of the building, and realising that our meeting place was now really dirty and disheveled, and that the red brick colour of the walls I still have in my mind, was now mottled with at least a decade’s worth of city dust. I guess it couldn’t have been as clean as it is in my memories of it, but a lot can happen in 11 years. This is a photo of it: