maud lewis and her painted house

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I’ve been reading about Maud Lewis, one of Canada’s best known and most beloved folk artists, and her amazing lifetime of work, starting with painted Christmas cards to, finally, the entire house she shared with her husband Everett (who everyone keeps describing as stoic or taciturn!!). I just LOVE IT ALL SO MUCH. :[

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!!!

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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.

front lawns and offerings

Our front lawn was finally mowed yesterday after a couple of months of being too waterlogged for our electric mower. It’s amazing how much more ~respectable~ our house looks now from the outside, it felt like such a relief? And then immediately this weird relief turned into guilt for me. I started thinking about how weird the western culture of lawns really is, and then realised that something so basic should have crossed my mind before, but somehow it never has.

Lawns are such weird spaces. Who are they for exactly?? Unless you use your lawn to grow flowers or vegetables or something, it really has no private use, except as a kind of unfair (and incorrect) signal of what kind of house you keep. I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the moment, and read this part in it last night, which talks about the nominal piece of grass outside the doors of a chicken factory shed, that has to be there in order for that chicken meat to be labeled as free-range. The fact that the chickens never use it doesn’t matter:

“I finally had to conclude that Rosie the free-range chicken doesn’t really grok the whole free-range conceit. The space that has been provided to her for that purpose is, I realized, not unlike the typical American front lawn it resembles – it’s a kind of ritual space, intended not so much for the use of the local residents as a symbolic offering to the larger community.”

We don’t use our front lawn for anything, except storing our recycling bins behind a big bush/s that acts like a picket fence, and my Dad also keeps his car trailer there, with the oar boat on it. Also, a part of our front lawn has been filled with concrete, for parking purposes. Oh and our mail box is there too. So actually quite a lot seems to happen, but these are just such passive uses of a relatively large space of land.

I’ve just been googling some stuff about front lawns and grass and came across this. Like… that’s actually despicable. The opposition put up to this woman was legit insane.

I really want to make better use of this front lawn space somehow, but don’t have a concrete idea yet of what I will do. And not just better use, but somehow a more individual use, tailored for our family, not just as a public “offering” to the neighbourhood or any passers-by.

Last year, when the retaining wall in our back garden was being fixed, nearly the entire yard was dug over. It was only then, while looking at the giant mound of earth that I realised for the first time that we live on clay soil. I took some pretty large chunks of that clay and they’re still waiting for me to process them. This will be a real DIY effort because I’ve never done anything like it, and it has an extremely large chance of failing, but anyway, I think I may use this clay to make something for the front lawn. An offering from its sibling, the back yard.

an ode to the t(w)eenage girl’s room

I’ve been a huge fan of Tavi’s blog, Style Rookie, for ages, ever since she was a wee little sprite. And rookie mag which was launched last year I believe is, maybe embarrassingly for someone in their mid-20s?? a fun place check into on the internet. I came across this article earlier about Tavi’s latest project, which is an art installation – she will be turning Space 15 Twenty Gallery in Los Angeles into a teenage girl’s room.

I’ve been thinking about a couple of posts on her blog, which I read a long time ago, about teenage girl’s bedrooms, and the idea of fandom and shrines etc. Since talking about the Virgin Suicides house in an earlier post, and since finding a couple of photos of my old tween/teen room while searching through the family photos, I really wanted to talk about teenage (girls’) rooms in modern times and what amazing places they are. Again, things for me always seem to come back to a movie or a TV show I’ve watched, so this post will simply be a list of what I thought were really enviable teenage bedrooms from movies and TV. Which is appropriate, given the walls covered in posters and fandomy teenage passion that are about to follow.

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This is my old room. Please enjoy my overalls (??) and my friend’s, admittedly glorious, Titanic t-shirt. I’d still wear that today, let us be completely frank. I was about 12ish at this time. It was the very late 90’s and my obsession and undying love for Hanson was in full swing. Also included on the walls, and on stickers, and on my dresser and nearly etched on my very veins, are the Backstreet Boys (AJ was my fave) and a wonderful music group called 5ive, with such hits as Slam Dunk Da Funk and When The Lights Go Out. They were my first real concert. The second photo shows a part of my extensive collection of stuffed animals, some of which are still ~alive~ today and will stay alive forever tbh.

I look at the items in this room and feel such a strong bout of nostalgia. My dolphin necklace, the blow-up photo frame on the dresser, my first music player, my burgeoning collection ripped movie tickets from the cinema… I do not actually miss being a tween/teen, but what I do miss is the complete lack of any real responsibility, other than deciding on the horizontal or vertical format poster of Zac to go jusssst there.

Clarissa’s room from Clarissa Explains It All is the first room I remember feeling really excited over. I wasn’t even in the double digits at this point, but her room was so exotic and admirable to me. That idea of having a place that’s entirely your own was really attractive to me. Her friend enters her room secretly through the window for goodness sake! You can’t do that for someone who lives on the 6th floor of a building.

Full House was on TV at around the same time as Clarissa, and was another show I watched religiously. DJ and Stephanie’s shared bedroom was beautiful! This is actually really good set design.

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Obviously not the room of a teenage girl, but Randy and Brad’s shared room on Home Improvement was really great. Look at those steps!!

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The room which all the others aspire to be. Even the room of a fairy tale princess could never compare, because it would not have Cher’s amazing computerised wardrobe organiser. A perfectly selected outfit at the click of a button. It’s weird that this still doesn’t exist in such a wondrous form. It’s 2012 for god’s sake get it together Polyvore.

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Enid’s room in Ghost World is on of the few movie/TV bedrooms that I could actually relate to in some capacity. It was full of junk and not huge, but still represented that search for independence that a teenager’s room really is. It was her own little world amidst the unsatisfactory world outside it.

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I actually don’t remember much about the set design of Ten Things I Hate About You, even though it’s one of my favourite movies, but I just came across this screenshot of Kat’s room today and needed to include it. I love the all-over collage wall. It’s probably one of the better examples of this phenomena.

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So cozy and wonderful. :’3 The design of the Harry Potter movies is beautiful, but Ron’s cramped room in the book (tiny, covered in posters of the Chudley Cannons etc) definitely felt more familiar to me than this lovely room from the movies.

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At first, I was going to include Spencer’s room because she’s my favourite PLL character, but Aria’s room is definitely the coolest. I love that whole pleasantly gloomy, crowded-with-books look. It represents the character really well – it’s ~artsy~ yet familiar.

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This is obviously not the bedroom of a teenager, because Nina in Black Swan is meant to be 26 I believe, but the whole design of this room is so brilliant. It’s grotesquely princess-y and inappropriate for someone in their mid-20’s. But, obviously, this is a clever way to show the psychological state of the character and to show us how her mother intrudes on her privacy. I think Nina’s “real” room is her dressing room at the ballet company, where she lines up the ritualistic objects she steals from Beth – the lipstick, the earrings and so on. This is her true private space.

Except the top 2, which are personal, all the images were found through google image search. If any of them are yours and you want them down, please let me know!

top 5 haunted houses in fiction (imo)

Apparently we have a ghost in the house. A few days ago I was watching TV really late at night and everyone else, including our dog Marlo, was asleep. Suddenly, I hear a scary low rumbling growl and look in the hallway where Marlo was sleeping. He’s standing up alert, with his fur puffed out and eyes glowing, growling at something up on the ceiling. So, I went over there to see wtf he was looking at and there was absolutely nothing there.

This is a photo of the corner he was looking at, from his perspective:

I sat with him for a bit, while he calmed down, but he still kept his eyes on the Something that had alarmed him up on the ceiling. I thought it may have been some kind of insect, but there was absolutely nothing there, like n o t h i n g, trust me. Not even a mosquito. Maybe he had a nightmare and woke up scared and confused aw. OR…

it is a ghost.

In honour of this event, I wanted to do a post of my top 5 favourite haunted houses.

5. The Lisbon house in The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides is obviously not a tale of a haunted house, but I think the Lisbon sisters’ house still falls into this category. This is probably the saddest house in this list, instead of being the scariest. I have not actually read the book, just seen Sofia Copolla’s movie, so the following might not have any relevance to the novel.

I love all the shots of the girls’ knickknacks in their room and the way they seem to use this slow creeping of their things to cement some sort of control over their fate and their environment. Their stickers and perfume bottles and clothes thrown everywhere are as different from the rest of the house, which is controlled by their parents, as their existence is different from the other girls in their school, after the suicide of their youngest sister. Teenage girls’ rooms are amazing places. I think some haunted houses revolve around the emotional connection the ghost/ghosts have to the objects that used to be theirs and I also think that a haunted house doesn’t need the ghost of a dead person to fall into that category.


I keep thinking about Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and how she is kind of like the Lisbon Sisters, only while their collection of things seems to always be changing and moving and being added to, Miss Havisham’s is obviously static and collects dust. But, they both use the things around them as an anchor to normalcy – Miss Havisham madly tries to hold on to what she thought would be her perfect day, the culmination of her upbringing and the point to her life, while the Lisbon sisters exercise as much freedom as they can in their rooms, by collecting and arranging different little things, and cling to the hope of a normal teenage life. All their belongings and objects are kind of little throwaway things, without much value except to them personally (and I guess to us as viewers or readers of the Virgin Suicides and Great Expectations). And indeed Miss Havisham’s wedding feast definitely has no value as food to anyone any more. Here is a really relevant quote from the Virgin Suicides film:

“So much has been said about the girls over the years. But we have never found an answer. It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls… but only that we had loved them… and that they hadn’t heard us calling… still do not hear us calling them from out of those rooms… where they went to be alone for all time… and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.”


4. The Paranormal Activity house

First of all, holy shit this movie completely blew me away. I had gotten so used to shock horror and gore horror and dumb horror that it was so refreshing, and truly terrifying, to finally watch a movie like this, where you don’t see the villanous terror and get immune to it, where the atmosphere of dread and stress builds so smoothly and where the movie never devolves into cliches or stereotypes (apart from the burning Ouija board, but even that was cool). Technically this isn’t really a haunted house since the demonic horror that plagues the characters is specifically attached to Katie and follows her throughout her life, rather than being attached to the house itself. But I still love this house as a haunted house. I love that horrible feeling of invasion; of something unseen and unknowable invading the most private space in a person’s life and making a home a completely unsafe place to be. The director used his own house to shoot the movie and you can definitely tell that it’s not just a decorated film set. All the furniture and decoration is much less visually interesting than a deliberately staged set would be, but that also contributes to the movie’s feeling of reality and how something as innocuous as a bland house in the suburbs (albeit a giant rich house) can take on a whole new life as a suddenly horrifying place to be.

3. House of Leaves

This is the first book I read that made me think about books as objects. I know lots of people are put off by it, but I really enjoyed the way the layouts of the pages followed the plot line. This is probably the most poetically haunted house in this list. I just love that beginning image of someone discovering that the dimensions of their house are somehow a little larger on the inside, than on the outside. Some of the things that happen in the book, particularly when various characters descend into the darkness of the heart of the house, are g e n u i n e l y blood chilling. Although I thought that what began as a really interesting and spooky novel about a haunted house, kind of evolved into something completely different by the end of the book. It kind of became a love story instead? I was a little disappointed with this when I first read the book, because after a while all the beautiful horror stuff was put to the side a little bit, but now I’m starting to really like this shift. I don’t know… That’s what haunted houses are about anyway, I think. Love and lost love and the connections that still remain.

2. Hill House

Hands down, the single greatest haunted house story in the world, and in my opinion the single greatest horror novel also. There’s a shameful Catherine Zeta Jones movie adaptation of this, but it does not bear much resemblance to this amazing book. I can never get over the opening paragraph:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

I also really like this anthropomorphising paragraph. I like how the house itself is a living, thinking entity in this story. Or is it…

“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil. This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.”

1. Blair Witch house

This is one of my favourite movies. Like in Paranormal Activity, I love that feeling of never quite being able to see what is causing such mayhem. I love how it’s always just outside your field of vision and how the characters use their camera as a kind of shield. I love all the little bits and pieces of different stories and legends that are woven together to create this myth of the Blair Witch. Everything is only suggestive, and there is never a coherent ending to these little stories, but every detail in the movie seems to suggest the evil presence of the Witch. The house at the end of the movie is the scariest house and the scariest ending I have ever seen. Corners are somehow horrible, just on their own, since they are often empty, but still seem to contain something. But this particular corner….

If someone starts saying how this movie is overrated and it wasn’t scary and nothing happens, then I always think they need to go out and buy themselves a new imagination.

P.S. All pix were found through google image search, except the very top one, which was obviously taken in our home.

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.