maud lewis and her painted house

maud_lewis

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. :[

maud_lewis_house

!!!

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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

slackerism, idleness and the consumption of domesticity

I do not want to be a slacker. It feels me with so much fear. I am an ~artist~ – I make my own work and am also involved in the running of an artist run space here. I have a job to pay the bills. I do a lot of housework. I am looking for a new job because I hate customer service and each time the door to the shop opens, my heart shrivels up a tiny fraction more. But still I feel like this is somehow not enough and that I should be busy with more things and that things should have been different by now. The only problem is that I don’t know what form this difference is supposed to take. Obviously I am going through some insufferable quarter-life crisis and I know I’m not alone. But the reason I’ve decided to start this blog is to add something more to “do” into my life. I want to write again to clarify ideas and start thinking more critically about the things I consume mentally. I do not want to be a slacker. And hopefully this blog will make me feel less like one, since writing is work in my opinion. I’ve heard people refer to a ‘Protestant work ethic’. Although until 5min ago I actually had no idea what this means, I feel like I must have a stunted case of it.

(P.S. I’m not actually a Protestant).

For a while now, I’ve perhaps been a little bit compulsive in the way I do housework. We’ve just had a really stressful couple of months. Many, many money problems and the lack of any results in my job search have conspired to grow this beast of anxiety that just keeps gnawing at my troubled young heart every hour of the day. The only time I feel better is when I’m doing housework and putting things in their proper place! There is nothing like the satisfying thk thk thk sound the vacuum cleaner makes while sucking up crumbs. My Mum has told me on a couple of occasions that perhaps the way I’ve started to approach housework is not the healthiest in the world. We joke about me being a potty housewife………… and obviously this needs to stop before it stops being a joke. It’s all started to become quite compulsive and I’ve realised that it’s the only thing that makes me feel like I have some control over my life. Our lives might be in a horrible flux, but if I can make things spic and span… well that’s something at least.

This anxiety has also meant that I’ve been pretty slack about making my own art work – instead I just seem to clean. I know that I just need to get up and do things, because I don’t really believe in the concept of inspiration. I think working at something everyday, is what makes a difference in the end. To add to this, there is also the fact that so much of my work revolves around the very general idea of Home anyway, so I keep thinking about the differences between art and house work and how to navigate this line haha. Last year I made a giant chunk of soap from scratch. It was an object in a show here, but now I want to cut off a small piece of it and clean something and document this action. Basically, I need to take back control over my life.

This has made me think about domesticity and what I can only describe as the cult of domesticity amongst young people today (especially young people like me who have a double life on the Internet). A person much cleverer than I, referred to it as the “consumption of domesticity” and that phrase rings so true. Pinterest and Tumblr and other social areas of the Internet are full of interior design porn, full of crafty DIY projects, full of household tips and tricks, full of hipster knitting patterns etc etc. And while, yes older people are also a big part of these areas of the internet, especially Pinterest, I don’t know what it is about this generation that has made young people flock to domesticity like this. And it’s more than just domesticity. It’s like some kind of yearning for a simpler, more fulfilling life, where you don’t have to worry about shitty customers, and whether you’ll be able to afford your rent payments, all you need to worry about is which colour to paint your walls and what vintage seller on Etsy to buy some wooden bowls from. Which I guess is the answer to the previous question, but it also betrays a certain rose-tinted innocence. It’s escapism let us be honest. The world has always sucked. Going back to some ideal of floral domestic life will not change anything. I am certainly guilty of this too. When I was a teenager (not that long ago), it wasn’t cool to be interested in homey things like this. It was a mark of dowdiness. And, in what seems like a really short space of time, this has completely changed. The only thing I can compare it to is opp-shopping/thrift shopping and how it used to be really embarrassing, even as recently as 10 years ago, and then a switch flipped and for ages now it has been a mark of style and coolness to go second-hand shopping and find “is-this-fun-or-is-it-ugly” items to mix into your ~capsule wardrobe~.

a screenshot of the pinterest home page taken like 2 min ago

I love 19th century novels and there is a particular word in a lot of them that fills me with an inexplicable shame. IDLENESS. What would these 19th century people think of us???? And then obviously… Why the fuck would I care what this backwards society would think of us? Obviously poor people and people who depended on their work to survive worked so hard and for so long, much like today, but even rich and middle class people needed ‘useful employments’. When your clothes are hand-made, you can’t really justify spending 3 hours on the Internet on a Saturday devouring interior design tumblrs and idealising some vague homey life where you would make your own vintage pattern clothes from silk made by your own backyard silk worms. You have to sew. You have to work. You can’t be a slacker, because you would not survive the next winter. Unless you were really rich, in which case I don’t really care about ur struggles anywaaaaay.

Today, for people here in the developed world, you are not a slacker if you don’t sew your own clothes. A woman is not a useless creature if she doesn’t do housework or cook. Today there is no need for such oppressive and necessary domesticity and yet it is what my generation seems to, in some ways, want. Why do I get such pleasure out of cleaning and vacuuming and playing some sort of domestic role? Why does it make me feel in control and like I am doing something worthy? Why are cooking shows so popular?

The idea of hearth and home is important to human beings. It’s what our lives revolve around. And it will always be important, but do I really want it to control me in this way? Why do I feel like my housework is more worthwhile than the job that pays my bills?

A house can be an exacting entity. It can be an oppressive place. This blog will be about houses, homes and the way people live and arrange their lives. I’ve been obsessed with these ideas for so long now that it will be good to get them out into the world, even if no one ends up reading them. I have about 17 posts already planned ahaha and new ideas just keep coming, so I finally feel a little bit optimistic. Maybe this blog will be a cure for my Protestant work ethic.