FEELS LIKE HOME
February - July 2020
Feels Like Home, which runs from February to July 2020, explores the many interpretations of the word ‘home’. The works on show centre around the theme of how and where we create our home, touching upon the notions of safety and familiarity that we so often seek. The meaning of ‘home’ is not merely the bricks and mortar of our dwelling-places, but also speaks to the sense of feeling comfortable in our bodies, our belonging to the nation or a larger community, and the desire for grounding in a restless world.
On entering the space, visitors are greeted by Martine Syms’ Relax Your Jaw (17) (2018), as though stumbling into a thoroughly lived-in bedroom and finding last night’s heels on the floor. Syms wore the white cowboy boots in the photograph, which itself feels worn and used as dirt-marks from the lens colour the image with white bulges, to the opening of her exhibition Grand Calme at Sadie Coles HQ in 2018. On the opposite wall, works by Paul Noble and Camille Blatrix create less the image of home as casual leisure and ease, but the identificatory signs and symbols of the residential exterior. In Noble’s KKKKK (2015), a work that resembles a sleek modernist entrance wall with five famous surnames – Kafka, Kirchner, Klimt, Kleist, Kersting, Klapheck – printed next to corresponding doorbells. Each of the names of Germanic-speaking artists and writers, from the Biedermeier-style middle-class interiors of Kersting to the frightening social satires of Kafka, the KKKKK residents would make for a fascinating dinner party. Adjacent to this work is Tosh 1 (2015) by Camille Blatrix, a sleek structural work in aluminium and synthetic ivory, that recalls the pressure gauge of a lift or a high-tech doorbell.
For many, home represents the reassuring presence of objects that are our own in a space that offers respite from the pressures of the world outside. For others, home can be mundane, predictable – and even threatening. On the Ground Floor, the exhibition features work by Christopher Williams, Helen Marten, Sam McKinniss, and Josh Kline. In the photograph Model-Nr.: 1740 (2016) by Williams, a young girl is caught leaning out from behind the settee in a wildly expressive position, somewhere between the victor’s scream when playing hide and seek and the eyes-clenched terror of encountering a stranger in one’s own home. The yellow covered buttons of her dress are carefully matched to her hair bobbles, signalling the chaos that lurks behind the attentive bourgeois curation of self and home.
Marten’s Lunar Nibs (2015) is a macabre doll’s house in welded steel, aluminium, stitched fabric, lacquered chipboard, string, snake and fish skin, cast rubber, taxidermy insects, nails, copper sulphate, clay, bones, among other materials. Lunar Nibs presents elements suggesting a house, a dumpster or a feeding trough for cattle, whose main façade looks like a caricatured nineteenth-century residence. The object’s apparent function slips between that of a home and a site for refuse or production. Alongside, several smaller pieces insinuate that some sort of activity, perhaps involving chemical exchange, is taking place. Lunar Nibs was part of Marten’s Turner Prize-winning presentation in 2016 at Tate Britain and was exhibited at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.
Works by McKinniss and Kline probe the darker recesses of the domestic sphere in the age of Trump. The unsettling JonBenét (2017) by McKinniss is a portrait of beauty pageant star JonBenét Ramsey, whose 1996 murder at the age of six remains unsolved. By scrutinising the cult of innocence and its violent loss in a story that scandalized America, McKinnis also unearths profound anxieties at the heart of the suburban middle-class: JonBenét was found dead from asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma in her own home. Kline’s Reality Television 5 (2019) is composed from nylon reproductions of the United States flag wrapped around a television screen – a statement on the visual language of national propaganda, perhaps, or a reassuring symbol of patriotic pride. For many, the nation is the totalising pull of ‘home’; for others, it represents a space of exclusion and its flag a symbol of oppression.
On the First Floor, The Second Generation of Peak Tower (2019) by Cui Jie is an artwork of sublime architectural spectacle. Regarded as an important figure in the generation of artists who have been considered post-1980s in China, Cui's subject is the large-scale buildings, high-rises and plazas erected throughout the country - and are transformed by her unique compositional approach. While these symbols of China's rapid urbanisation might represent something close to the failure of utopian planning, Cui's work is neither nostalgic nor damnatory - but certainly enigmatic. A prime example of postmodern architecture, Peak Tower is a leisure and shopping complex located at Victoria Gap on Hong Kong Island. The title of this reconfigured landscape reminds viewers of the generational shifts that have taken place in China during Cui's lifetime, and what that might say about changing leisure time and the future of state planning under neoliberalism.
On the reverse of this wall, Camille Henrot’s Wait What (2017) straddles the boundaries between home as a space of relaxation and leisure, but also possible violence and discomfort. Consisting of a cat reclining bronze cat atop a pillar, the hyperbolically-sized feline appears simultaneously at rest, and in an impossibly contorted position. Henrot chose the colour of the backdrop wall: a fierce and intense red that only serves to amplify the stresses of the work.
Works by Josh Kline and Zoe Leonard confront the divisions and disparities that structure American society. Kline’s Make-Believe (2017) is a piece that features an expensive Vitamix blender in blood-red which has been carefully grinded in half and amalgamated with a generic equivalent. The whole structure is precariously maintained by Star Spangled Banner duct tape, in another stylistic acknowledgment of the omnipresence and symbolism of the national flag in Kline’s practice. Make-Believe is a critique of economic disparity in the United States, but also suggests the ways that national belonging can cohere (or ‘tape over’) those material differences. Next to Kline’s sculpture is Leonard’s Red Wall (2001-2003), a dye transfer print that depicts a concreted-over window on the Lower East Side, blocking inside and out, on an exterior wall that is all painted red. Textural, provocative, and unnerving, this photograph speaks to Leonard’s activist work with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and can be understood as a statement on the AIDS crisis as victims were ostracised and forcibly excluded from society. The exterior also refers to the seventeenth-century practice of casting a red mark on the houses of plague victims as a warning to others and as a branding that this dwelling is infected. Leonard asks us to think about the structures, physical and rhetorical, that imprison vulnerable communities in times of crisis.
Names of the Hare by Anj Smith (2017-2018) interrogates the notion of the body as a home or dwelling-place. Smith’s subject, their back turned to us, appears caught in a process of transformation. Maureen Gallace’s Untitled (1992), one of a series of oil paintings by the artist that revises the model of the pastoral landscape, features two secluded farm-houses – again, in red – that are nestled within bright green vegetation on a woodland’s edge. Critic Peter Schjeldahl has said that Gallace’s subject is ‘description, not of how things look but of how they seem.’ Using a reduced palette, Gallace manages to convey the seclusion of the rural home in a tonal balance that probes that interplay between being and seeming in the interior lives of others.
On the Second Floor, works by Samson Young, Julia Phillips, and Gabrielle Garland spatialise the living room area of the home. Young’s Coffee Table Music (some other causes for celebration) (2017), the centrepiece of his 2017 solo exhibition Furniture Music, is a composition in five parts for five specific celebration days of the year. An innovative assemblage that plays on the relationship between music and art in the construction of the phenomenon of the ‘national day’, Coffee Table Music asks the viewer to question what kind of rituals of togetherness brings us together – and why. Two untitled oil paintings by Garland from 2011 and 2012 depict scenes of communal living without the inhabitants – one a study awash with deep blue, on the carpet and on the wallpaper, with a still life of fruit on the wall; another a pink couch with unsettlingly lurid red curtains. Phillips’ sculpture Muter (#2) (2017) is a darker reflection on the functionality of specific instruments. In this work, part of a series of works named after their purpose (others include Blinder, Intruder, Distancer, and Aborter), we are confronted by the ways the human body has been tortured and shaped by forced labour and voices stifled when they are crying out to be heard.
In the Office, Anthea Hamilton’s Walnut Wavy Wizened Boot (2019) gestures to the beginning of the exhibition and to Syms’ party boots: in this work, however, which is made from walnut and consists of a formal boot with jagged edges, we are offered a harsher view of playing dress-up. Kes by Wilhelm Sasnal (2016) is the Polish painter’s tribute to the titular hero of the 1969 social realist film directed by Ken Loach, which was in turn adapted from A Kestrel for a Knave by working-class writer Barry Hines. The figure of the kestrel Kes has come to be associated with networks of affinity between children and animals, and as a symbol of wayward freedom for those who do not necessarily feel connected to the institutions of the school, the family, or the home. Home Home Home / Flashlight by Annetta Kelm (2015) is a C-print that spells out the theme of the exhibition, ‘HOME’, in a carefully balanced arrangement of decorative plants and vases on an office chair.
In the Basement, eight prints by Joanna Piotrowska feature photographs of children and adults making dens and temporary sanctuaries or “shelters”. A master of observation, Piotrowska depicts a father emerging earnestly from a desk transformed into a secluded sanctum by a balancing Z-bed, and the gentle nudges of a boy’s foot against his sister’s mattress – who has commanded the top-bunk and ignores his invitations to play by continuing to read. The artist uses her surroundings to show the psychological tension of the domestic space – rather as a document of a performance than a documentary image.
In the Archive, the final space of Feels Like Home, Otter and Starfish by Trevor Shimizu (2016) is a sensitive rendering of a cuddly toy – concluding an exhibition on domesticity, family, and what it means to feel at home.
List of artists (in alphabetical order):