Home Is Where The Art Is

International artwork in a flat in Toxteth? We are invited into an exhibition with a twist …

It’s quite weird to be greeted into an exhibition by someone wearing pyjamas. But it’s not everyday that you go to see an exhibition in someone’s home, either.

Our pyjama-clad host is artist, writer and MA student Natalie Hughes, who has turned her flat (that she shares with two long-suffering flatmates) into a temporary gallery space. Deciding to do something like this in Liverpool, after a formative and inspirational trip to Germany, Natalie started conversations with various writers, curators and artists that she knew already in the UK.

The result is exhibition 13b (which manages to sound esoterically cool whilst simply describing the flat number), featuring work by respected international artists. There’s print on canvas, Boulders Waiting Backstage (2013), from Hideki Mathumoto (pseudonym of Olivier Castel); screenings of In the Name of the Place (1995-7), the subversive artist interventions in hit US TV show Melrose Place by collective GALA Committee; and an unobtrusive painting, 1496 (2013), by sculptor/painter Audrey Reynolds. The exhibition is curated by the Biennial’s Rosie Cooper.

“My contribution was to buy coffee and cake for people who visit”

“Rosie wanted to curate a show in Liverpool,” Natalie explains, “and was really inspired by the space of my flat. I wanted to kick start some projects.” But how exactly do you get something like this off the ground? “The simplest thing is just to self fund if you just want to do things; my contribution was to buy coffee and cake for people who visit; Rosie commissioned OC’s work, and she bought the boxset of Melrose Place from a shop (shown with permission and instructions from the collective); AR lent her work for the show. Olivier came up to install his work and stayed with Rosie, and Audrey came up for the day from London just to see. The electrician came to fix our wiring in the flat just by chance during installation, and ended up hanging Audrey’s work for us – dead quick, unglamorous, uncomplicated way of doing things.”

The brilliant thing about this experience is that you really aren’t sure what is art and what isn’t. Without a guided tour, we honestly think we would’ve taken an hour to guess which was which. And maybe got it wrong. Navigating nick-nacks, books, furniture, coat racks, belongings, and a genuinely weird spare room, it was exciting and slightly nerve-wracking. Rarely allowed to roam around a stranger’s home, this is an opportunity to gaze at art in a private space, and subsequently learn more about it. The atmosphere and context, and therefore audience ‘experience’, is transformed. Natalie embraces this fully.

“Coming into someone’s home is completely different. The role of the host is completely different. You’re a guest rather than just a viewer; the way you interact changes. It’s more informal, relaxed, and in a way you stick around longer. We had people sat around for ages in last week’s opening, chatting rubbish as well as having really in depth discussions, learning about each other. It was actually a really good way of networking without being slimy!”

“You’re a guest rather than just a viewer; the way you interact changes”

The main inspiration for Natalie was Lampione, a small artist-led project ran by ex-Städelschule student Jorma Foth. He uses the balcony of his bedroom to exhibit a series of banners and flags, which have been made by artists and philosophers. “Having shows in flats is nothing new … when I was in Frankfurt I met Jorma, and his balcony space was really good, and the situation itself is really interesting. It is right in the middle of a red light area, with a needle exchange nearby, but also the business district and the international train station. So you had all these different people about, and then the exhibition’s private view would happen on the street. It was like the equivalent of drinking glasses of cava on Lodge Lane.”

This isn’t going to be for everyone, is it? Inviting strangers in your home; isn’t it all a bit awkward? “Yes that’s true … but it’s no more intrusive than a house party. The idea of sitting around drinking tea, watching Melrose Place and having a chat – it’s a different environment and a different way of viewing art and enjoying art.”

We wonder what the experience has been like for Rosie as curator. “Great! I’ve been wanting to make an exhibition in a flat for a long time. Liverpool seems like the perfect place to do it, because of the size of the flat. In London, for example, it’s difficult to find somewhere large enough without it being about wealth, or showing off a residence”.

“The white cube space comes with just as much baggage as an occupied flat, the baggage is just different”

What discussion did you have with the artists about the context of working within a home environment? “Every space that you work in has a context: the now ubiquitous white cube space comes with just as much baggage as an occupied flat, the baggage is just different.

“I used the idea of making an exhibition that exists in the peripheral vision of the flat’s everyday life. Giving the flat ‘peripheral vision’ turns it into a character in its own right, and creates a situation where art and context might operate on the same register – allowing each to vanish into the other, creating something new.

“GALA Committee’s work is key in terms of what might happen when this takes place. It’s a series of props that the collective made to be placed on the set … Some of these props were politically subversive – such as a quilt whose pattern contained the chemical structure for an abortion drug. But these objects don’t look out of place: and as such, they’re difficult to spot. They vanish in and out of the TV show, and in and out of our attention.

“Reynolds’ work takes on some of the same ideas; the barely-visible surface marks that she makes exist on the threshold of identifiability. Hideki Mathumoto introduces a new set of occupants, Boulders Waiting Backstage - a series of rocks leaning against door frames in the flat, hinting at another reality on the brink of our own.”

“It is such an obvious way to screen film that it instantly transforms your viewing experience; you are watching television without the usual inertia”

You do get this idea of alternate reality as you wander around the flat; all of the work is, or slowly becomes, disarming the longer you stay. At first, Boulders Waiting Backstage resembles some kind of (aesthetically pleasing) hipster attempt at home decor. In the context of the rest of the exhibition, however, the physical act of walking through the canvases, portal-like, is a clever act of interrupting notions of shelter and retreat.

Placing GALA Committee’s work in the living room, shown as it is on a giant eighties television (which Natalie tells us is never usually there), is such an obvious way to screen film that it instantly transforms your viewing experience; you are watching television without the usual inertia. It becomes a comment on our daily consumption and what we actually absorb.

With 1496, you cannot help but dwell on the incidental; this piece was for us the most though-provoking intervention, largely because of the excellent curatorial placement. Reynolds’ painting (in the way that it uses the space around it as well as its mark-making) reflects the spare room as a location that is often neglected, a ‘non’ or negative space with ambiguous purpose.

Overall it is an excellent exhibition of contemporary art that refreshes a conventional formula; well worth a visit this weekend if only to consider how we look at art.

Catch the exhibition before it’s too late – open this Saturday and Sunday (9-10 March), 2-5pm, Toxteth, Liverpool

To book an appointment and get full address email rosie[at]outoffocus.biz

Posted on 08/03/2013 by thedoublenegative