Domus: North & South:
A Retrospective View
The flyer for this show describes it as a nomadic feminist art space and asks, Can you live with it? The curators want art exhibiting to leave the gallery and enter the domestic sphere. The staging of this event in both York and London is useful to the necessary process of de-centralising the art world. It also sets up the notion of dichotomy inherent in this particular curating experience, namely male/female art, public/private exhibiting space and creation/production. The questions raised here are the old ones; Is it art? and How much is it worth? The fact that these exhibits are all for sale is crucial; Domus is challenging the viewer to embrace these works and to do so in their own home. The question Can you live with it? is direct and its relevance is simple; the artists concerned are attempting to make a living out of their work.
The traditional domestic setting for privately owned art is the robber-baron mansion, complete with Italian Renaissance easel paintings of saints and white marble effigies of Cupid with the odd Picasso thrown in to remind us of modernity. The visitor circuits this carefully orchestrated, usually male-inspired (trophied) space aimed at celebrating the banditry of centuries of exploitation based on class, race and gender (I'm thinking here of a recent visit to Harewood House). Domus, both North and South, is set in a small domestic environment that aims to celebrate art by women in a female-inspired space. The difficulty here is to gain recognition for this as art and not its diminished sister, decoration. One of the artists, Marianne Springham, whose installation is entitled Lorenas Catering Service: Bobbitt Biscuits refers to the process that goes into the making of art. Undefined processes of making art are still not taken seriously, she states. This understanding of process is the crux of the problem when it comes to this so-called distinction between art and decoration.
The role that Domus plays in this defining game is to use everyday and particularly feminised media to express the dilemma. Of these works most involve using domestic, feminine objects. Springham's Biscuits have been baked and are served with tea by the artist herself dressed as a bonnet-wearing maid. The fact that the biscuits come complete with gingerbread penis which the artist recommends biting off first, provides a welcome treatment of the current obsession with costume displays we are subjected to in heritage venues, dramas etc. Three of Laura Malacart's pieces involve flower arranging of some sort. Bunch, displayed in York on the bedroom dressing table, is a vase of lilies whose blooms are sewn up. In Calendar, every month is May and features a different flower, which, as with Bunch, on close inspection reveals a modification; slivers of meat are entwined with the petals. Natura Morta is a photographic image of a flower as a dead object, one step beyond still life. Interestingly, Bunch had died by the time it reached London Domus, and was suitably arrayed in its process of decay. The work seems to be questioning appearance, and as with Springham, investigates the processes of making not just art, but any production which turns out to be creative.
Ann Coxon's series of suspended works Hooked, Hitched and Silver Spoon again use feminine objects. They consist of various amounts of white sugar poured into stockings or tights and suspended on the walls allowing gravity to assist in a gradual change of form. The artist de-mystifies by providing a Recipe for a Bedroom Installation.
Chintz makes an appearance in Inés Rae's video installation Ideal Home which features a series of shots of sofas as a backdrop to the theme tune to Neighbours battling with the arguments of a heterosexual couple. This installation featured both in the York and the London show and was focal to the living room in both cases. Hidden away in the spare room was Before/After by Nicky Bird, consisting of two framed photographs of two sisters. In one they are smiling, their bodies overlap in a happy pose. In the other, they look disconcerted and emotionally disparate. From somewhere in the room comes a taped man's voice asking unanswered questions, at once barely audible and unsourced. The artist explains the photos as being of two (real life) sisters who had murdered their female employer and her daughter and given no explanation. She describes her work as a form of retrieval in a space where no-one lives (the spare room). This work is emblematic of an undertone of the exhibition, that domestic space includes a lack of ease as well as the traditional home comforts; the month never changes, the flowers can't bloom and in order to eat you need to castrate a ginger bread man. This exposes the fragility of the concept of home and especially womens place in it.
The concept of curating a show in a home environment, but which nonetheless moves house (nomadic) seems to question the authority of the static (and therefore to some extent stagnant) gallery exhibition. Domus seems to be trying to assimilate art by domesticising it. On a practical level this encourages two things; firstly the acceptance of a mixture of forms by women as art, and secondly a change in the viewing process where art takes on more of the everydayness we associate with say, architecture. Finally there is a humorous (and at times dark) side to this almost thematised show which helps the form to break out of the traditional role of its own media.Miranda Mason