7 January 2012

Inside, Outside, Nowhere is Home


Buildings ∕ Hardscape ∕ Home Made ∕ Ornament

Does anyone remember Rachel Whiteread’s House, which won the Turner Prize in 1993? It is striking how of its time the piece is now. That reads like a polite way of saying it has dated, which has a grain of truth, so I’ll leave it in. This short video will jog readers’ memories.

Looking back, House fits precisely with the early 1990s postmodern (‘pomo’) Zeitgeist, where insides and outsides and the permeable, shifting liminal zones between them were in a flux of radical undecidability, even of alterity. Clearly, the period’s critical theory buzzwords still flow fluently. In 1993, I was a student of English literature, particularly taken with critical theory, and it shows. It also explains why House made its mark on me, or should I say, it accounts for the continuing inscription of the Zeitgeist‘s discourse onto the palimpsest of my (en)cultur(at)ed Weltanschauung. Still, it’s easy to sneer.

From Zeitgeist to Geistzeit. It was Halloween when I first noticed the moulding on this exterior wall of a basement in Dublin. Perhaps it was something to do with the way the drapes hang like a white-sheet ghost that drew my attention. The moribund plant container and the odd negative jail-cell bars on the frosted glass certainly played a role too. But I think it goes deeper than just association of ideas. Things that are inside-out can be disturbingly uncanny because they give solid form to what is not normally solid. That is not to say that inside-out buildings are always uncanny – the exposed entrails of the Centre Georges Pompidou or of the Lloyds Building are merely interesting. But when a building or its surfaces bear the trace of something now missing, as in House, or when concrete bears the mark of the piece of wood that contained it (example here), we are faced with some kind of ghostly remnant (if this sounds like Derrida, it is because it occurs to me that his Specters of Marx also dates from 1993).

On a cold winter’s day in Paris, when you notice the marks where, months before, the kickstands of parked motorbikes have sunk into the softened tar, the ghostly heat of that summer’s day brushes your cheek.

In Derry, are these micro-sculptures meant to be emerging from beneath the pavement, or have they fallen from above? Either way, they are imprints of the missing oak wood – Derry comes from ‘Doire’, which means oak wood – that once occupied this spot. The name of the city is contested – officially it is Londonderry, the colonial name, but the great majority of its residents call it simply Derry. The micro-sculptures are evidence that the ghost of the original wood has not forgotten, and will not forget, that this is an undead doire. It’s a good example of how the nationalist population of that city have won the cultural war, spending UK-exchequer money on deconstruction-influenced sculpture that proclaims the passing nature of the centuries-long British occupation.

The grisly curtains in Dublin make me wonder, with a quickening of my pulse, if the original curtains are still in there, undead and entombed inside the plaster? Whiteread’s scultpure always did have something of the sarcophagus about it, as if some ghastly entombment had happened there. Years after House was demolished, I lived in London and for a long while passed the spot regularly without knowing what had stood there. What I always thought of as I passed that spot was how 200 people were made homeless and 6 were killed there in 1944 by the first successful German V-1 ‘flying bomb’. There’s no trace of that.


3 responses to Inside, Outside, Nowhere is Home

  1. humanshield

    Nice work again Mr. Deane…you seem to be the dreamy poet in this motley crüe, weaving connections seemingly out of thin air. I really like the kind of distancing from yourself going on in the text, as if being into postmodernist cultural theory back in college is akin to admitting that liked an embarrassing band back in high school, and that you still do like them, actually.

  2. CD

    You’re spot on about the embarrassment factor in relation to the critical theory hyperdrive writing style which I still encounter, in a slightly updated form, daily at work. The truth is I still do give a lot of credence to a lot of it, and I do still practice it to some extent too. It’s not just like a band you were into back in the day, but more like a band you were actually in back in the day, and whose music you still secretly like.
    But I think it is good to be kind of ashamed of the things you like (alcohol, pornography, critical theory, Electric Light Orchestra, The Who, stupid puns, Auguste Renoir, etc.). If you feel no shame, you are in danger of becoming a fan, a bore, a proselytiser, an addict, a booster, and I think the world is loud enough with the ravings of those types already.

  3. chuck paelz

    Love the curtain detail. That’s great use of render, perhaps the most poetic I’ve seen in a while. I was reminded of a material that people spoke of hush hush in London in the early 2000s as the next big thing, called Curvatex, a textile based material that would make the construction of Zaha-esque free-form shapes a breeze. Web searches reap only the laurels of Curvatex affiliations, no examples or images of the product, unfortunately. Heightening the sense of the strange, the company’s founder is the CEO of a company called smart-SLAB. (insert X Files sound bit). This is totally random, all this, of course, just allowing me to post a comment, which is what this article deserves. Liked it a lot.