What makes a house, a home?

The image of modern domestic life made its debut when Richard Hamilton asked Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? (1956). Since then, the contemporary home continues to be analysed and expanded upon in art. In Australia, Howard Arkley paid considerable attention to the suburban home. Most recently, Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy continue this investigation with their large-scale installations. Based in Sydney, the collaborating artists explore the influence of the home on one’s personal being by re-imagining our typical perception of domesticity. 

Cordeiro and Healy express their unique concept of ‘home’ with complex and often overwhelming installations. Their installation Not Under My Roof (2008) forms an epic map of memories and family history. Rather than building a representation, in this work they utilise a real, pre-loved Queenslander house, and in doing so, visualise the home’s interior narrative. The work scales the walls of Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA); in its size, it forces the viewer to really consider the home’s presence, and question what qualities the house conveys. The size is essential to the artists’ concept—had they used a scaled model, or even an oversized painting, they would not have created the same impact. Cordeiro and Healy explore the meaning of ‘home’ as a product of memories and histories shared—the intergenerational knowledge that becomes engraved in a home, giving one a sense of belonging and place.

Originally a Millmerran farm residence dubbed ‘Linaine’, the house was stripped of its walls and roof, yet otherwise left untouched.1 The shadows of furniture seared into the flooring of the house spark imagination in the viewer. We find ourselves asking, who lived there, what were they doing, and why? The enormous canvas, authentic in its complete randomness of textures and markings, exhibits parallels with abstract painting. In the same way this movement challenges the viewer’s understanding of the expected, this unique view of the traditional Queenslander invokes a rare exploration of the conventions of a multi-generational home.

Cordeiro and Healy’s deconstructed homes show finalisation; displaying the product of the loss of intergenerational knowledge. For many years, the farmhouse that became Not Under My Roof was owned by the Mundt family.2 Like an archaeological dig, the house is an artefact of the generations who lived there. The piecemeal floor coverings—various linoleums, carpets and floor boards—are a conglomeration of repairs, renovations and decorations: evidence of a family’s existence. No longer functioning, the floor plan of ‘Linaine’ remains as a symbol of what once was. This site-specific installation for the colossal walls of Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art reminds the viewer of the physicality of the home and contributes a welcome element of surprise when compared to the sentiments one usually associates with the experience of ‘home’.

To have a home is to have a sense of belonging and place, and therefore the site becomes an integral part of one’s identity. Cordeiro and Healy explore this philosophy in their art practice, inspired by their own struggles with the excessive cost of Sydney real estate. Before they were financially able to buy their own home, they felt they belonged nowhere, and this fuelled their creative response, Cordial Home Project (2003).3 Cordial Home Project is a series of six images: a home intact, a home in deconstruction, and a home compressed. The artists reduced a functional western Sydney home into their signature motif, an ordered stack of wood, bricks, and tin. Photographed in a warehouse-style Woolloomooloo gallery, what now remains is in stark contrast to the intimate domesticity expected of a family home. Regarding this monolithic pile, which in all dimensions could fill a large room, the viewer is met with a sense of isolation—this home is by no means a shelter. No love abides here: it is devoid of all character and identity.

Cordeiro and Healy are innovators and explorers of the contemporary approach to domesticity and home. The artists strip the home to its core, and what remains is tangible, physical evidence of the domestic being. Physicality and spirit transform into one. The artists understand that materials hold the evidence of previous lives: floors remember footsteps, stains and furniture; beams remain imperfect by the weight they used to hold. Because of this, Cordeiro and Healy make art that triggers domestic memories and a sense of wonder at the traces of our ancestors. Inspired by intergenerational knowledge and a sense of belonging and place, memory and history, these contemporary Australian artists document the impact that home has on one’s identity.

Cordial Home Project, 2003 (process). Materials: entire house. Photograph Liz Ham.

Cordial Home Project, 2003. Materials: entire house. Installation view Artspace, Sydney. Photograph Liz Ham.

notes: 

1. Smiley, R., ‘The “Linaine” Project – A Queensland Art Gallery Exhibition’, Dalby Removal Homes, 2009. Retrieved 11 August 2013, from http://www.dalbyremovalhomes.com.au/asp/images003.asp
2. Taylor, A., ‘At home with Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2013 from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/at-home-with-claire-h...
3. Walsh, J., ‘Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy: Not Under My Roof’, in Contemporary Australia: Optimism, pp.58-61, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.