Thursday, 31 July 2008

Art Review: House

New works of art are popping up all over the place, from the guerrilla public artwork of the ‘Naughty Spraycan’ Collective to the 150 different statues of dung by 150 different artists, commissioned by the London Arts Council. Tourists and residents alike are finding dung all over the city, and the authorities say it has increased visits to London by 15%.

Toronto art group The Donovan Family have recently completed their new masterpiece, House. This beautifully satirical work replicates an average suburban home in a normal street, complete with car in the driveway, dog in the yard and furniture, paintings on the walls and household cleaning products in the cabinets. The Donovan Family themselves are part of the installation, living in the artwork as if it were their own home.

I visited House on a quiet Saturday afternoon. ‘Mr Donovan’, the group’s patriarch, feigned confusion as to the reason behind my presence at his ‘home’, a touch I found both unsettling and brilliant. It truly evoked the sense of the art experience as a voyeuristic one, as if I was an interloper, spying on the act of creation. Similar responses from ‘Mrs Donovan’ and the group’s two child members, ‘Susie’ and ‘Tommy’, underlined this feeling.

The interior of House is just like any other homestead in any city; in a way, its function is as the archetypal house, the Platonic ideal of the mythic, perfect, idea of a ‘House-as-concept’. Cheap watercolours line the staircase wall, a scathingly brutal comment on the state of the commodification of artistic sentiment. On the other hand, photographic portraits on the living room show the Donovan Family at different points in time – the two parents as young lovers, the family unit at a point when the ‘children’ were young, recent holiday pictures, etc. This timeline of human existence reflects the house (the concept of house) as an object within time, not separate from it. And yet, the appearance of both a calendar and wall-mounted clock in this room root the house in a definite temporal location. This paradox left me both breathless and a little gassy.

The attention to detail in this work of art is awe-inspiring. As I walked around House I looked inside drawers, under beds and behind furniture. Everything was as it would have been, if this was a home owned by the mythical ‘normal’ middle-class family. The drawer beneath the cutlery drawer contains miscellaneous kitchen items such as spatulas and egg-slicers. The space beneath the bed contains dust bunnies and old jigsaw puzzles. There was a mousetrap behind the sofa. And as I found all these little details I still had the four ‘residents’ of the house shouting at me to leave, acting it up for their audience of one. This really gave me the sensation of the artist (or in this case, artists) as reluctant creator, as someone who feels compelled to create without necessarily wanting to create.

After a thorough examination of The Donovans’ House, I felt compelled to leave. Possibly this was due to my growing awkwardness at the feeling of imposition the artwork gave me. Or it could have been because ‘Mister Donovan’ had just pretended to call the police and have me forcibly removed. But either way, I left with a definite sense of aesthetic pleasure. House is a wonderful - and highly recommended – installation that I would implore everyone to see.

House is running for an indefinite period of time at 236 Davidson Avenue, Toronto (two blocks north of Westinghouse and Blanchard). It is free to enter and open 24 hours a day, so long as the Donovan family let you in.


ÄsK AliCë said...

Luckily for me I'm planning a trip to the area - I'll be sure to stop by. It sounds both awe-inspiring and humbling.

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

Don't be put off if the Donovan family pretend to have no idea why you're there, it's all part of the act.

Captain Incredible said...

In Dublin, there's a parallel exhibition, with a more localised theme.

Entitled 'Gaff', it features the O'Donovan Family, in this instance reflecting a model more in line with The Sopranos (the group choosing to reinterpret the concept of 'family'), leading to an altogether more visceral experience for the visitor - one becomes not so much an observer as an accessory after (and sometimes before) the fact.

Indeed, such is the power of the exhibition and the performance of the group, the visitor will certainly, after examining the various cupboards and kitchen drawers and peering under beds, certainly find himself torn between either becoming part of the project or seeking immunity from prosecution and a new identity in return for detailed testimony.

The exhibition will run until such time as the missing persons rate shows an alarming and sustained increase.