Curating Homeward

Jessica Cochran, essay for LIVE / WORK (June 7 – 26 2013)
Chicago Artists Coalition 

In contemporary art, the consideration of home through the lens of theory and practice is nothing new; topical buoys such as economic crises, identity politics, motherhood, the environment and globalization ensure concepts of home remain as ripe and as potent as ever. Also unchanging, artists, perhaps more than any self-selecting group of people, purposefully and generatively blur the lines between work and domestic life.

The home (here in Chicago this is often an apartment, loft or bungalow) is often the studio too, and sometimes even a gallery or performance space: In a recent essay, curator Shannon Stratton wonders if “the domestic (has) been so thoroughly mined by artistic artistic practice that the domestic space is the site of the new institution?”1  Let’s face it, our homes are fraught. This fact has only been highlighted and exacerbated by the current economic climate.

Still recovering (or reeling) from what many are now calling “the Great Recession,” it is worth noting that the whole thing was caused by a housing crisis. While the political motivations for the “home/work” of the artists selected for this exhibition may seem ambiguous, they are all clearly products of their time.

Homes, in all their tenuousness, have become sites of deeper self-reflection for many contemporary artists as labor and domestic practices unite. For artists, the practicality of working today means that there is, out of necessity, a marriage of career, art, and home-life that requires a certain spirit of improvisation: ordinary life results in extraordinary living.

 Jessica Bardsley presents us with work ruminating on the life and home of poet Emily Dickinson. In A Past of Plank and Nail, Bardsley offers viewers an atmosphere of absence. Negation is inescapable in the presence of death, a conspicuous preoccupation of Dickinson’s visible in her poetry and in the pressed flowers she culled from her herbarium. Bardsley knows there’s only so much that can be gleaned from such a space, especially when it was inhabited by someone so notoriously secretive and enigmatic. But the space seems to thrum with significance and spirit as viewers are left to project meaning into every corner, every doorframe, every crack in the wall — even into the whisper of blowing leaves as seen from Dickinson’s bedroom windows. 

Recent high profile exhibitions provide added context. Artist-curator Joseph McElheny’s If you lived here, you’d be home by now, (CCS Bard) featured the “device of model rooms” within the gallery—a living room, dining room, etc., to display works from the Hessell Collection by artists such as Moyra Davey and Cindy Sherman alongside examples of modernist furniture. More recently, Better Homes (Sculpture Center) featured artists who consider the “design and homemaking from critical perspectives” in relation to the past, when “the interior became integral to the 

What these exhibitions share with Live/Work is, is that the artists in them assert a renegotiation of what it means to be home; through subject and practice, they make visible the myriad reasons why an artist works the way she lives.

 If, as Stratton asserts, we can consider the home an institution to be critically “mined” it is not surprising then, that curators often explicitly consider concepts of home in direct opposition to homogenizing and market oriented force for consumption such as magazines (Better Homes) or in relation to the systems of value, circulation and display that give structure to the art world as we know it (If you lived here…)

While curators make explicit gestures, the “home” work of artists is often oblique in its politics, organized by the aesthetics of the everyday, personal histories and domestic labor. In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard asserts that in art, “the house, even more than a landscape, reveals a psychic state.”2 So then, what are the psychic states of the exhibition Live/ Work?

This publication serves as a conceptual supplement to the exhibition Live/Work. Buttressing this short introduction, you will find process-driven images, recipes, essays and sketches that provide myriad insights into each artist’s individual investigations of home. Points of departure range from the life and home of Emily Dickinson (Jessica Bardsley), the ancient myth of Bugonia, the origins of bees, (Rebecca Hamlin Green) and the dinner as a framework for participatory dance (Victoria Bradford).


1. Shannon Stratton, “At Home with Institutional Critique: Can Private Space Become a Public Practice?” in Service Media, ed. Stuart Keeler (Chicago: The Green Lantern Press, 2013), 86.

2. Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space,” in Interiors, ed. Johanna Burton, Lynne Cooke, and Josiah McElheny (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012), 301