This post is guest-contributed by Laura Miller.
This summer was an unyeildingly hot one. I visited my parents in Tennessee, driving along highway 65 to get there. All of the sweet corn I saw along the way was eerily brown-leaved. Fireworks were banned outside of offical productions due to fire hazard. Back at home, living across from a fish market in New York, I was more than relieved to be able to travel this summer to visit some family in Prague, and to make an art pilgrimage to see Documenta 13, aka dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany.
Traveling with friends, all fellow artists, we decided to stay in an impromptu art installation/living space called Temporary Home. The website for the space is fantastic, and the project itself provided an interesting introduction to dOCUMENTA (13). It’s managed by a collection of local and regional artists and is aimed at questioning what a home means in times of crisis. Relational Aesthetics practices have often approached the home, or temporary living structures, as moments of artistic fruitful-ness. From Rirkrit Tiravanija’s re–creations of apartment spaces for his Untitled pieces to Tatzu Nishi’s upcoming Discovering Columbus in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, the living space has become a well-worn site for artistic explorations.
Arriving at the actual installation, tired after flights and travel, I found myself at odds negotiating art, commerce, and the lived experience. The artists managing the space were friendly. Beds, they told us, were fifteen to twenty euros each. They tied ribbons on our wrists to keep track of us as paying guests. A Bollywood film played in the expansive ground floor space. We were told that usually, there were more performances taking place, but tonight it was quiet.
The space appeared to be an office school structure temporarily converted by way of thrift store blankets and sheets, pillowcases and decorations, into a makeshift hostel. Mattresses were on the floor, with a mish-mash of patterned sheets and small pillows. The shower was a cold water hose on a patio behind the living space, surrounded by a few plants. The rooms were shared among strangers.
Viewing these circumstances as an artistic living condition makes for a confusing proposition. As a living condition, it did not seem reasonable to charge standard hostel prices for a space without any real beds, hot water, or a proper shower. As an art experience, Temporary Home did feel in some ways like a refugee camp, or a disaster shelter. Maybe more than a refugee camp, Temporary Home felt like an overgrown sleepover party connected to a DIY performance venue.
Art installations that create relationships between people in space are the artistic equivalent to stone soup, or a file-sharing site. Content created and shared by participants might make for a phenomenal moment of human exchange, or a dystopian commune filled with apathy. In either instance, the participants are to blame. Unless the artists want to take credit for it.
Laura Miller is currently an MFA student in Visual Art at Columbia University. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, her love of french fries on top of salads will never die. She mixes sculpture and PowerPoint to create installations. She believes in surviving.