The notion of home

Åsil Bøthun


The German philosopher Ernst Bloch thinks of the term ‘home’ as more of a process than as something connected with a place where someone comes from or with a certain state. For him home is utopian, because he thinks of it as a process that on the one hand is contending the world as a whole and that is why on the other hand home is not yet achieved and it shows the openness of the world process. The term home is connected to the principle of hope, hope that the human being will turn the circumstances around and take control over them. When man has founded everything without alienation in real democracy something will emerge, wherein no one has ever been: home.


Home is typically defined in terms of location, the place where a thing originates or is most common, a geographical or familial fixing, and the peace this implies. These associations through shifts in migratory patterns and the family unit are less readily applied to our notions of home today. To be common to a place as an individual indicates a multitude of personal affinities to that home, as though one were oneself a whole species making a chaotic effort at origin. This moves beyond the focus on geographical location to a question for the psychological individual.


Home will be taken here to indicate the points of reference between the individual and his or her surroundings whatever they may be - home having less to do with location and more to do with the degrees of unity or dislocation between its symbols and the human response. I think that the notion of home in both reconciliation and separation can manifest itself without warning and anywhere in the world when one of these symbols are recognized in objects or in smell or even in sound. The memory and return these symbols evoke can leave us anxious or calmed depending on their circumstances.


Home has an open doorway through which we may pass without hindrance as the locus of our most immediate selves, the nature of our passing through this doorway, either in return, denial or oblivion – represents the relationship between ourselves and our surroundings. Whatever our response to home, whether we accept it or not, it remains the fixed threshold of our lives. As we step through, each point of contact gives us back our newly affirmed selves, - a form of reincarnation.


As we pass through this continuous motion of dismissal and return, our relationship to home, our degree of unity or anxiety depends on the symbols we recognize. Home is traditionally a secret place, and it’s chattels hold fiercely private connotations – a situation made complicated by the fact that complex significance of a family symbol will be privately significant in different ways to each of us.


The symbol of home and the ensuing recognition is entirely personal, reflecting the private nature of home. Freud wrote about this in his essay ‘The Uncanny’, taking the German ‘das Unheimliche’ to be a central ambiguity in our lives. ‘Heimlich’ is defined in many ways, and Freud makes use of the examples which take from homeliness a sense of being ‘concealed, kept from sight’. In this origin ‘Home’ also implies something hidden, ‘something withdrawn from the eyes of strangers, something concealed, secret....belonging to the home’. In different to ‘Unheimlich’ – un-homely, or more specifically ‘the uncanny’ that is taken to be ‘everything that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light.





These confrontations with the symbolism of home recur in our lives continually, for the various symbols are relatively universal to mankind: accordingly we become preoccupied by them rather than what they signify. Freud explains the sudden fear we experience when encountering these manifestations of home outside of their context, and concludes that we are recognizing not necessarily the symbol of the place but of our own repression.


Home transforms the state of reincarnation into reincantation – ‘I know this place’ – it is a recognition both within oneself and one’s surroundings. The flash of recognition can happen anywhere – a house, a hotel, a bedroom, – a permanent response to the symbols around us, it lives in us through sight, smell and touch, fusing (for a moment) our public and private lives.

The home is commonly perceived as a private space, as opposed to a public space. However, being products of social negotiations and subject to historical change, the borders between the inside and the outside are permanently being contested. In this respect the home is not the safe haven it is often understood to be, but an area in which various forces interfere. The home is not a private issue. A recent shift can be observed in the way the public and private are negotiated. Former areas of public space have increasingly become private, and the spheres of work and home intersect in new and different ways.


The home, in many various incarnations, is often seen as a means to express the personality of its owner or dweller. However, the dwelling projects indicate not only its inhabitant’s personal taste, but also the social, cultural, ideological, economic, and political parameters of their existence. In a sense, the home functions as a tool for the individual to contextualise and understand the world, a place from which to perceive and to be perceived, a way in which to be defined.


The use of everyday objects in my work displaced into the gallery environment for public examination makes their affiliation to a private world highlighted. We respond to the intimacy of the carpet and the wallpaper, to the seductiveness of the familiar. Each of the works plays upon this device of seduction and subsequent disruption to produce a series of reactions, which could be characterised as ‘uncanny’. The everyday itself becomes strange. The displacement of the domestic into the gallery environment and its use to communicate ideas beyond the subversions of domesticity will produced the context and impetus for my work. A series of interconnecting journeys through interiors, always marked by the absence of any human presence.


The work acts as the architecture of our myths, politics and memories, but also as prosthetics for ourselves.