The Geffrye Museum of the Home contains a series of replicated, domestic room-sets chronologically displayed. The first is from circa 1600 and the last is from the present day- a typical, so called ‘loft’ apartment converted from an industrial building. Despite the fact that the Geffrye, a former alms house, is a very linear building, which dictates the layout of the display, there is a perceptibly circular trend to the history of the interiors depicted: from the minimal content and decoration of the Elizabethan room, through the clutter and over-decoration of the late Victorian and back again to the bare bones of the contemporary loft. It was while viewing this last exhibit that a fellow visitor turned to me and said “I couldn’t live in that!” When I pressed him he did not offer a rational explanation but I concluded that such an interior would not fit in with his habitual way of living.
My preferred style of living might be described, in current terminology, as ‘minimal’ but I have had my preconceptions on this point challenged just lately; most notably by Junya Ishigami, an architect who “works between the spheres of architecture and art” and strives to “dissolve the boundaries between inside and outside”. He takes minimalism very seriously, as can be seen in his gallery pieces, which are structures on a very large scale yet so delicately made, of gossamer-like fibres, that they are almost invisible. Actually this transcends minimalism- I would call it etherialism and wonder how that might translate into a style of living.
Outside of museums I have had an opportunity to consider other peoples’ modes of living in a very practical way: I have been ‘apartment-sitting’. For us apartment-sitters the domestic circumstances of the absent occupants inevitably present a variety of vicarious experiences but, regardless of whether it’s a comfortable place in a desirable location or a gloomy dwelling in a desolate spot, there is always another dimension - one from which we may draw imaginings. Sooner or later the observation of some small detail- such as the positioning of a chair, a plant or a picture- will begin to suggest what is of importance in the lives of the absent occupants and this is the moment when we begin to reflect on our own priorities. Living in someone else’s place presents an opportunity to awake from our complacency, see things from another’s perspective and learn that apparently innocent, everyday objects can obstruct the inventiveness of our minds simply by their habitual presence.
During my recent sitting I tried to balance the urge to re-arrange the place to my own liking with the need to respect the preferences of my absent hosts. The process resulted first in contemplation of a new career as an interior designer, then a brief flirtation with Feng Shui, but progressed, eventually, to the higher plane of questioning how and why I acquired my own habitual routines and rituals, my own physical and mental clutter. I concluded that clutter creeps up, unnoticed, and accumulates in whatever space is available. After a while routines, rituals and clutter all become inter-dependent and start to dictate my life-patterns. The cycle needs to be broken, the desk cleared and the job started afresh.
Apartment-sitting is good therapy for this condition because different or unfamiliar environments will engender random connections- and random connections are fuel for the imaginative, creative processes. If we stay at home we remain in an environment which has been honed to preserve habitual behaviour patterns and makes us feel too comfortable to be bothered with adventure.
I have it in mind to contact the Geffrye Museum soon with a proposition for a creative art installation/performance/experiment. It will take the form of me living, one week at a time, in each of their period room-sets without changing or moving any object. I should also like to propose to Junya Ishigami that I live in his place on similar terms, although I would be very disappointed if it turned out that he lives in a Tokyo suburb in a cosy bungalow full of bric-a-brac and surfaces printed with floral patterns.