Family Stories: Historical Dislocations in the Domestic Landscape and Family Stories: Volume II represent
a project of painting installations begun during my two years as a Fulbright artist in Berlin, a unique and memorable experience for which I am deeply grateful to the Fulbright Commission. The work developed out of My Home Is My Castle: Historical Dislocations in the American Landscape, a long-term body of work through which I have tried to make some sense out of the relationship of contemporary home to historical castle as fortress, private domain, symbol of power, sanctuary, and romantic ideal.
Family Stories was inspired by an archive of nearly one thousand items of memorabilia collected by three generations of my family and begun by my grandmother, who lived to be one hundred years old. Through multiple visual styles, diverse materials, deconstructed domestic patterns and images of popular culture—the home and garden, automobile, fashion, household appliances, television programs, advertising, and children's toys—I explore the pluralistic, multifaceted and complex condition of life in the contemporary American home.
Family Stories developed out of an ongoing investigation of the concept of home, neighborhood, and post-war landscape within a changing rural and suburban America. Americans are inveterate nesters and escapists, concurrently building and avoiding a place of permanence in life. The American house is a site within which one seeks to find sanctuary and from which one equally hopes to escape. The proliferation of building without architecture and of development without environmental planning, the thinning of natural reserves and the rural cultural fabric, and the increasing problems of homelessness (both physical and spiritual), social displacement, and domestic alienation in what I avoid calling postmodern life, are primary concerns in my work. My attempt to redefine the archetypal house form—and with it the relationships of dweller to house and house to earth—leads me through a continuing search for cultural authenticity and identity in the "ordinary places" of life.
For over a decade I worked with the post-war house image, painting the house and the surrounding neighborhood from the outside. Now I am working from the inside out. I am not merely painting a house anymore. I am building a home. I am erecting walls. I am making an environment. That is what these installations are. I build my walls out of my painting panels like the building stones of a real house.
The environments are made of the patchwork of the influences and images and memories of my family and every family. The family creates its own microculture, brings the outside culture inside, and, in turn, perhaps, with a little luck and grace, turns the outside culture inside out.
This building of walls, this constructing of an installation environment, is in itself a kind of search for home, an act of going home, an invitation. No one is left outside. All are welcome. It's been too long. Come home.
I critique the culture, but I celebrate the home. It is for me a place in which I can realize "my home is my castle", erect a fortress, find sanctuary, drink a beer, put the feet up, take the hair down, reorder the universe, find the center, give form to ideals, break bread, live in relationship, build a hearth, light a fire.
Remove the indwelling lives and a home becomes a house. The essence of home is bound inextricably to the relationships within. Home is more than bricks and mortar. The legend of the naming of Castle Weibertreu profoundly illustrates the difference. Castle Weibertreu becomes Ruin Weibertreu, even before King Konrad III lays a finger to the site: "The name Weibertreu ('Women’s Loyalty') originated as follows: when the German King Konrad III captured the castle in 1140 after a long siege, the women were given permission to leave and to take with them anything they could carry on their backs. The loyal women staggered down the hill with the men on their backs, and the king kept his word and let them pass." (Thaddäus Troll, Romantische Burgen in Deutschland)
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