A Subversive Aesthetic



Johanna Bartelt

I chose to work with household fabrics because they seemed the most appropriate materials for dealing with issues of the home. In the tradition of quilt-making remnants of worn fabrics are used to construct new forms. The scale is intimate. Small (heart sized) houses are constructed of quilted layers or old blankets. A silhouette of a simplified house is constructed with the threads of an unraveled blanket and set on an oval ground like a precious cameo. These representations of houses are almost generic in form and are meant to convey the idea or a feeling of home rather than a specific location. These works express some ambivalence toward stability–the piled blankets can be both comforting and smothering. They are usually presented alongside paintings of similar structures and textures in the human body, comparing it with the physical home and seeing both as physical dwellings. The softness of the blankets is reminiscent of flesh, the colours are also soft and can be seen as stereotypically feminine, likening the home to the body and further extending feelings of alienation or displacement to the female body as well as suggesting its strength and sensuality. The pieces combine to address a sense of comfort, in the outer world as well as within one’s own body.

These concerns are very relevant to my living situation, that of a squatter on the lower east side of Manhattan. Our homes are now in the process of legalization but we have lived for years in unsafe conditions and with an uncertain future, working to develop and maintain affordable housing in an area where longtime residents have been continually displaced through economic and political pressures. These concerns are expressed in the impenetrable forms of the blanket houses, expressing both the solidity and inaccessibility of a secure housing situation. Some of the harsher realities of squatting such as the lack of heat are reflected in the use of blankets and the scale of the work which is defined by the necessity of working in confined spaces through the winter months, as only very restricted spaces can be heated adequately. The process of constructing the little houses reflects a sense of hope in working toward finding one’s sense of place and belonging.