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The Grand Domestic Revolution

An exhibition about the mind, politics, the internal state, the external state and the desire to close the gap beteen the two.  It’s about radicalization of the collective spirit, personalized comforts and domesticated discomforts, questioning, doubting, and formulating strategies to overcome the domestic order.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 12-10-2009

Casco is a contemporary art institution that operates nationally and internationally in Utrecht.  It poses questions about the social and political function of art and specializes in interdisciplinary practices with an emphasis on the intersection between art, design and theory.

“User's Manual: The Grand Domestic Revolution”, Casco’s project for Utrecht Manifest, is set up to be more than just an exhibition.  “We want it to turn into a movement,” says curator Binna Choi,  “but these days people do not like movements, they prefer action.”

The idea is to look at contemporary domestic space, define the problems, spot ways in which things could change and research various possibilities. In a sort of reverse engineering, homes in this case are seen as the last refuge of contemporary society’s social problems.  “I really think that the home is where social problems are embedded,” says Choi, “and there is no consciousness of that, which makes it even more rampant.”

The problem then is that a domestic abode is generally considered to be a place of refreshment and reproduction; it’s seen as a non-productive space.  “It isn’t considered important,” says Choi, “but if you look at the early 20th century avant-garde social movements in Russia, they all started from the home in shared living spaces.  

The title “The Grand Domestic Revolution” is borrowed from the title of American feminist and architect, Dolores Hayden’s seminal book of the same title.  “She looked at the work of materialist feminists who also mobilized design, architecture and the urban planning process,” says Choi.  “They were more then just ideological, and tried to change the material conditions under which women were living and working.”

Hayden’s movement failed and to this day issues of isolation, unrecognized domestic labour and publicly invisible women persists.

For the “The Grand Domestic Revolution”, Casco has rented a 70 square meter apartment for one year and various people will come to live there to assist and contribute to the research.  

“There have been other projects like this,” says Choi, “but where ours differs is that we have moved away from a pragmatic objective that tries to solve a local problem.”

As it operates, the apartment will float in a zone half way between a public and private residence.  The inhabitants’ lives are at all times exposed to researchers who will also extend their points of reference beyond the front door and into the local community.

In the “Grand Domestic Revolution Users’ Manual No. 1” it states that “Historically, the term ‘revolution’ has always been associated with the traditional ‘left’, in the true essence of overturning a dominant regime, while the term domestic has its affiliations with the ‘right’ – in its search for security, stability and concerns with the trivialities of reality.  Perhaps the question would be ‘how to live desirably within and perhaps beyond the capitalist lifestyle’, moreover, the refunctionalism and integration of art and design into the living realm via integrated situations that traverse the border between the private and the public.”

“We want to connect domestic problems to broader public needs,” says Choi.

The apartment has been set up with minimal intervention.  Colour coded furniture was provided by the Institute for Applied Urbanism and Jesko Fezer in Berlin.  It is sparse and functional allowing the inhabitants to appropriate and (re)arrange the things according to their own needs, but also to be able to accommodate groups of researchers and the public for various gatherings.

Ideally, by the end of the project, “The Grand Domestic Revolution” will lead to a better understanding of the connection between social, physical and spatial problems.  “Things like the invasion of work into our domestic lives,” says Choi, “how the educated classes are always connected to their work, and the deeper effects of social networking, which acts like a sort of control system.  We will also look at the changing family structure and its social meaning.”

Questions like how much privacy remains in contemporary society and what are our notions of community?  And are the right sort of gathering spaces available given our understanding of how communities function?

“Public space is mostly all privatized,” says Choi.  “Are there even any places left where we can really lose control?  Is there anywhere that isn’t limited by market or government control?  It’s questions like these which we hope to find answers to.”

But answers won’t definitely come. What matters most is that a better understanding and more communication on a community level builds. “Then we will have a loose community that might even become a movement,” says Choi.

The benefit of this approach to solving self-created design dilemmas is that it takes the focus away from new and improved design products being the answer.  “The answer isn’t going to be new products,” says Choi. “It's going to be about better sharing what we already have.  It’s a matter of distribution, which makes this a very political project.”

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