You talking to me? OK, I'm going to paint your thinks
In French author, Georges Perec’s 1965 novel Les Choses (Things), we meet the young couple, Jerome and Sylvie, lost in material dreams. In the first few pages of the book, their desirable, tasteful home is described in great detail, room by room: “This would be a living room, about seven metres long and three metres wides. To the left, in a kind of alcove, a huge, matt-black leather divan would stand, framed by two pale cherry-wood bookshelves chaotically piled with books. Above the divan, an old maritime chart would fill the wall across its entire breadth.”[i]
What does an interior say about the person of whom it is an extension? Is it possible to get to know a person by browsing through their bookshelves? The story to be found through a person’s things is often clearer than one knows. The French couple’s aspirations to ‘the good life’ create a separate vacuum, sandwiched between complete imagination and trivial reality. Outside the paper universe of the novel, interiors form a framework about us – both real and practical, suited to realism in terms of finances and life situation. They are, however, also symbolic nests or carefully organised tableaux of an ideal, safe world where we can be who we want to be in freedom.
Shwan Dler Qaradaki once rented a fully-furnished flat from an old Iraqi man in Oslo East. When Qaradaki moved in, he cleared away all the furniture, paintings and ornaments. They expressed someone else’s taste and aesthetic sense. Besides, the tenant did not want to risk another person’s property getting damaged. When, one day, the owner turned up unexpectedly, he felt grossly offended. Qaradaki was given an ultimatum: Either put everything back or leave the flat immediately. He chose the latter.
The personal signature in an interior can thus be intolerable for an outsider. Well aware of the subjective investment in a home, Qaradaki has taken a closer look and painted sections of a handful of inhabited rooms with their various personal properties. The homes belong to twelve people, all of whom the artist knows, from different parts of the world and from different backgrounds. None of them come from the same country. There is perhaps an estrangement from origin – an exile – at bottom here, but what else can one read into these interiors? They revolve around their own day-to-day normality, without any great deviation. A warm, cosy atmosphere is a returning theme; other rooms are cooler boxes for life. The interiors vary, inviting interpretation on the basis of the observer’s own conceptions about cultural and social groups. The aesthetic codes stand up to be counted: A piano, toys, a glittering bouquet of flowers beneath a painting of a ship, a flag, Shakespeare on the bookshelves.
[i] Georges Perec, Tingene – En historie fra sekstiårene, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1999, s. 9.
Prosjektet er støttet av: Oslo Kommune og Kulturrådet.