Everyone needs a home… especially the homeless. And perhaps we are reminded more than ever of that fact at this bitterly cold time of year.
But this necessity is certainly not limited to winter as, one sunny London day not so long ago, people passing by didn’t need to imagine what it’s like to sleep in a cardboard home – they could experience it for themselves. And not just any cardboard home, but a ‘lovely modern flat in the heart of Shoreditch’, for the princely sum of £0. Fitted with post box, French windows and spacious interior fit for one, this was a deluxe cardboard home like no other.
Nestling at the foot of the imposing Christ Church in Spitalfields, Milan Janić’s installation raised many questions about homelessness and the ‘art’ of living on the streets.
The installation was part of the international ‘Home Sweet Home’ series featuring similar ‘homes’ in global cities. Brainchild of Italian photographer Salvo Galano and Serbian designer Milan Janić, Home Sweet Home is intended to make a thought-provoking statement regarding homelessness in ‘developed’ countries. Through photography, videos and installations, the project draws attention to this issue and attempts to inspire problem-solving by giving visibility to people otherwise considered invisible by mainstream society.
And on that sunny day in Shoreditch, suddenly the invisible was made a bit too visible as Londoners and tourists alike appropriated the cardboard home for photo opps. Many people clambered inside and grinned out of the slit-cut windows, including members of the Unseen Tours crew. Upon squeezing in myself, I felt claustrophobic and warm, with the position I had to adopt – kneeling with my head to the ground – adding to the weirdness, sadness and head rush. Was this right, I wondered, this feeling, this exploitation of a situation to draw attention to ourselves? What were we really achieving? And what did our homeless friends and Unseen Tour guides, watching, make of this? It was particularly unsettling when our guide Henri was handed a brush and started painting a ‘To Let’ sign on the roof of the structure. Those of us who knew him or had just been on his tour were humbled into silence.
So was this a grotesque inversion of the invisibility the homeless feel? And did it bring to light their plight? Because, let’s face it, most people weren’t getting to grips with this pop-up ‘home’ to empathise with the homeless but rather to experience the very strangeness of it all, and it’s Shoreditch-esque ‘artiness’. However, Janić argued, that doesn’t make it a bad thing.
He emphasised that the project is not meant to be a gratuitous piece of trendily ironic art. Homelessness is a serious and sad problem. And the images, videos and temporary minimalistically assembled cardboard shelters that make up ‘Home Sweet Home’ are not imagined as a solution to this problem. They are only a way to attract attention to this issue, while providing temporary relief and raising some funds through knock-on sales of smaller fold-up version of cardboard houses that also double up as piggybanks, and, in the case of our collaboration, through promoting Unseen Tours.
Home Sweet Home’s striking installations are a way to attract attention until we can all do better. Because the artists behind ‘Home Sweet Home’ believe that nobody can or should live in a cardboard house.
Check out the video from the London installation… and watch this space for the follow-up exhibition taking place in 2012!
For more information about Home Sweet Home, visit www.home-sweet-home.org