The following was spoken by Emmett Scanlon at the beginning of Songs About Home, an event held in St. Laurence’s Church, DIT, Grangegorman in October 2016. The text gives a context for why an architect might wish to hold a concert and gives some further context to Home on the Grange public art project.
Thank you all for coming to our show.
This evening’s event, Songs About Home, is part of a public art project that has emerged out of and into the Grangeorman neighbourhood. Home on the Grange was commissioned by ‘the lives we live’ the Grangegorman Public Art program and has subsequently been supported by Luas Cross City and Dublin City Architects. We thank them and we remain grateful for the support of Grangegorman and most especially we cherish the patient faith of Jenny Haughton. Thank you to Nathalie Weadick for including this Songs About Home in Dublin City’s Open House and to Suzanne Green and all at DIT who have lent this house for us to sing in tonight.
Home on the Grange is a collaboration between myself, Emmett Scanlon, an architect, Aisling McCoy a photographer, and Paul Guinan a graphic designer. What we share I think is a curiosity about how people live at home, what it means to make home, how best to share and communicate these creative home-stories and what implications our interest in home-making might have. We three have collaborated so far with several inhabitants of the neighbourhood, and many of them have begun to tell us their home stories. Other participants have begun to share and distribute the stories of their neighbours through the social-network of barbers, salons and hairdressers, by carrying for us a series of newspapers, one of which you may take with you as you make your way home later this evening.
Growing up in the 1980s in Ireland meant a weekly Saturday morning dose of Make and Do. Within the long program format of Anything Goes, in ten minutes Mary FitzGerald turned toilet roll holders, cereal boxes and plastic bottles into castles and rockets and thousands of children across Ireland flew off on unexpected journeys to the moon. Looking back, those weekly installments of how to translate everyday found materials, the things you find lying around the house, into new objects with new meanings, tenuously stuck together with glue and imagination and used with joy and enthusiasm, surely laid some sort of foundation for what has become my own understanding of architecture. Architecture as I see it now, is only really found between design and use, making and breaking – architecture is equal parts glitter and decay.
The subject of Home on the Grange is indeed architecture, but it is not necessarily the kind of architecture made by professional architects. Instead the focus of Home on the Grange is the architecture made by individuals, everyday at home. Architects are, of course, the creative professionals who are usually charged with designing the buildings that make up our towns and cities. While professional training and experience make architects experts in many aspects of architecture they do not exclusively own architecture – architecture belongs to us all.
Someone else may have designed the building in which you currently live and someone else may have organised and determined the layout of the rooms you use but once you are inside your architecture work begins. In fact the main products of the architectural profession – buildings and the rooms within them – remain inert and static unless people can enthusiastically occupy and use them.
The exhibition we have set up for this weekend in the store Lyon Loring on Manor Street, presents early work made in three homes and consists primarily of sensitive and searching photographs made by Aisling. The exhibition for us begins a process of describing these dynamic, unfolding home-architectures. We do not, have not and will not edit or organise the rooms to show a ‘better’ version of home. The home-portraits that are emerging in the project are deeply personal and are made in collaboration with the home-makers because every single thing you can see in the photographs was placed or left by the inhabitants and everything means something and something has clearly occurred.
When we suggest that home-making is a creative act, we are not just being romantic or fantastic.. When you look at the photographs it is certain that the inhabitants are creatively making, remaking and constructing their homes, appropriating the spaces they find over the course of each day with ingenuity, elegance and beauty.
New structures and rooms are constructed from scratch within unlikely, forgotten spaces, marks are made on walls, rooms occupied with animals real and imagined. There is play apparent in every home.
Creativity exists too though as inhabitants develop a kind of resilience by and through their home-making, using objects, mementos and personal effects to build a strong web, one woven from past, present and future memories and ambitions. These webs are complex, existing within minds and within walls but also without the spatial container of the house, squat or apartment, extending to and becoming bound up in the neighbourhood and the familial, social, political and economic networks that reside in wider Irish society.
As Home on the Grange develops on the ground we wonder if part of the project’s potential is to find ways to share stories of how we make home so that we take better notice of our collective responsibility to enable more people to make home, more easily, more often. To be without a capacity to make home is to be homeless and, at its most extreme, this means having no space to call your own, no rooms in which you can construct or weave your essential, life-supporting web. Home on the Grange has maybe begun to support the theory that homelessness exists on several levels as a kind of spectrum.
Without the agency to make home, without the opportunity to feel secure or participate in community life from home, without permission to adapt a room to suit your needs, without the dignity to care for your child at night because you are denied a microwave by law – we each become,to an extent homeless, even if we have a roof over our heads. To me, this suggests homelessness is now an issue for all citizens, especially for those of us with a home to go to.
Any of us can feel isolated, disconnected, remote, neglected and dissatisfied with the systems and structures that determine so many aspects of our everyday lives. But in this Grangegorman neighbourhood people just might be resorting to inventing, adapting, creating, and defending ways of making home in order to ensure their individual and collective survival.
Architecture cannot change the world, but it can change people, and nowhere more profoundly than behind closed doors.
So this evening we invite you to join us and to sing some songs about home, perhaps simply so we take the time to notice it and remember it is something real we have in common. When we began this project back in spring, Aisling and I heard Mary Barnecutt who sings tonight that “they wanted their rooms as far from the light as architecture allowed” in, Moving, a song written about Grangegorman and the home lives once lived on this campus. As we visited more homes full of music and song it seemed to me that it would be impossible to discuss home without recourse to songs and words and music and without assembling a band of friends, loved ones, inhabitants of this and nearby neighbourhoods to join us.
This evening we will move together through rooms hosting visions of the ideal home and our deep held, relentless desire to build one. Infected with homesickness and nostalgia we see the home as a site of love and loss and laughter and also a thing that at times, has its own life to lead, guiding and forming the characters of those who reside inside as much as they guide it.
A little bit of time is all it asks, lets listen to your home, because it’s talking back.
All images copyright Aisling Mc Coy / Home on the Grange.
Home on the Grange is a collaboration between Emmett Scanlon, Aisling McCoy, Paul Guinan and the inhabitant-participants of the Grangegorman Neighbourhood.