Artworks deconstruct notions of ‘House’ and ‘Home’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 1, 2015


GROSSE POINTE CITY — What makes a house a home? We all know that a home goes beyond the bricks and mortar used for its exterior, but what intangible elements make it personal and specific to its occupants?

That’s a question several local artists answer in their own unexpected ways in “A. House B. Home,” a new exhibition on display through April 11 at the Grosse Pointe Art Center. Curator Andrew Thompson, of Detroit, selected Justin Marshall, Toby Millman, Kathleen Rashid, Rosie Sharp and the collective Afterhouse to create works for the show.

A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Thompson holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture from the Kansas City Art Institute and a master of fine arts in sculpture from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He’s currently a visiting assistant professor of sculpture at Antioch College in Ohio.

“The content of the show is very much focused on how the artists in their own way identified how people utilize a home and make it their own,” Thompson said.

Sharp has a couple of tapestries in the show that explore issues like residential development encroaching on nature, but her centerpiece is “The Hoarder Dollhouse,” a three-story dollhouse that the artist has been working on since 2011 and has never shown publicly. The rooms are filled with everything from scraps of tissue and little trash bags to tiny bundles of newspapers created for the house by Sharp. The piece shows the progressive nature of hoarding, as some rooms are more cluttered than others.

“A lot of the art I do is about accumulation,” Sharp said.

She said the dollhouse “has kind of built up over time” because “it doesn’t look right” when she just tries to pile on items all at once. She said hoarding is very much an American mental illness, driven in no small part by constant exposure to advertising that urges people to buy more and more things.

“It’s very encouraged for us to use stuff as a placeholder for memories, for emotions. … There’s a kind of human tragedy being buried in all that stuff,” Sharp said.

Being a hoarder is “not something anyone sets out to be,” she said.

“It’s made more poignant by the fact that it’s misunderstood,” Sharp said.

Marshall, a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University, has a pair of paintings in the show. The paintings are of blighted homes. Thompson said Marshall was inspired to create a series of these paintings after reading a newspaper article about bulk buyers — many of them millionaires — who buy large groups of homes in Detroit and then do nothing to rehabilitate them. Thompson said the article noted that these buyers rent out whichever properties can still be rented, however dilapidated they may be, and because of bureaucratic red tape, the buyers are able to reap income from these homes for about three years without paying back taxes on them — which had been a condition for buyers in the first place — before the city can seize them back from the purchaser.

“He’s interested in the politics of home ownership and these blighted buildings,” Thompson said of Marshall.

Millman’s work in the show is a series of small, laser-cut collages based off of photographs of houses in her Hamtramck neighborhood, Thompson said. He said she uses paper from flyers distributed in the area to make them, so the collages include snippets of the many languages spoken in the multicultural city, such as Arabic and Polish.

Rashid, of Detroit, said her four paintings — all newly created for this show — are images from her family home; they include a laundry chute and a junk drawer, painted in intricate detail.

“I recently took over the old family home,” said Rashid, who explained that these pieces deal with “memory and associations of memory.”

Thompson said Afterhouse is a group of artists and architects who deconstructed a blighted building in Detroit near Hamtramck and turned the basement into a greenhouse that will be able to provide the neighborhood with fresh food. Visitors to the exhibition at the GPAC will be able to see a video, flip book and photos documenting the ongoing project, as well as bowls made from a mold of the home’s wood grain that are being sold to raise money to fund this effort. People can visit the greenhouse and talk to the artists when they’re working, Thompson said.

“The show is about houses and homes, but not just representations of (them),” Thompson said.

As the show was being hung last week, GPAC Executive Director Coleen Downey said she was “excited to see” all of the works. All of these artists are new to the GPAC.

The GPAC is located at 17118 Kercheval in the Village. The hours are noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information, email, visit www.grossepointeartcenter. org or call (313) 881-3454.