text by Tom Van Imschoot
When I first met Hans and Emi, sitting in a bar in Ghent preparing this exhibition, I immediately felt at home. I don’t know why I felt that way. But I guess that’s part of what I mean. At home, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You do not have to justify why this is such or that is so. You just live there, without knowing what ‘living’ exactly entails, amidst these people (or lack thereof), those walls and plants, these very colors, whether of your own choice or not. To be at home goes without saying. I’d say you can even be alone there, without (necessarily) feeling lonely.
So as soon as Hans, Emi and I started talking – first about how they met, then about houses (as I just moved) and finally about the coincidence of birthdays, seasons, stories and other wonderfully terrifying constellations – I immediately understood that they didn’t want me to explain anything in the insert they invited me to write in this book, adjacent to their show. They just invited me to write. And in doing so, they were looking forward, I believe – not necessarily to this text, which needed to be written before the exhibition opened, in a crazy, overhasty act of looking forward itself, yet to the moment the show would open and its visitors would be invited to take part in the common ground they explored, both new and familiar.
In short, they invited me (and in me the future visitor) to become part of what was to become their work, laying out its process, its dialogic nature, the ordering principle structuring it and the content material nurturing it, if separable at all. Which is why, in fact, I can’t help looking at it by now but as an exercise in hospitality, and this insert (by way of response) as an attempt at being a worthy guest, making sense of another’s place, hitting home. For what else is an invitation than a way of looking forward? And where do you invite people to, unless to your place, that is: to your home?
To be at home goes without saying, I said, yet it is not without ambiguity. As anyone can tell who has ever felt lonely at home despite its being that, the very physical space we inhabit is largely dependent on our capacity to construct an imaginary double of it in order to be called our ‘home’ at all. We take possession of it, we make it our own and in doing so we attempt to make sense or to attach meaning, humanizing by way of personalizing. Yet, in the end all we possess is nothing but this manlike construct itself, constantly at the brink of falling back into a state of indifference – where you can no longer differentiate between its real and its imaginary quality.
In fact, this is the reason why the most defamiliarizing attacks of solitude are not found on the busy streets of our cities, yet under the discrete veil we presume to be some invisible body’s home. Conversely, it is also why we are able to dislocate our childhood’s home and recollect it wherever we settle during our lifelong migrations, constantly distancing ourselves from our origin while at the same time nearing our ultimate destination. Have you ever been able to fuck, then to sleep? And have you ever been sleepless? Then you know the paradox that lies awake in ‘being at home’.
I like to think I need nothing but sleep to be at home. But then again, I remember those nights at home when I am not able to sleep, endlessly turning and returning to find that fixed position I long to coincide with. In the end I realize it is not about fixing yet all about fiction, this double we make of our world, not so much so as to confirm its so-called reality, nor to affirm the illusion of everything (similar to the rest which nihilists find in nothing), yet so as not to forget the possibilities we always forget about in taking reality for granted, to remind us of the very forgetfulness we experience in sleep and which we call ‘home’, endless point of return.
To fuck, to sleep. To be at home. And in that mortal coil perhaps to flee. Alas! What form does the notion of home have in the head of a fugitive? Something to be reminded of? Something to forget about? A distant past, a near future? Why not consider oblivion the basic structure of dreaming, homelessness the basis of a new architecture, morphing a return to order?
I believe this is something to be reminded of when visiting the exhibition, or when revisiting its striking reconstruction in this book for that matter. That is to say: they will potentially remind you of these issues themselves, as they both take part in the banality of daily life (which is put on display) as well as depart from it (precisely by way of displaying) so as to abstract the possibilities at play underneath the concrete. As a matter of fact, that was already happening when Hans, Emi and I first met, looking forward. When we finally stopped chattering so as to get to know one another and turned to the topic of the upcoming exhibition, I was happy to learn that the trivia we had been talking about were always already part of the show.
To be sure, this couldn’t have been mere coincidence. Or if it was, it was a ‘wonderfully terrifying’ one, indeed, as Emi would call it on a good day. For as this doubling of our conversation within our conversation pointed me to the way Hans and Emi generate space for the play of the imaginary by reiterating the abstract structure and the cultural fabric of daily reality, it also made me aware that the literal co-incidence of both their practices is indeed a lucky one, marrying the anecdotal to the structural, the textual to the contextual, the personal to the impersonal, the vocal to the visible.
To be sure, the search for interaction and the desire to turn one’s art into a generous attempt at hosting (even making it appear as if one is) another (artist, persona…), has always been central to both Hans’ and Emi’s work. Yet, there’s something about the space Hans puts on display that wanted (maybe even needed) to be inhabited by Emi’s stories and performances. Just like there’s something about Emi’s narrative, whether written, drawn or performed, that was looking for Hans’ spacings to find a proper place. Can’t they work without one another? O yes, they do, and perfectly well. Yet, in refusing all splendid isolation and the private strife for perfection, they have also found a common ground, and on this ground they’ve built a constellation – conversation, installation, performance and publication at once – that rearranges our definition of what it means ‘to be at home’.
To be dislocated does not contradict the experience of being located here, just like being on display does not thwart or fixate the possibilities at play. All people can become windows, all windows can become doors, all doors can possibly open, all obstruction turns into transparency, and vice versa. Isn’t that a big detour to explain us something we already know, you ask? Yes, apart from the part about explaining. This book, and this exhibition do not explain anything. They tell, they show. And for them to hit home, you have to stay close to who you are and what you know in responding, i.e.: close to that inner, uncanny distance you always risk to forget about.
It reminds me of what my 6-year old daughter did when I got home from a trip to New York recently, including the repeatedly-cancelled, blizzard-like trip to Brussels upon which most of this insert eventually got written. She gave me a quick kiss, as if in a haste, if only to run off to the mailbox. After a while, breathlessly, she ran back to me to remind me that I forgot to check whether a letter arrived when abroad, whereas I definitely should. In the mailbox I found a drawing, depicting the grit of a giant skyscraper and a statue of liberty resembling herself. ‘Papa, finally your home again’, she’d written above it. She told me the letter had been intended to reach me in New York, but I had simply not given her the address of my hotel To compensate, she insisted that I should now find it in our own mailbox. For although she could have just told me what she had drawn or written, that would never have been the same, unlike what she had wanted to say.
To feel at home goes without saying, but sometimes you need the detour of a minor fiction, an inner distance, a temporary forgetfulness, to realize when something hits home. Being nothing but a guest that tries to live up to my hosts’ hospitality, I hope the detour I have doubtlessly made here, will not prevent you from finding your own place during the guided tour on which this book and this exhibition will take you, whether you join it via this rather small window or through their wide-open, two-sided door.