I always thought that, perhaps one day, I might have an old house of my own.
Recently, I decided to have a look at a couple of old houses to see if saving one close to the edge might be something I could do. I am a big fan of the rescued old house, a fan of the return from the brink. I found myself in great emotional turmoil in the early spring over an old place that could not be saved. I celebrate those who seem to turn their lives upside down to restore and recover an unloved house.
Houses are like a metaphor for a life. They are built shiny and new to shield and protect; they get worn and middle aged, are sometimes renovated, and eventually descend into old age, dereliction, and death. Some go out quickly, others slowly, succumbing to rot. Their path and purpose, look and style are as variable as our own. In them, there is celebration and loss, renewal and destruction.
One of my favourite novels that I was, incidentally, forced to read in high school was Margaret Laurence’s “The Stone Angel”. It is the story of an old woman, facing her final days. She reflects on her life and truly sees herself for the first time. Hers is a path to acceptance – of her life and her death. Perhaps, without our realization and consciousness of mortality, we can never really experience our lives. At 16, I was only vaguely aware of this fragile organization of time and space because there was more ahead of me than behind.
Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.
~ Søren Kierkegaard
My work seems to center around that final, terminal stage – the descent. I often only see a house or a church, for that matter, at the point in which renovation is unlikely and death, of a kind, is immanent. I don’t think it is because I dwell on death, but, rather I seek the beauty buried beneath the rubble of the forlorn, and the hope that lies in wait, but can only be seen in its reflection.
I am obsessed with the abandoned, the crumbling plaster, peeling paint, cast off coat or moldering chair. These things simply are. They are predestined to exist as objects on the path of others. They serve a purpose and then cease to exist in the eyes of those who once used them.
My work is often labeled sentimental, as if the feelings or memories of the old farm are silly and unimportant compared to the greater world of artistic angst and suffering. We fear insanity in the world but then we elevate it in our art as the outlet for our confusion in the industrial and post-industrial society we have created. Perhaps some of that abstracted angst is simply a misidentification of the loss of that connection to the Earth, held in most recent memory by the Family Farm. And as we wistfully remember it, we murder its legacy beneath strips of pavement and garage doors.
My houses sit in fields awaiting the machinery that will pass them permanently into history, and for some, beyond the last living memory of their very existence.
Perhaps our houses are more than shelter. Perhaps, I cannot save every house, or even one from their fate. Perhaps I am not supposed to. Perhaps I am simply here to remember…. At least for now.