I open my eyes and all I can see is an artex ceiling and a brown faded lampshade. I’m confused and disoriented for a few seconds then I remember where I am. I’m lying on a deflated air mattress in S and S’s living room. I landed late last night and this is my first visit to London, the city that I picked to be my new home. For how long? I don’t know yet. I get up, make a cup of tea and look out the window: the sky is grey and low, there’s a busy dual carriageway and uninspiring suburbia stretching out as far as I can see. What have I done?
I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry or both. I wonder what I should do today. I wonder where I’ll be in a week, in a month. I need to find a job. I need to find a place. I need to learn a new language. I need to make new friends. I’ve got a big knot in my stomach, it’s like standing at the edge of a five metre diving board for the first time. I know I can do it. I’m truly terrified but I’m sure that somehow everything’s going to be alright.
6.30am – the alarm goes off, snooze at least three times. Another ten minutes becomes half an hour.
7.00am – gets up, goes to the kitchen and makes coffee, four-minute shower, leaves underwear on the bathroom floor.
7.05am – walks back into the bedroom to get dressed in the dark, trying not to wake me up…already awake my love, the alarm went off four times. Opens and closes drawers a few times, turns the light on eventually, picks up yesterday’s jeans from the floor. Leaves the drawers open, always.
7.10am – five minutes to go, drinks coffee standing in the kitchen, reading the news on his phone. Rabbit hole moment.
7.14am – one minute to go, runs into the studio to gather the bits he needs for the day. Phone blips, another news alert, checks phone. Another rabbit hole moment. Rummages through the tool box and various bags hanging around, will forget something, usually also forgets the packed lunch in the fridge. Not today, there’s a post-it note on the front door. Checks pockets: phone, cigarettes, keys, wallet, lighter, change. Ready to go. Always comes back to the bedroom to kiss me goodbye. Runs all the way to the station. Has a snooze on the train.
Eduardo welcomes us into the small lobby of Casa Gilardi. It’s bare, it’s white, a striking contrast with the bright pink facade we stared at with excitement, waiting for the visit to start. Light is coming through a skylight two floors up and there’s something church-like about this space.
Eduardo explains that his dad convinced famous architect Luis Barragan to come out of retirement to design this house. Eduardo still lives here. “it’s $20 extra if you want to take photographs” he says “Vitra owns the copyright”. We politely decline.
A yellow glow fills the long corridor leading to the main living space. It’s like being in a James Turrell installation. The door at the end frames an indigo blue wall, there’s a red one too. It’s only when we step into the room that we notice the indoor swimming pool. There’s a small table and four chairs. That’s it. There’s an overwhelming, almost palpable sense of calmness here. We whisper to each other. We take notes in our books. We walk quietly. C asks Eduardo if he often uses the pool. “Yes” he says “every day”.
I walk up the open staircase, straight into the concrete underbelly of the house, it looks like a secret door, I feel like I’m sneaking in. Here I am, in Lina Bo Bardi’s modernist home in Sao Paulo: the Glass House.
A ceramic reproduction of a de Chirico painting welcomes me at the top of the stairs. The lobby opens up onto the vast living space: it’s a library, it’s a dining room, it’s an office, it’s light. Surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, I feel like I’m in a tree house, nature here is part of the furniture. It’s mid-morning, the sun fights its way through the dense rainforest and casts curvy shadows on the blue mosaic floor tiles. I now feel like I’m in a swimming pool.
There’s nothing minimalist here, mid-century classics meet indigenous dark wood pieces, bowls, jars, paintings and figurines complete Lina’s eclectic decor. I like the zebra statue by the window very much.
In 2010, I began working on an art project entitled A Way to a Place. Drawing inspiration from Edouard Levé’s Oeuvres, a book describing 553 artworks Levé thought about but never produced, I started to create a series of pieces methodically following the author’s instructions.
Work #177 was described as a series of photographs of objects abandoned in the street by people moving home on Sundays. I started my search in Hackney – my neighbourhood at the time – walking down residential streets with my polaroid camera. Fly-tipping was very common in the area but what I would usually consider a nuisance was now becoming a precious treasure. It didn’t take long for me to find my first discarded mattress and the first photo was taken.
Every Sunday, I became more and more excited about embarking on journeys around London seeking discarded junk. I remember my trepidation when around Edmonton I found my first TV and a vacuum cleaner half covered by a threadbare Persian rug and again, just around the corner, a wobbly stack of broken drawers and a plastic ride-on car.
Within a few months I had accumulated countless stained mattresses, three-legged chairs and sofa carcasses but the work desperately needed more variety. I decided to take my Polaroid camera on holiday, believing that unusual items were more likely to surface in foreign places, but scouring the streets of New York, Berlin and Paris, I soon realised that western capital cities would only offer similar rejects. Nevertheless, I was totally thrilled when I found a fax machine outside an old firehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn almost a year after the project started. And the search continued.