Illustration by Andrea Năstac

THE HOMEMADE CULTURE BUBBLE

Jean-Lorin Sterian

Abstract

Starting in 2012, I began to study artistic events taking place in domestic spaces. From the repeated contact between hosts-artists and audience in domestic settings, inclusive social spaces emerge which I call homemade culture bubbles. In this text, I posit that they constitute a subcultural solution (Cohen, 1955) through which people interact and associate with those who share the same maladjustment, in this case, to the conventions of the art world. Apart from events organized within totalitarian regimes, adjustment is not a negative, but a readjustment. Through homemade culture events, host-artists send a simple message to the art world: art can be made differently (without promotion, production, distribution, resources, critique, profit). I came to study this phenomenon after a long period as a host-artist of artistic events between 2008 and 2015. Homemade culture bubbles do not emerge in opposition to the art world, but in spite of it. Given that many of these aesthetic-domestic bubbles host artistic activity where the audience plays an important part, the spectator-guest accrues greater agency, which can then be used (or not used) in the social arena. This social performativity is often intentional in community-oriented and relational participative arts, which led me to understand homemade culture bubbles as one of the forms of interstice in interstitial revolutionary theory.

AnthroArt Podcast

Jean-Lorin Sterian

Author

Jean-Lorin Sterian is a researcher, writer, artist and performer currently based in Bucharest. In 2008 he opened lorgean theatre, the first living-room theater in Romania, experience described and analyzed in The Living-room Theatre (2012). In 2014 he founded “HomeFest”, a festival of performing arts held only in houses and residential buildings. He published several fiction and poetry books and he performs regularly with his pop art band pj.lo & the accidentals. He successfully defended his PhD thesis, Homemade Culture. Art in domestic space at SNSPA in Bucharest proposing homemade culture as a new field of studies in humanities.

Andrea Năstac

Illustrator

Unleashes pixels of imagination in graphic design and illustration. The working soundtrack is played at its maximum core volume, which in turn encourages colors to fall harmoniously on the screen. You can find her on Instagram and Behance as Sia Siamese.

Daniel Popa

Actor

Daniel decided to become an actor so that he could experience feelings and events that otherwise won’t fit in one’s lifetime. He collaborated with Bulandra Theatre and the Monday Theatre @ Green Hours and attended many national and international festivals. Since 2013 he plays in projects written, translated, or directed by himself and produced by his Doctor’s Studio Cultural Association which he also founded. Daniel doesn’t know if this is the way to approach new forms of artistic expression, what’s certain is that he distances himself from the old ones.

INTRODUCTION

I use the term homemade culture to group together events taking place in art galleries that are located inside the home of a curator or artist, in apartment-theaters, in artist-run home spaces, the activity of cultural associations that takes place in members’ homes, festival showcases that take place exclusively in houses and apartments, living room readings, in situ projects of certain artistic groups, artists, or theatrical companies, performances, actions, and happenings that unfold in inhabited spaces or that approach housing through various artistic mediums. One of the most succinct definitions of homemade culture would be: the intersection between domestic space and intentional artistic acts.

Homemade culture events appear at the initiative of artists or other people belonging to the artistic milieu, thus pertaining to the so-called art world[1] – curators, culture journalists, theoreticians, animators, art aficionados that become active social agents. These are individuals who, for a certain period of time (which can range from one day to several years), transform their homes into galleries, stages, event venues, spaces dedicated to all artistic genres, where their own or other artists’ works are presented. Cultural hosts (hostartists) are for homemade culture what punk bands are for their homonymous subculture, coagulating around a sufficient number of people to form a social group.

Despite not being very well regarded by sociologists or purists of the social sciences, the approach to this topic pertains to performance studies, where the object of study is not centered in itself but placed within a continuous network with both its own components, as well as elements exterior to the particular phenomenon. In Richard Shechner’s words, “in short, anything that is studied is viewed as practices, events, and behaviors, not as ‘object’ or ‘things'”[2], and in the case of artistic events, they are studied as social events and subjected to analysis not only in terms of what happens during the show, for example, but also in terms of what happens to the public (the commute to the theater) and the artists  – before and after the show. Over the course of the stages of research, I’ve employed qualitative methods such as autoethnography and performative anthropology, which, alongside methods peculiar to ethnographic research – participant observation, interviews with cultural hosts, and analysis – outlined homemade culture, in my view, as a new potential field of study for both art history, as well as cultural anthropology. The period of research stretches over approximately 40 years (1980-2020), which I consider representative for the number and diversity of homemade culture events, especially since the ’90s, when the social turn in art[3] introduced and aesthetically established sociality as an artistic product.

The 16 interviews with initiators of artistic events in domestic spaces all over the world highlighted the same term – “different” – being used in describing the atmosphere of artistic-domestic events organized in any area of the world. Exploring the different (through observation and analysis of the relations between artwork and space, between the author of the work and the space, between the public and the work, between the public and the space) led to the rendering of the essential traits of this phenomenon and to the discovery of what I term the homemade culture bubble as a bubble of social inclusion.

THE URBAN ISLAND

Generalized urbanization, at times forced, as was the case in Eastern Europe, led to an extraordinary rise in social exchange, as well as an increased mobility of individuals through the development of networks and roads, telecommunications, and the gradual opening of isolated sites, which is closely associated with a change in worldviews.[4] At the same time, living in a building containing multiple housing units, replicating a multicellular organism,[5] where people are kept apart by brick or concrete barriers, also leads to the insulation of individuals.

The massive migrations of peasants into cities first resulted in collective alienation, wherein spacio-temporal changes (the coordinates that undergird social reproduction[6]) played an important part. Living in the countryside is a kind of living that is integrated with nature. The peasants spend their time outside for as long as there is daylight and adjust their life rhythms to those of nature. Urban life entails a different way of spending time, far less dependent on external factors. The possibility of rest at any time of day, which led to the emergence of the concept of loisir, is an urban activity. In an apartment, which Peter Sloterdijk named the most important architectural space of the 20th century,[7] people can be bored, can reflect on the meaning of life, can endlessly stare at a screen. They can shelter away from one another, while still remaining within the perimeter of the city, which can also be a lifestyle choice in the case of hikikomori, a group of Japanese people who choose never to leave their apartments.

In an archipelago of insulae[8], where property either owned or rented also serves as a social buffer, density becomes a problem for those who, only two generations earlier, were spending most of their life outdoors. “Density can be expressed in psychological terms through a coefficient of reciprocal annoyance. Anyone who takes density seriously will, by contrast, come to praise walls.”[9] Urban living entails continuous exposure to others. The city enabled and generalized the experience of physical proximity: it is the tangible symbol and the historical frame of the state of society, this “state of encounter imposed on people”, in Althusser’s words, in opposition to the dense jungle “devoid of history” of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s state of nature, a jungle that prevented any long-term encounter.[10]

The alienation produced by living in small spaces, with its potential unwanted proximities, often only a wall away, is an important factor in the wish to create spaces of social comfort. By establishing and generalizing the experience of proximity, the city has created the framework for artistic practices based on socialization, “a form of art that relies on intersubjectivity and embraces being-together as its central theme…”[11]

The more present society is in the lives of individuals, through rules, laws, or the simple presence of various Others with a different habitus, like neighbors, for example, the greater the need for isolation. Homemade culture events can be seen as a strategy, a particular method of cultural insulation, through which society is reduced to a bearable number of individuals unrelated by blood, race, or gender kinships, who can amiably interact, thus creating a micro-community. It is not only the number of participants that makes the encounter bearable, but also their similarities in terms of ideology and/or views on art, culture, politics, the world (weltanschauung), typical traits of a resistance subculture.[12] What happens in an apartment[13] that hosts an artistic event falls within the category of liminal activities that Turner calls anti-structural[14] and that involve the production of a space outside of normative life, providing participants with the chance to think outside the codes of society,[15] but potentially about them. For the French philosopher Ranciere, known especially for his theories about the emancipation of the spectator, art consists of the construction of spaces and relations that materially and symbolically reconfigure the territory of the common.[16] For the organizers of #00Bienal de la Habana (2020), the creation of inclusive spaces of artistic freedom and, implicitly, freedom of expression, was intentional: “We constructed an inclusive space of free creation and true collaboration between the people involved, we exhibited the works of artists that had no place in an official Havana biennial and established a precedent for future projects.”[17]

Starting with Marx, who brought focus to the communities of exchange that eschew the framework of capitalist economy and the law of profit: bartering, sales on a loss, autarchic production, etc.,[18] Bourriaud describes artistic work as an interstice in the social body that “creates free spaces, durations whose rhythm opposes that which orders everyday life”,[19] and the relational work of art as a micro-utopia.[20] The homemade culture bubble is a social interstice (in the sense of an in-between space) where formal aspects (including relational mechanisms) of the art world are reproduces within an informal framework. One example of such a social bubble is the one created by the Oda Projesi artist collective in Istanbul. By organizing workshops and events that involve neighboring communities,[21] they consciously produce social interstices which the artists call “white spaces and holes” in the bureaucratic Turkish society.

THE SOCIAL INTERSTICE

The theoreticians of the interstitial revolution (John Halloway, Erik Olin Wright) see the state as a complex multitude of institutions organized by a dominant power structure, but not so unitary as to control all activity taking place within it.[22] Within this system, radically democratic collectives (such as worker cooperatives) can settle in the “cracks” of the capitalist state. These egalitarian institutions, which either work alone or in coordination, can then use their social and economic power along with traditional forms of conflict in order to surpass and erode their limits of growth imposed by capitalist institutions, thus creating more space for collective economic and political power.[23] The sociologist Frederic Thrasher was the first to use the term interstice with an identical meaning – denizens of the cracks and fissures of the city,[24] but referring to the territories of criminal gangs. For lack of a term to name a social reality yet unexplored, I will use the expression homemade culture bubble as a term for the socio-cultural inclusive spaces that appear as a result of repeated activities characterized by the presence (in various degrees) of the elements of the homemade culture tetrad and where moments of sociability take place or objects of sociability are produced.[25] The participants constitute a social form more akin to communitas, outside of social structures and conventions, than community, which Turner associates with structure, laws, traditions, and ceremonies.[26] A homemade culture bubble is constituted by one or more domestic scenes, used or initiated by the same hosts and accessed by a public with a similar cultural habitus. Their form is determined by the physical space where they unfold – the apartment, an urban housing unit with its own specific traits – and by the social context in which they emerge. Through their aesthetic, economic, and political characteristics, homemade culture bubbles align with what Erik Olin Wright calls spaces of social agency (and validation), whose gradual and strategic expansion is part of the interstitial revolutionary process.[27]

Naturally, only long-term projects come to create bubbles of social cohesion. Homemade culture bubbles are mirrors of the initiator’s personality reflected in their artistic tastes, lifestyle, and relation to the art world. As Goffman has shown, social interaction are staged – people prepare their social roles like actors do, they prepare “behind the scenes” and then “enter the stage” to play out basic social interactions and routines. According to Goffman, roles in society are performed much like in a play, they are written by a playwright and directed by a director, and interactions most often comply with the script, thus remaining inauthentic.[28]

By contrast, in the homemade culture bubble, the initiator advances an interactive script so that participants can express themselves as authentically as possible. “We will get to know each other better if we engage with the other’s performance, learn its grammar and vocabulary,”[29] wrote Victor Turner.

The script is constant in terms of the domestic space where it unfolds, but its content varies according to the host’s personal relation to the art world, as well as that of the audience that frequent their house and events. Without social masks, relationships are personal and immediate, not based on contracts or obligations.[30]

Park associates provincial community with a stable social identity, arguing that modern cities encourage people to become unconventional, eccentric, exceptional, different. Instead of being alienated in the city, these individuals find peers with similar views offering mutual support, thus forming their own moral milieu.[31] Cultural hosts fall into these typologies. They produce these socio-cultural bubbles (simultaneously an extension of their inner world),[32] carved (and personalized) out of public space and the cultural field. Sometimes, bubbles can become viral through the transformation of guest-spectators into new hosts or through multiplication projects both purposeful (The Living-room Festival, HomeFest/lorgennale, Worldwide Apartment and Studio Biennale) and random (Hors Lits). Other times, artists or curators experiment with domestic space, creating temporary bubbles at the periphery of the art world, such as the many artist run domestic spaces. Even though the initial visitors of many homemade culture projects are artists and friends of the host, their persistence in society, especially in marginalized milieus, attracts increasing numbers of people who are not usual art consumers.

The homemade culture bubble has the potential to multiply as an agent of social reproduction. According to Bourdieu, the forms of capital that contribute to social reproduction are economic, cultural, social, and symbolic capital. From the field theory perspective, homemade culture bubbles simultaneously occupy spaces inside the cultural, economic, and social (political) fields.

According to Latour, everything that happens in the natural and social world is simultaneously part of multiple networks of relations. All entities that produce social situations (people, objects, ideas, concepts, processes) are on the same axiological level. ANT (Actor-Network Theory) works with the key terms of network, actor, passage, translation, transmutation, translation center, which I will relate to the terms of homemade culture.

For Latour, the network is a tool that helps to describe the flows of translations. In ANT, translation centers are defined as passages at the intersections of networks (like the junctions Gielen talks about). The homemade culture bubble is just such a translation center, where networks with different specificities meet, belonging to the domestic, aesthetic, and social spheres. Specificity refers to a particular set of relations between materials, actors, and other entities. By organizing or initiating an artistic event in a home, cultural hosts transform domestic space into a translation center, where domestic activities become part of the art world network and artistic activities become part of the domestic network. The living room, usually belonging to the domestic domain, with countless significations which I have listed and described previously, becomes a social space when visits take place and becomes a domestic stage (domestic box) in certain moments designated by the host. The translation centers compel (ask) agents (defined by their capacity to alter a state of fact) to adapt to the specificities of the intersecting networks.[33] Thus, the host and/or artist (depending on the format of the event) becomes a hostartist (cultural host) and the public becomes a guester (a spectator, guest, and even performer). A new position in a network generates a new set of relations for actors to function within, practically leading to the emergence of new actors.[34] In short, everyone involved in homemade culture events, including the physical space, changes by entering into new relationships. The Host, the Artist, the Home, the Artwork, the Audience are the actors of homemade culture, this status being defined by their capacity to change a state of fact and to become hostartists, domestic boxes, homebased art, guesters. According to Latour, a network is a bunch of actions wherein every participant is treated as a complete mediator.[35]

As stated by Hans van Maanen, “if the network is seen as a structure of relations between actors – connecting ANT with Becker’s art world theory[36] – in ANT, the network is an unstructured structure constructed by the researcher which changes and extends constantly and in which actors travel and enter into new relations.[37] From this perspective, at the moment, homemade culture is a textual network that connects the homemade culture bubbles produced by hosts in cities and countries all over the world, disconnected from each other, for the purpose of creating a unifying theory. In this case, the theory doesn’t only function as a critical act, as in the case of an art theory and art history perspective, or as a descriptive and explicative act, as in the case of a social sciences perspective, but also as an act of identity for a field of study.

 

[1] “The network of people whose cooperative activity, organized through their shared knowledge of the conventional means to do things, produces the kind of artworks for which the art world becomes known”. Howard Becker, Art World, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 2008.

[2] Richard Shechner, Performance Studies – An Introduction, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon, 2013.

[3] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells. Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Verso, London, New York, 2012, p. 11.

[4] Nicolas Bourriaud, “Forma relațională”, Ideea Artă + Societate, Issue 19, 2004 (http://idea.ro/revista/ro/article/XMnK6SsAADgA1bld/forma-relationala).

[5] “After the Enlightenment, we no longer need a universal home in order to find a place for for the world to reside in. A united residence is sufficient, a number of inhabitable cells that can be stocked.” Peter Sloterdijk, Spheres Theory, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, February 17, 2009, p. 1.

[6] “According to Anthony Giddens (1984), processes of social reproduction rely on spacio-temporal coordinates and sustain themselves through recursive rules and resources, as well as signification systems, thus consolidating the structure of society. This mechanism organizes the relationships between the actions of collectives as social practices, while simultaneously being modeled by the constellations of power and knowledge, processes of signification, domination, and legitimization.” Anthony Giddens, paraphrased in Andreea Lupu, “The Reconfiguration of the Theatre Space and the Relationship Between Public and Private”, Romanian Journal of Communication and Public Relations, Vol. 3, No. 18, 77-94, doi:10.21018/rjcpr.2016.3.217.

[7] Ibidem, p. 5.

[8] Buildings made for communal living in the larger cities of the Roman Empire were called insulae.

[9] Ibid., p. 7.

[10] Nicolas Bourriaud, op. cit.

[11] Ibid.

[12] M. Dellwing, J. Kotarba, N. Pino, The Death and Resurrection of Deviance: Current Ideas and Research, Macmillan, London, 2014.

[13] “Within a person’s ‘personal space bubble’, the living room is one of the key elements of the conscious and unconscious profile of the individual, being invested with a high degree of attention regarding the arrangement of objects and its general design, as it signifies the place for reception.” Clare Cooper, “The House as a Symbol of the self”, In Land, J. (ed.), Designing for Human Behavior, Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross, Stroudsburg, 1974, 130-146.

[14] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure, Aldine Publishing Co., Chicago, 1969, p. 74.

[15] Ibidem

[16]. Jacques Ranciere, The Emancipated Spectator, Verso, London, New York, 2011, p. 79.

[17] https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2018/06/cubas-first-alternative-art-biennial/

[18] Nicolas Bourriaud, “Forma relațională”, Ideea Artă + Societate, Issue 19, 2004 (http://idea.ro/revista/ro/article/XMnK6SsAADgA1bld/forma-relationala).

[19] Ibidem.

[20] One excellent example of micro-utopia avant la lettre is the Persimfans orchestra, active in the early ’30s in the Soviet Union. It would perform site-specific concerts in factories, public spaces, etc., creating a cultural bubble, “(A small republic and a workshop model for the communist future)” in that specific place. In order to make the artistic effort a collective one, without leaders, Persimfans had no conductor. It was dissolved by Stalin in 1932. Claire Bishop, p. 32.

[21] “The group talks about creating spaces and empty holes in the face of a super-organized and bureaucratic society and about being mediators between groups of people that would not usually come into contact with one another.” Ibidem., p. 20.

[22] Ibidem, p. 323.

[23] Ibidem, p. 322.

[24] Federic M. Thrasher, The Gang: A Study of 1 313 Gangs in Chicago, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1927.

[25] Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Les preses du réel, Monts, 2018, p. 33.

[26] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure, Aldine Publishing Co., Chicago, 1969, p. 65.

[27] Erik Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias, Verso, London, New York, 2010, p. 323.

[28] Ferdinand Tonnies, Community and Society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft), Michigan State University Press, Michigan, 1957.

[29] Victor Turner in Richard Schehner, Performance. Introducere și teorie, Bucharest, Unitext, 2009.

[30] Ken Gelder, p. 22.

[31] Robert E. Park, “The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behaviour in the Urban Environment”, The City, Robert E. Park, Ernest Burgess, Roderick Mckenzie (ed.), Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1925, pp 45-46.

[32] “The concept of the house distinguishes itself clearly through its affective or personal dimension, insofar as each house is marked both physically, as well as symbolically by the self-representation of its owner.” Clare Cooper, “The House as a Symbol of the self”, In Land, J. (ed.), Designing for Human Behavior, Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross, Stroudsburg, 1974, 130-146.

[33] Hans van Maanen, How to Study Art Worlds. On the Societal Functioning of Aesthetic Values, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2009, p. 87.

[34] Ibidem, p. 87.

[35] Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005, p. 128.

[36] For Howard S. Becker, the art world is a sum of forms of collaboration between its members, which produce the patterns of collective activity that constitute the art world.

[37] Hans van Maanen, How to Study Art Worlds. On the Societal Functioning of Aesthetic Values, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2009, p. 86.

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