What is home?

This post consists of the exhibition text I recently wrote for my amazingly talented friend Lydia‘s current solo exhibition with the title “Yellow Brick Road” at RedSea Gallery in Singapore (January 12.-22. 2023).

Lydia’s paintings are large, dynamic and powerful, and I absolutely love looking at them, taking them in, and writing about them. Seeing photos of them don’t really do them justice; they must be experienced in person. And, if you happen to be in Singapore this week, here is your option.


Yellow Brick Road

What is home? A place? A sensation? Stillness? Movement? Anchoring? Detachment? Is homeliness to be found in the vibrant now or in our memories? 

Or, is it all of the above?

In Lydia Janssen’s latest work she explores the concepts of home and homeliness.

Inspired by the Wizard of Oz and the main character Dorothy’s quest to get back to Kansas; the characters she meets along the way and the experiences that alter her sense of self and rattle her deeply rooted sense of place, Janssen investigates what it means to belong and feel at home.

In 2011, Janssen, her husband and their first-born daughter moved from New York City to Singapore, 7 years later as a family of five, they moved to Bali, Indonesia. Then in 2020, having traveled between five countries during the pandemic, all in an attempt to get back to their home in Bali, Janssen became fascinated with the psychology of space, place and how one’s definition of home changes when living a nomadic life. How can you belong somewhere when you are an expatriate, an immigrant, a foreigner, an outsider, a newcomer, a visitor, a guest; unfamiliar with the local customs and the language spoken? 

Home can be a finite comfort zone in the midst of unfamiliarity. Or, the feeling of home might be essentialized in sudden glimpses; a scent, a sound, a feeling: elements that send you on a sensuous time travel. Back in time. To childhood rooms and neighborhoods; the smell of your father’s study: tobacco, ink and books; forbidden and alluring, the flavor of your annual birthday cake and the saturation of sweetness when the first bite would fill your month, the musky smell of newly fallen rain in the forest of your youth, the sensation of running your hands over your parent’s velvety sofa or walking through your childhood home barefooted. Sensory memories that momentarily dissolve time and concurrently remove you from the present and bind you to it. Rootlessness and groundedness, all at once.

Is feeling at home a movement towards becoming more and more yourself? Does it involve narrowing down the essence of you to its core elements?

Movement has always been home for Janssen; her past as a professional dancer leaves clear traces in all of her paintings. In her new work, movement is investigated in a vast variety of shapes: twisting, running, roaring animals; bodies that curve and spin, unfold and crumble; waves of color and light; rocking horses and long hair thrown forcefully back forming vibrant curved lines. 

Home as a place associates simplicity and everydayness; it is our private sphere and the space for our most intimate feelings and activities. There is something mundane about homeliness, and the banal everydayness is also present in Janssen’s paintings and drawings: a naked woman examining herself in the mirror, a telephone, a fan, a television, a clock, cutlery. A home can be limiting and claustrophobic (especially when quarantined); and henceforth, the nomad life can constitute a liberating escape from restrictions and boundaries.

Our home is a multifaceted scene for privacy and secrecy as well as gatherings and celebrations. In one of Janssen’s paintings a birthday scene unfolds: a cake and a group of people fill the canvas; you can almost hear the clinking glasses and cheerful voices. The painting is simultaneously the antithesis to the intimacy of the everyday objects and an emphasis of the complexity of the layers of home. 

Inspired by the work of the artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Janssen’s exploration of home furthermore includes wrapped sofas and chairs that leave you wondering what it takes for familiar, everyday objects to stop being recognisable, and whether or not recognisability is prerequisite for homeliness. Traveling around with her family over the past years, Janssen stayed in multiple impersonal, serviced apartments, surrounded by insignificant, dull, uncomfortable, unhomely furniture – longing for aesthetic nourishment, comfort and inspiration. She fantasized about wrapping the pieces of furniture around her and turning them into pure, open shapes, and explored this thought-experiment in her sketches. Could openness and pure shapes allow for personal associations to flourish and hence wipe out the impersonal, unhomely character of the standardized furniture?

The layers of the wrapped furniture are characteristic for Janssen’s new work. Layers of painting cover underlying motives and symbolize the many facettes of homeliness; some hidden, some visible.  

Home might be characterized by a degree of constancy, but as a wise man stated thousands of years ago: the only constant is change. And, in Janssen’s work this statement is ever-present: flow, vitality, movement, dance. A whirlwind of beasts and bodies bombard your senses. One of the paintings can even be turned both horizontal and vertical to underline the changeability and flow of life. Like a river that you can never step into twice, the experience of Janssen’s work will alter, depending on your mood and emotions, memories and experiences, and on the atmospheric changes in your physical surroundings.

Janssen’s work holds an invitation to follow the colors and the shapes down the layers of the yellow brick road, home. Whatever that means to you.

My house says to me, “Do not leave me, for here dwells your past.”
And the road says to me, “Come and follow me, for I am your future.”
And I say to both my house and the road, “I have no past, nor have I a future. If I stay here, there is a going in my staying; and if I go there is a staying in my going. Only love and death will change all things

Khalil Gibran

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