“A homemaker has no inviolable space of her own. She is attached to spaces of service. She is a hostess in the living room, a cook in the kitchen, a mother in the children’s room, a lover in the bedroom, a chauffeur in the garage.”
- Leslie Kanes Weisman (1980) 2000.
The above quotation is taken from a manifesto for women’s environmental rights from the 1980s. It describes home as a highly gendered realm, where a woman is always in service of a husband or child. Leslie Kanes Weisman (2000:2) suggests to us that, “The house is a spatial and temporal metaphor for conventional role-playing.” Rozsika Parker (cited by Netshia 2017:56) extends this to artefacts produced for the home. Parker states that in the 19th-century, embroidery was considered ‘natural’ to femininity, signifying respectability and obedience – a love for the home, and life without work outside the home. Typically, artefacts created using the acquired ‘feminine skills’ passed down through time, are metaphorical connectors, linking maternal generations together.
It may be argued that while certain practices of ‘homemaking’, which produce artefacts and traditions, may relate to cultural and religious practices, others might draw from colonial ideals of the home, or wider influences from trade, empire, economic and societal changes. This research argues that in the process, as practices become hybridised and creolised, home always speaks to that which is intimately present and simultaneously ‘away’, diasporic, or absent. These absences could be understood as ‘hauntings’ (Gordon 2008), always present yet often unacknowledged. The title of this MDP, ‘home and away’ is therefore a central concern.
This project is interested in investigating the ‘institution of the home’, and how it operates and is reproduced with the aim to produce a series of prototypes that reveal and subvert the disciplining of female bodies. This project takes on the primary site of domestic space, through research into traditions and artefacts within the home-setting. It investigates how rituals and domestic practices reinforce power dynamics in the home, as well as how these might be modified, subverted and adapted to changing influences and material cultures of the world outside. The project considers the current conditions of Covid-19 and being confined to ‘home’ while interrogating home-making practices across time and space. Research extends to anti-apartheid community cookbooks, ancient Egyptian archaeological finds on cooking and domesticity, empire linked to the Silk Road trade networks, early 20th-century research on ‘modern kitchens’, domestic labour, and hierarchies of material culture within a home.
Institutions require the labour of instituting in order to be produced and reproduced. This project therefore takes as its starting prompts different forms of domestic labour mentioned in the quote above by Weisman (2002:2) – essentially containing four enactments in domestic space, namely: caring, cooking, cleaning, decorating. This MDP will be structured in a series of chapters which takes on these key forms of labour and practice in order to critically engage with the many inequalities that often exist within homes. This includes a recognition that in countries like South Africa, domestic work is often done by domestic labourers.
Central Research Question:
How is the home understood as a political space of action, through practices of caring, cooking, cleaning and decorating?
How might a series of prototypes that subvert and reveal the hauntings of race, gender, and domestic violence, particularly in South Africa, become a prompt for an alternative type of home or a ‘subversive homeplace’ following bell hooks (1990)?
Related Literature & Theoretical Framework:
This research project draws on multiple understandings and definitions of home, home-making and homeplace (hooks 1990). It understands home as an institutional space that is reproduced in different ways in different contexts. Taking as a primary site the author’s own home, during quarantine, it aims to use this as a platform for exploring home-making practices elsewhere, prompting a trans-national dialogue on the institution of home through labouring practices. In addition to Leslie Kanes Weisman’s description of home as a, “spatial and temporal metaphor,” (Kanes:2002) as discussed above, bell hooks discusses her definition of ‘homeplace’ as a space of resistance and protest (1990) defined in distinction to ‘home’ as a generic label, while Margaret Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen (1926) is discussed as an example of a feminist architectural project after World War 2
bell hooks (1990) argues for the recognition of ‘homeplace’ as spaces created by black women. Writing of the segregated south in the US, she articulates that ‘homeplace’ was a space to be free from white supremacy. She argues that while many black women worked as domestic workers in white homes, they still found the time to create ‘homeplaces’ as spaces for care and nurturance for their own families. For hooks, ‘homeplace’ is simultaneously a safe space and political space. The structure of the homeplace was not defined by sexist norms, but more about the struggle to uplift and resist racism and oppression. However, hooks suggested that despite this history, more recent efforts of patriarchy have changed the ‘subversive homeplace’ into space where women are viewed as subordinates. This shift in perspective where the home is not viewed as a site for political engagement has had a negative impact on the construction of black female identity. It has devalued the importance of the black female labourer to teach critical consciousness in the domestic space (hooks 1990:47).
In a very different approach, one of the most well-known examples of a ‘modern kitchen’ is the Frankfurt Kitchen, designed by Margaret Schütte-Lihotzky (1926). The design was based on theories of workflow and productivity and described as a laboratory or a factory. The Frankfurt Kitchen is an example of design influenced by post-traumatic circumstances of World War 1 as well as modernisation.
"Each kitchen came complete with a swivel stool, a gas stove, built-in storage, a fold-down ironing board, an adjustable ceiling light, and a removable garbage drawer. Labelled aluminium storage bins provided tidy organization for staples like sugar and rice as well as easy pouring. Careful thought was given to materials for specific functions, such as oak flour containers (to repel mealworms) and beech cutting surfaces (to resist staining and knife marks).”
- Rebecca Stokes 2011
Post-World War 2, the Frankfurt Kitchen was seen as a radical project, that made women’s work easier through the use of ‘scientific’ ideas of productivity, and an easier kitchen with modern appliances. Yet, the kitchen was still understood as a woman’s space.
The design research methodologies employed in this project will utilise a combination of model-making, drawing along with practices of dusting, cooking and cleaning which will be interpreted into drawing tools. These methodologies will align with the labours of caring, cooking, cleaning and decorating – and will be brought together through an online platform, and alternative prototype for the ‘home’.
Ethnographic drawing and model-making will be used as a key initial means of documenting and dissecting the home. This draws from various authors, including Kon Wajiro. In Design and Disaster: Kon Wajiro’s Modernologio (1930), Wajiros’ ethnographic drawings focus on objects and their arrangements within domestic interiors. He defines architectural space as ‘a stage for life’s events’ (Wajiro 1930) as these objects tend to gain importance in representing people's social and personal lives. Wajiro’s thought of architectural space as ‘a stage for life’s events’ can also be seen in Richard Mcguire’s (2014) graphic novel titled; Here as he illustrates a corner in a home and entwines events taken place over hundreds and thousands of years conveying moments in time. Andrew Kovacs (2017) model; Proposal for collective living II (Homage to Sir John Soane) at the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Kovac’s model was produced through an approach of ‘freestyle’ model making, which was an assemblage of 3-dimensional readymade objects speculating a new possibility for human habitation. Both Mcguire and Kovac’s projects are examples of composing fragmented domestic interiors to create a new architecture from an existing architecture. This project looks at ethnographic drawings as a method of research by creating an inventory of household elements, artefacts, and devices.
Each section of the thesis will take on a different methodological approach, in line with the kind of ‘labour’ being looked at. As one initial example, the chapter on ‘cooking’ will in parts methodologically draw from the structure of the cookbook. A cookbook is a book containing detailed information on how to prepare and cook different foods (Cambridge Dictionary [sa]). In the time of Covid – 19, more meals are being cooked at home than ever before (Taparia 2020). These are often shared on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. The project will draw on practices of shared cooking in the contemporary context, expands on the notions of subversion and the agency that exists in writing a cookbook by analysing Indian and Ancient Egyptian food culture through the Indian Delights – a book on Indian cookery(Mayat 1982) and The Pharaoh’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Egypt’s Enduring Food Traditions (Harrell and Storemyr 2009). The main prompt is the act of cooking, the division of labour in a kitchen and the materiality of the space itself.
Other parts of the MDP focusing on the labours of caring, cleaning and decorating will look at different spaces in the home as the site, which in turn will prompt specific and focused research on some and not all of the aspects mentioned.