"Home is where the heart is" the saying goes. But at the Trailing Spouses Art Collective, we have discovered this past year that "Home is also where the heART is"! We are a group of 13 women who have all come to live in Bielefeld in Germany because of our partners' work. The group, which was initiated by Finnish artist Piia Rossi, has allowed us to creatively explore issues facing trailing spouses: lack of community support, loss of identity, loss of former careers, relationship problems, bureaucracy jungles and difficulties of finding new childcare and schools for our children, for example.
In our exhibition, Home is where the heART is, we show work produced over the year since our founding in October 2011. We transformed a utilitarian space at Bielefeld University into a cosy living room, using our own spare furniture and furnishings, literally inviting visitors into our home to have a coffee and home made biscuits whilst looking at the art work. We wanted to make the visitor them feel at home, but also ask them to question what home means for a trailing spouse.
|suitcases and packing boxes as plinths|
|paper houses on the theme of Investment|
Open suitcases placed upon moving boxes became plinths displaying projects such as the paper houses on the theme of Investment. This project asked the question: If you move to a new city, knowing in a few years you will have to move again to follow the work, how much love, money and energy can you invest in your home? I took my odd key collection, and made a rubbing of the keys which I printed on my "house". One key was from Berlin, reminding me of my former life there. I have no idea which objects I will be able to take from my real house when we next move, which could be within the next year, destination unknown, depending on next job offer.
Another suitcase displayed the Trailing Spouse self portraits as paper dolls. Grace's doll was made up entirely from Ikea catalogue cuttings. Not very personal, but the practicalities of settling into a new city sometimes prohibit that.
|Reka adds the finishing touches to exhibit|
The photographic portrait series "Faceless" looked at how identity is effected by arriving in a new place, not knowing anybody and not knowing the language. Patty's response was a photo called "Nobody wants to play with alien chicken".
|Nobody want to play with alien Chicken|
Pieces were also hung from threads from the ceiling, hankies printed with our "mini sagas" and paper lanterns with our "Elfchens".
|Our hankies tell a mini saga|
|tea amongst the Elfchens|
There was even our Manifesto which was aptly displayed in the form of a packing box.
|put your feet up and feel at home|
People were also drawn to our new website, MyBielefeld on the beamer, with Olga's beautifully hand drawn Bielefeld skyline forming the banner. We started this website to help new arrivals in Bielefeld who may have problems with the language. Categories range from eating out to health issues to finding a flat.
|Sam gets in some knitting time.|
The exhibition's location at the University was also important, not only because some of our partners work there but also because the structure of academia itself creates huge pressures on individuals and families and does little to support them. As a friend put it, it is like working as a diplomat, i.e. having to move every four years, but without the perks. There is a very good article in the guardian about this.
|cookies going fast|
A few of us have moved away since the Trailing Spouses Art Collective started and a few more have joined. I hope that we can continue finding out if Home is where the heART is for a good while to come.