Review: Broken Home at the Old Fire Station

Oxford’s Old Fire Station now houses a room within a room, a new roaming installation that’s playful and thoughtful in equal measure. Broken Home evolved from a Brookes graduate show in 2010 and went on to tour east Oxford, drawing together the participation of communities in an “exploded view” of the home. Today we have the chance to see this travelling home, and even adopt a piece of it, in an exhibition that will bring a smile to anyone who enjoyed Tate Britain’s current Schwitters exhibition.

The-Broken-Home-Collection-photo-by-Cait-Sweeney-1-SMALLER-640x320Memory is hard to figure, much less the accreted meaning of a house, of a community, but here the focus is simple – the suspension of found objects, and an ever-growing number of them. Dominating the floor is a complex rigging of domestic matter – shelved, hung and otherwise housed in the white wooden frames of three open and interlocking cubes . The construction traces the compressed space of multiple household rooms – exploded for the viewer – and the fragments on view are fascinating.

Fascinating, not because of the intrinsic aesthetic value of a broken chandelier or a discarded Barbie, but because of the way they take resonance both from their unknowable pasts, and from their infinite relevance in the present. We both sense the history and attachments latent in the elements of a thousand homes, and imagine their correspondence to the features of our own homes we so rarely see in isolation. This is where the work’s socio-political space weaves its magic – we feel compelled to make two imaginative leaps at once, which prompts us to look at our own memories afresh and to engage empathetically with the memories of others.

This is a piece of social sculpture that the artist has truly lived – having taken it into their own home between installations, a broken home rehoused again and again, they ask us to engage with the life of this migrant community of objects. After a launch event involving live music and the auctioning of objects, a string remains,  girdling the room, from which visitors can hang their responses: name an object and note the memory it prompts. This feedback, written on the luggage labels provided, is a summation of this community project, providing an evocative, playful and melancholic space for a spontaneous group imaginary to evolve.

In this exhibition the artist truly gets what they want – an entry point into the architecture of memory.

The Broken Home Collection runs at the Old Fire Station until May 31st.


PHOTOS/Cait Sweeney