Heimsuchen (The House)
Site-specific installation, mixed media, Ghent (BE), 2007–08, room-filling set-up
Through an archaeological investigation, the layers of the house’s history are revealed or, contrarily, concealed, camouflaged and reconstructed by digging into walls, floors and ceilings. Layers of wallpaper have been scraped off, cut off or carved into. Surfaces are varnished or primed with dust. Holes left by former fireplaces are stuffed with material; such elements as electrical sockets are replicated and reinstalled. Thick carpets are shaved and hair is felted into them. Some interventions are only visible from a specific perspective, or disappear the longer the visitor stays exposed to the tension of the uncanny, between what is present and familiar and what is added by the artist.
A domestic cat guides the visitor through a series of rooms in a play of disorientation from the outside world. In one room, the sun appears to shine, in the next room it does not. Dust mites, cobwebs and mold can be seen in the corners of some spaces.
Westphal enters an abandoned house as a detective, as if she will actually move into it. She wanders through it as if through a mental landscape, searching for its hidden memory and setting in motion a prolonged period of vague expectation, excitement and surprise. It is as if Westphal is literally penetrating past lives that would otherwise have become forever petrified in the seemingly solidified traces of the house.
The installation demands a slow pace and unhurried consideration – what in German is defined as Achtsamkeit, or herantasten, heimsuchen – but also engagement or participation of the visitor.