Site-specific installation, mixed media, Be-Part, Waregem (BE), 2014, room-filling set-up
A great fascination with the home characterizes the work of Sarah Westphal. Therefore, she was immediately intrigued by the hybrid situation of Be-Part. This one-time home with a gallery of art and lifestyle objects was transformed into a platform for contemporary art in 2004.
Departing from this unique context – a place called Villa My Dream where the previous home owner had celebrated ‘the collecting’, ‘the showing’ and ‘the viewing’ – Westphal interweaves time, space, materiality and imagination into a process of storytelling. The old and the new are symbolically bridged in the name of installation Hintersteg, a fictive word that can be explained as ‘secluded bridge’, ’smugglers passage’ or ‘back door’. While descending to the basement of the exhibition space, the visitor is looking from a constructed pier at a theatrical scene. Here, the dream of “living in beauty” as promoted by lifestyle magazines such as Schöner Wohnen has been worn out, and the unescapable signs of aging and decay have been transformed into poetic data of an encompassing experience.
Westphal has flooded the entire basement with water in this life-size sculptural installation. The air is damp, and the wooden pier is built to crack as the visitor moves slowly in the dim light to watch the scene like a voyeur. Walls were constructed to frame the view and painted in a specific way to absorb the flooded water, thus over time creating mold. The setting of the lights as composed by the artist creates a chiaroscuro that steers the visitor’s gaze. Certain parts of the installation are caught in spotlights and others are hard to discover. Fabrics, carefully selected, appear to become alive in the light that caresses the tactile surfaces. Submerged in this estranging atmosphere, canaries in a cage at the back of the installation are the only remaining inhabitants; they are whistling and interacting with the visitor who is watching from the pier.
A collection of objects from daily life, some of which were specially painted to catch the light, are carefully staged in this setting. Forgotten and disregarded cheap-sentimental paintings and unused gadgets nonchalantly dispersed and piled, are laid out as a track in order to direct the story toward the artist’s background as a creator of images. The installation functions literally as a huge darkroom that produces pictures as well as impressions. With a disturbing ambiguity, Hintersteg is giving hints of a physical presence and recent use, yet at the same time expresses alienation. It seeks the tension between what is livable and intolerable, what is rotting away and needs restoration – the tension between staying and leaving. The blanket covering the mattress might indicate that someone slept there until recently.