101 ways to long for a home: an artist's book project

101 ways to long for a home

Date: 2013 ongoing

Medium: Installation of 101 handmade artist's books and objects, discarded parquet floor blocks, mixed media on paper, scrim, mutton cloth

Size: Variable

Places exhibited: Florence; Paris; Dakar, Senegal; London, Johannesburg; Cape Town; Stellenbosch; Richmond.

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Emma Willemse

Artist statement: 101 ways to long for a home 

 “…if loss is known only by what remains of it, then the politics and ethics of mourning lie in the interpretation of what remains – how remains are produced and animated, how they are read and sustained.” 

(Eng, DL & Kazanjian, D (eds) 2003:ix)

The collection of books contained in the installation called '101 ways to long for a home', was conceived as an imaginary manual and archival tool to record and re-imagine ways to process the loss of a home through hand made artist’s books. The books are technically varied, including images produced by drawing, print-making and collage, yet the collection is unified by the covers of the books: each constructed from inverted discarded parquet floor blocks.

Sourced from various second hand building shops in South Africa, usually in areas where social engineering practices - disguised as urban renewal - are prevalent, the floor blocks are direct links to the many floors in many homes that do not exist anymore.

The floor of a house maps the inside spaces of a home, it defines the spaces where people experience their most intimate moments.  By retrieving the floor blocks and inverting them in the book covers, I attempted to re-connect to these experiences. Like Laura U Marks, I maintain that objects “are not inert and mute but they tell stories and describe trajectories” (2000:120), and that their meaning and significance resides in their physicality, their materiality and their tactility, in the same way “as habit stores memory in the body” (2000:121). 

The ironic title is alluding to the quick-fix solutions offered in self-help books. Instead, the expressly stated quantity of books in this project, 101, reference infinity and complexity; challenging and subverting notions that trauma due to displacement can be theorized in traditional ways.

In my performative intervention I take the cue from a sand-timer to interrupt the way the books are displayed on the tables: a kind of re-enactment of the pack-up-and-go that the displacement event demands, and the inevitable re-curating of the living space that ensues.

The books in '101 ways to long for a home' reveal broken narratives of remnants and traces, rather than stories in linear time. It is an attempt to visually manifest a partial review of the fragile, complex and fluid nature of knowledge dealing with trauma and place.

Eng, D.L. & Kazanjian,D. (eds). 2003. Loss: The politics of mourning. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Marks, L.U. 2000. The skin of the film: intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses. Durham: Duke University Press.


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