An unassuming terraced house in north London transformed into an exciting, experimental art project proved to be one of the most intriguing and original events in the calendar of a local festival. Entitled The Secret Life of no:36, the project, shown as part of Crouch End Festival, was inspired by the history of the house and its inhabitants, going back through 140 years to its beginning.
The current owners of the house are Ahmed Farooqui and Alan Swann. Ahmed is a man with considerable vision, energy and enthusiasm, who, together with Alan, a medical officer at Imperial College, embarked on this innovative and community-minded use for their home – they have embarked on previous projects with the local Open Studios. For this project, which took over their lives for many months, they invited six artists to be part of a four-month residency to take Ahmed’s germ of an idea and interpret the history and lives of the house’s past and present inhabitants. All houses have stories to tell and this house revealed its past – in historically-accurate fashion but with a few flights of fancy included – in a series of installations. The artists had access to Ahmed’s studio space upstairs for that period and Alan made available his technical and construction skills in setting up some of the installations.
The work was placed around the house, flowing through the ground floor and down to the lower-ground level kitchen and diner area, turning the viewing into an exciting voyage of discovery. In the front room, books takes flight in Esperanza Gomez Carrera’s installation which starts with the idea of the home library – pages of well-loved books taking flight and escape through the window. From the kitchen, the path naturally takes you out through a wide arch to the back garden, which is a paradise in itself as the house owners are keen gardeners (they show their garden as part of the National Open Gardens scheme).
Liz Brown’s installation (above) was a collage of houses numbered 36, featuring properties all over the world. Liz created a ‘virtual community’ for no:36 Ashley Road by asking members of the public, wherever they are in the world, to photograph and send her images of houses in their area numbered 36. Ahmed’s own piece revealed the names of all those who had resided in his house. Placed on a long roller blind, they could be revealed and then snapped back into the mists of time (see photo below).
Regardless of the occasion, the most important element of visiting any home is to feel welcome, and in this aspect Ahmed and Alan made the experience utterly relaxing, nurturing and joyful. Once you were shown into the house, you were at liberty to wander and enjoy each room for as long as you liked, undisturbed, but if you wanted to chat to the owners or the artists, they were on hand. Coffee and tea were offered, plus an amazing choice of home-made cakes, for you to take into the garden where you could sit and bask in one of this summer’s rare perfect summer days.
Below is an installation by Jeanette Abi Khalil.
After two weekends, the experiment is now over. Much as it would have been tempting to allow it to run and run, its ephemeral quality is an intrinsic element – the work came alive to be enjoyed for a brief time, and now has melted away, to be part of the ever-growing history of the house. For those who visited, we will carry it in our memories.
Yet what is equally exciting is that this home, which Ahmed wants to share with like-minded others for art projects, is now ready for new ideas that will unfold in time. I asked Ahmed what he envisages for the future. He says, “One possibility is to extend the use of the space to other art forms such as drama, poetry, music and performance art. Of course these would have to be suitable for performance in a house in a residential street, fit in with our values of collaboration and conviviality, and respect the space as being also our home.” It will be exciting to see what happens next.
To read more about the artists and installations, please go to www.space36.org.uk
Artists: Roan Allen, Liz Brown, Stephanie Conway, Esperanza Gomez Carrera, Ahmed Farooqui, Livia Garcia, Jeanette Abi Khalil