About everyday domesticity
It is usual for us to associate the domestic world to both what is familiar and to a certain idea of comfort and coziness. But at the same time, we also know that it is exactly in the realm of the home, in the private world, that many of the situations involving both physical and psychological violence against people occur. The intimacy resulting from a certain domesticity – and here it is relevant to think of it in terms of domestication and of the processes inherent to that condition – ends up being one of the ways in which both discomfort and helplessness make themselves present in human existence.
The Doméstico Perverso (Perverse Domesticity) series by artist Katharina Welper is embedded in the plastic-visual investigation of this universe of issues. Starting from a group of floral-themed embroideries, based on Eastern European patterns, created by the artist on sheets and other pieces belonging to an old trousseau of a German nurse (monogrammed with the initials E. B.), the works that constitute this series seem to reconfigure some rather decoded contemporaneous works grounded on the craft of embroidery: the feminine universe, the finery and ornamentation of motifs, the domesticity of handicraft. Not that Welper’s works cannot be understood on the basis of this interpretation; they can; however, they are not limited by it.
In this sense, the idea of perversion present in the title of the series performs two essential functions. On the one hand, on the level of discourse, the idea of perversion, more than a mere allusion to a concept, is also an action. Not only does it represent the idea, but it also awards a political sense to these works. That is, they refer, in a metaphorical way, to the small and great perversions practiced in the realm of domesticity, to the situations experienced but not always shared beyond the realm of what is private – be this privacy the literal world of the home, of family life, but also of the subjectivity of each individual. This domesticity, then, becomes the locus of the secret, the hidden, the unspoken, the unfamiliar.
On the other hand, this perversion aims at corrupting, at altering a preexisting condition anchored in a certain social condition of consensual normalcy. It represents a deviation of norms. In practical terms, Katharina Welper’s act of embroidering subverts the inherent mechanisms of the technique, as it is no longer carried out on a smooth blank surface. Although the frontality of the work reinforces the linearity of the motifs embroidered by the artist, a more attentive look at the material allows one to apprehend the folds and creases, the reconfiguration of its base-form, as if the action of the artist meant to highlight a new visual form without erasing the marks and stories present in the original material. The presence of another, older embroidery, in the same shade as the material itself, brings to life the difference not only of the structural aspects of the new embroidery, but also of the manner in which it is executed.
It is of particular interest to us here to reflect on how the act of the artist is closely related to the material she has chosen as her basis. The material sewn and prepared to make up the trousseau (sheets, pillowcases, towels, etc), used and worn off during its use or even by the mere passage of time, marked by unknown memories, had its existence linked to the domestic, to the private, but now, re-signified as works by the artist, emerges in a subverted form from a new, public existence. The finery and dexterity of the new embroidery suggest the covering of these folds and creases created by time. However, more than hiding, they highlight the contradiction inherent to this process.
It is essential here to re-think the domesticity of both these materials linked to the realm of the home and the practice of embroidery – though there is today a condition of industrial production that co-exists with the persistence of the manual craft. The act of doing reinforces the act of affording visibility to the process of making something domestic (domesticating). These works highlight the impossibility of appearances eliminating subjacent layers and processes, conflicts and contradictions coming from it. There is, after all, something in common – in the sense of community – in its singularity.