Edinburgh Art Festival 2014: Tessa Lynch wants your help in building a house in an afternoon
Lynch's show, Raising, simultaneously explores themes of community and property ownership
This article is from 2014.
’I think we’ll just press on,’ says Tessa Lynch, eyeing the steel-grey skies warily. It’s just after lunchtime on a Saturday in July and the drizzle hasn’t stopped all morning, with signs suggesting it’s only going to get worse. The group of 12 volunteers assembled around her in the courtyard of Jupiter Artland nod in agreement (possibly resignation, in some cases) and follow her along the untreated lane to the former Orchard of Bonnington House. After all, she asked us here to build a house in an afternoon, and that’s what we’re going to do.
The ‘house’, it transpires, is a flat, raised wooden foundation erected on the gravel patch in the centre of the orchard, and a number of monolithic black wooden slabs laid alongside – some with exposed panels or Perspex ‘windows’ – which can be slotted into grooves on the foundation to create simulated walls. Before we start, Lynch gives us a health and safety briefing and hands out protective gloves and hats, and we communally design the finished site on a chessboard-sized scale model.
The Glasgow-based artist also explains why this participatory art piece is what she wanted to contribute to the Scotland-wide GENERATION contemporary art project. The foundation we’re standing on, she says, is 96 metres square, which is the footprint of the average UK family home. It feels neither smaller nor larger than you might expect. She’s interested in traditional and modern attitudes towards what constitutes a home and how you built one, for example the old Amish tradition of barn-raising, where the men of the village come together to build a barn and the women cook their meal of celebration for afterwards.
It’s not a division of labour Lynch is keen to recreate, but she likes the sense of community within that process. On Dartmoor, she continues, there used to be an assumed law of ‘land-claiming’ whereby anyone who could build a house and light a fire in the hearth by sunset was allowed to keep the land, a process which required the consent and assistance of the community.
Of course the building and ownership of property is now also a deeply political subject. She mentions planning minister Nick Boles’ ‘Right to Build’ scheme, the descendant of ‘Right to Buy’. ‘Not that I’m advocating that,’ says Lynch, ‘but maybe the UK is ready for something like it?’ Property shows have given us the vocabulary to discuss building our own homes, she says, now we just need the tools.
Even in this simplified two-hour format, we’re brought nearer to the experience – shrugging off the rain, talking to one another, getting caught up in the process. When we finish, Lynch pours cups of lemonade in place of mead, a traditional payment which was often brewed in Lindisfarne, reminding us that land ownership is rarely more disputed than across borders. ‘Most of the artists I know don’t own their own homes,’ she says as we throw our empty paper cups on the brazier, our makeshift ‘hearth’, ‘so to create a work and claim that space is what gives us a sense of ownership.’
Tessa Lynch’s Raising, Jupiter Artland, Sat 2, Sun 17 and Sat 23 Aug; Sat 6 and Sat 20 Sep. To participate contact firstname.lastname@example.org