I returned home from Detroit last week, after sharing a beautiful visit with my friend, shimmering with inspiration from two very basic-sounding, but nonetheless, deeply profound entities—FOOD and THE HOUSE.
I understand that when most people travel to visit a new place for the first time, the place itself, the geographic location, the town, is usually the main event, the appealing attraction. They are excited to share pictures and stories about the sites they saw, the feel of the place, and the adventures in which they partook. It’s odd to return from a new city, raving about the home of the host. But this goddess is a bit odd I suppose, and the food and the house were all I could think about as I journeyed home from Michigan.
First, you should know something about my friend. She is an artist like me. I don’t exactly know how to explain it without sounding extra special, but artists see the world in a different way than others do. We see beauty in the dusty corners. We can make sense of things visually and combine that sense with an emotional intelligence, to create a work of art that unifies the two into one powerful and profound entity. Artists have the gift of making others see things that are disguised just beneath the surface—although artists are also fairly skilled at unearthing things from the deepest and darkest holes of life, traveling to places that no one else would ever dare. Artists feel and feel and feel, and see and see and see. With all of this feeling and seeing, we are bound to find ways to channel these urges into something for the greater good, something that might lift others higher than they were before, and open the world to light.
My friend and I share this understanding; and therefore, her home, which I now consider to be a living work of art, affected me as any inspiring work of art would.
The house as of now is literally kind of in shambles. It’s a fixer-upper and both she and her husband have a vision for this house. I don’t think people can successfully renovate their home without some kind of a vision. But even without a vision, and even without a renovated house to share with their guests, my friend has this way of making not-so-beautiful spaces, beautiful. Of course, there are many people who can do this. They are called interior designers and they get paid good money to make people’s homes beautiful. But my friend is different. Her skill lies in her ability to beautify things from her heart. EVERY SINGLE OBJECT in her home means something. And as a guest, I could feel it, and see it, and it made all the difference to me.
She has an ongoing, kind of life-long art project that involves encountering, claiming, and labeling found (and/or lost) objects. Her art is honoring the overlooked, giving it a name, and some decency, and mounting it (or simply placing it) on humble display. Think Joseph Cornell, meets dollhouse art, meets conceptual art.
The guest room she had prepared for me did not fall short of this specific and charming attention to detail. The room was simple and a bit ancient looking, like a comfortable and homey monk’s chambers—but a monk that had lived there for many years, filling it with positive juju and meaningful objects. In the corner stood a beautiful, vintage, used but intact chest of drawers. And across the room, opposite the chest of drawers, was a single shelf. On this shelf were quirky and miniature books, an infant plant in a pocket-sized terra cotta bowl, and several other delightfully unnecessary items. However, my favorite item on this shelf was a wee clear glass vial encasing two incredibly diminutive bullets. Always a story and always a meaning. She had found the bullets in the used chest of drawers when she was giving them a clean. Welcome to Detroit! Any other person in this world might discard them, or throw them in another drawer never to be seen by anyone. But her art is to see the profoundness behind these baby murderous objects—actually they were so small, I can’t imagine them being capable of murdering anyone; perhaps just a flesh wound. The genius in displaying a fringe object like this that then leads to a murmur of an anecdote is her art, and her home is filled with this kind of stuff.
This experience was like living in a whimsical fantasy, and yet at times, there also emerged a fragile-like darkness. The house and her art is also riddled with nostalgia, of past whispers, and truly lost experiences. It was a bit beautiful and a bit tragic all at the same time. This way of living and being and creating could not help but open my heart, as all art does, whether or not I felt like welcoming or resisting the invitation. Everywhere I looked, there was something small with a story, or something old with the hint of a sad past.
Most people, myself included, often want to keep beautiful things safe. But my friend is fearless in this way, and chooses to risk bringing them to the fore. Loss is always inevitable, but why not enjoy the beauty of the thing now? Why secure it out of reach, or hide it behind protective film? I would be afraid to put such beautiful things out in the open. What if someone knocks them over, or drops them, or steals them, or breaks them? Best to just keep them precious as they gather dust. But they lose their life force when they waste away without any interaction. Bringing them into the light is what keeps them alive, and what keeps their stories from fading away. I don’t think I could ever live this way without much struggle. But this is her way, and I witnessed it with awe.
As a photographer, it’s in my nature to capture a visual of something and lock it away for safe keeping. Photography often consists of snapping a moment in time, preserving it in whatever aesthetic the photographer chooses, and showing it to everyone from a safe distance. It’s literally an image stuck in a box, walled in protective material. However, photographing her wonders was all I was able to do on this trip, and I share what I can with you now. It won’t ever be the same as being there, and witnessing this thing and that thing. But in a way, that makes my stay, and those objects, and that art, even more precious (and painful) to me.
Kitchen window sill © Libby Saylor
Fridge and yellow wall © Libby Saylor
Pink washcloth in the bathroom window © Libby Saylor
Un-obligatory bottles © Libby Saylor
Woody hiding © Libby Saylor
Living room window with drapes © Libby Saylor