Monday 1 June 2015

Hidden homes, secret spaces

Wordsworth's 'Grot' at Rydal Hall nr Ambleside
There’s always been that childhood thrill of having a secret hideaway, perhaps it is why so many British males aspire to owning a garden shed but there are entire sub-cultures devoted to sheds and their US version, the man cave.

Rita Rudner once remarked, “Men don’t live very well by themselves. They don’t even live like people. They live like bears with furniture.”

While some poor fools matured as far as a man can, a debatable distance, there are still some who have gone all out on a hidden home.

William Wordsworth had ‘The Grot’. It is visited by following a path under a forbidding bridge just over head height, then a plain stone faced and humble building. Open the little wooden door and the opposite wall is one large window showing the previously hidden scene, a small waterfall and pool where the water rushes off the mountain and down to the lake a mile away

In this place, the poet gazed out at the scene of natural perfection and honed his sonnets. Naturally, there’s also tales of the other Lake poets – who brought Romanticism to the fore – having less noble uses of the hideaway and one only has to consider the lifestyles of Shelly, Byron, Coleridge and so on.

The poor little outhouse has probably seen more drug abuse and degradation than Keith Richard’s cleaner.

There are other secrets in the area, including a cave with a hidden door in one of the Lakeland hills, whose location was a highly guarded secret and it was so well hidden that even on return visits, finding the handle that operated the opening mechanism was far from easy.

More lofty, was the ambition of Gustave Eiffel, whose tower, it was discovered had a secret apartment built into it, just under 300m high, for the use of himself and his friends, such as Thomas Edison, who left a suitable gift, one of his new phonograph machines.

There are other stories, once rumours, such as the tale of secret tunnels under the Playboy mansion leading to film stars houses. Well, some old blueprints were found for designs leading to ‘Mr. J. Nicholson’, ‘Mr. K. Douglas’, ‘Mr. W. Beatty’ and ‘Mr. J Caan’.

A group of artists in Providence, Rhode Island were inspired by a local shopping mall’s adverts saying their place was so good, you’d want to live there, explain the artists, “The central theme of the ads was that the mall not only provided a rich shopping experience, but also had all the things that one would need to survive and lead a healthy life.”

However, they were inspired to create a home in the mall. They had watched the construction of the mall and noticed that a space used for storing materials used in the construction was not being used.
They spent time sneaking in 200 tons of materials and created a 750 square ft apartment, where they lived on and off for four years before one of them was caught leaving the illicit apartment. He pleaded guilty to trespass, but no harm seems to have been done.

The artist behind the project says he was trying to build an oasis and admits, “Yes, I have done other secret installations: The Tunnel.”

Other artists are using malls. In Las Vegas’ City Center mall, the Louis Vuitton hosts a permanent exhibit by James Turrell, whose use of light and Granzfeld effect – where distances can’t be judged, causing the brain to hallucinate.

So if home is where the heart is, can it also be where the art is.

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