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Marie von Heyl: New Exorcisms of the Virtual World

Berlin based multimedia artist Marie von Heyl joined conversation on the notion of home. She made a video a few years ago, in which she investigated the flat she was living in at the time (in London) with her body, named Interior (Utopia). You can watch the video from here .

Visuals are stills from Interior (Utopia). Copyright © Marie von Heyl

1. In German there is a relationship between the words Heim (Home) - Heimat (Homeland) – Geheim (Secret) – Unheimlich (Heimlich: hidden – Unheimlich: Uncanny). What kind of a relationship do you correlate between them?

Sigmund Freud’s notion of the uncanny plays on that relationship between the words “Heim” and “unheimlich” — an important twist, that easily gets lost in translation. I agree with Freuds understanding of the uncanny: it is not the strange that scares us most, but the strangeness in the ordinary.

As a closeted dialectician, though, I can’t help but wonder whether finding the ordinary in utter strangeness, like the past months have forced us to, isn’t even more uncanny.

2. In Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard uses house as a tool to analyse the human soul. Because “Our soul is an abode. And by remembering ‘houses’ and ‘rooms,’ we learn to ‘abide’ within ourselves.” What do you think about this analogy between house and  body? Or what is the imaginative width of “house” for you?

Vilém Flusser once wrote that the house (as opposed to the cave) is at the beginning of philosophical thought because only with the introduction of walls we are able to consider the outside of the structures we inhabit, which is a prerequisite for analysis. I guess the metaphor between house and body allows our thoughts to travel outside ourselves, too.

That we return to metaphors like the house to think ourselves in relation to the world shows that language and conceptual thought itself are structured by the experience of being a physical entity.

Even though Bachelard reproduces the soul/body split with his metaphor he beautifully undermines it at the same time. I would welcome both authors into my home for dinner (as long as they help with the dishes).    

3. How do you think has refugee crisis and the global pandemic that we are living through changed/has been changing the concepts of home, ground and homeland?

I can only speak from my (very privileged) position of having a home. As for that, it seems to me that with the pandemic the old notion of the “haunted house” became strangely applicable again. During the first weeks of lockdown, all those faces and voices of people (often strangers) that entered my home via screens seemed to linger, images and bits of conversation stuck around long after a call was ended. This surprised me, after all video-chat is not a new technology.

It made me think: could something as banal as the commute between home and workplace serve as a sort of exorcism that helps getting rid of the ghosts of the day? And if so, what could be new exorcisms to scare off the ghosts of the virtual world?

EXTRA: Why did you entitle your video work: Interior (Utopia)? 

At the time I was shooting the video I was very interested in the utopian promise of modernism to better humanity through architecture. Le Corbusier’s “Modulor” — the average human — was designed to serve as human measure for buildings.

The Modulor is an anthropometric scale of proportions devised by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier (1887–1965). His cult book with the same name is published in two volumes.

I find there is something inherently wrong with this normative approach to an ideal way of being/inhabiting. Interior (Utopia) plays on this by showing the satisfaction but also the struggle in the attempt to (literally) fit in.

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