First published: Fall 2010
Art environments are defined by personal investment and layered acts of ritual. The makers of art environments become enmeshed in their endeavors, and place comes to embody a life lived. For women environment builders, the concept of home is an especially relevant ingredient in this recipe – the domestic realm spun into a site of awe-inspiring splendour.
In general terms, art environments are the homes, yards, or other pieces of property that, in the hands of a particular individual, have given way to an artistic transformation. They might be envisioned as comprehensive entities and the artists who make them sometimes devote many years to a project that is not about completion so much as it is about outreach, personal growth and artistic exploration. In many cases, however, the makers of art environments do not begin their work with any grand plan in mind. Instead, they begin with the understanding that home is the realm within control, and a comfortable place slowly transforms into creative repository.
This latter mode is especially prevalent among art environments made by women. While breakdowns along gender lines will always be subject to exception, art environments by women can vary from those of their male counterparts in interesting ways.
Less often envisioned as a grand scheme early on, women’s environments may stem from the simple desire to make the home space more special for themselves or their families.
In her book The Saturated World, Beverly Gordon examines the ways in which early American women enriched their daily lives through ‘domestic amusements’, various leisure pursuits that took place in and were largely focused on the home. She notes that such engagements, which activated aesthetic or sensual stimulation, heightened or ‘saturated’ one’s encounter with daily life. ‘These women created self-contained, enchanted “worlds” that helped feed or sustain them, usually by elaborating on their everyday tasks and responsibilities, “making them special” and transforming them into something playful and socially and emotionally satisfying.’
Gordon’s observations encompass women’s activities from decorating the home for a birthday party to far more elaborate versions of home adornment. Yet the idea that women have for centuries enriched the domestic realm – and the daily encounter of living in a specific space for both themselves and for others – via aesthetic and experiential means is conceptually central to the art environments they tend to create.