Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sir John Soane's house

Sir John Soane's house or The Soane's Museum is a house-sized cabinet of curiosities just near Holborn. It is of the same period as the Huguenot buildings on my Elder Street site. Soane the designer of the Bank of England was a furious collector of antiquities and oddities and his house is a perfect display case for them all.

The house is incredibly ornate and opulent. It is obvious to see that Soane's house and Severs' house relate even though there is an obvious lifestyle divide between the users that owned them. One owned by an incredibly rich and powerful man and the other fictionally owned by a working immigrant family. They're both gateways into the lives of people 200 years into the past.

As you move towards the rear of the buildings the intricate layering of the volumes presents itself. Mirrors are used to create confusing spaces and light flows much more into the building. At the time the more light there was in the building the greater a display of wealth it was. There are also so many spaces in this building that are layered. Many walls have shutters or screens that can be manoeuvred to reveal other paintings beneath.

Dennis Severs' House

Dennis Severs' house is literally just round the corner from my Elder Street site at number 18 Folgate street. It is a brilliant example of Georgian architecture but has a twist.

The house acts as an interactive time capsule of the 18th century. It's creator Dennis Severs was an artist who used his visitors imagination as his canvas. To pass through it's door is to pass through a frame into a painting: one with a time and life of its own. He used the house in the same way as its original occupants would have done in the 18th century.

When entering the house it feels like you are taking part in a play or a scene from an opera. The game is that you are viewing a pocket of the life of a family of Huguenot silk-weavers who though they can sometimes be heard always seem just out of sight. Smells of food and dirty carpets float through the rooms, with unfinished plates of food placed around giving a sense of real habitation.

The experience of passing through the house is conducted in silence and seeks to resonate in a poetic way. The house motto is "You either see it or you don't!" It seeks to remind the visitor of a specific thing: that what we cannot see is essential to what we do.

Dennis Severs called his unique spectator sport "still life drama" and his goal was to provide his visitors a rare moment in which to be as lost in another time as they appear to be in their own.