Domestic Duties Chapter Three ‘Sacred in the Domestic’
Noosa Regional Gallery, 29 November 2017 to 21 January 2018
Domestic Duties Chapter Three is the culmination of an exploration into the role of domestic activities; how they inform our culture and how they mark our communal landscape. Performing domestic duties often evokes a meditative calm through routine and repetition, and a sense of pride and place usually follows the completion of a ‘job well done’. Schoenberger has created this series of installations to recognise and celebrate the role of domestic workers throughout history.
Taking the humble tasks of the domestic and discovering the sacred, Schoenberger plays with semiotics and symbolism to create metaphors and portals of understanding. She finds the ephemera of domestic duties that connect people, societies and civilisations and imbues them with the iconography of a church, representing personal concepts of connection, hopes, wishes and dreams. The clothes line becomes a Stupa festooned with rainbow-coloured prayer flags, the clothes tongs create a mandala, and the bamboo laundry poles become a cruciform.
One of the features of Domestic Duties Chapter One (2011) and Domestic Duties Chapter Two (2012) was audience participation. The audience informed the development of the works in both exhibitions by responding to the term ‘Domestic Duties’. Chapter Three continues the conversation and documents the response to the phrase ‘Sacred in the Domestic’ by transferring them onto the prayer flag like fabric so that it reads as a stream of consciousness poem – a snapshot of our community in the here and now.
‘The hearth, the homestead of the homely, is being itself, in whose light and radiance, glow and warmth, all beings have in each case already gathered’ – Martin Heidegger (in McNeill and Davis (trans) 1996:114).
Kim Schoenberger’s work embodies notions of the domestic space in a way that, even though autobiographical, underscores the collectiveness and unity associated with the domestic sphere. Kim’s work manipulates physical materials as a means of exploring the spiritual function of connectivity. In Ancient Greece the domestic space was delineated through the placement of a hearth, an anchor that connected people to the earth yet opened to the sky – while also creating a circumference of radiant light, which constructed the idea of dwelling. Martin Heidegger (1954 in Meagher 2008: 121) suggests that to be human is ‘to dwell’ proposing a concept of dwelling that transcends a particular physical location or dwelling place, where instead dwelling becomes a means of being positioned ‘within’ a collective and, thus, a dual form of ‘belonging to’ and ‘belonging with’. In this way, dwelling creates a profound tension: ‘to dwell’ is to both exist and co-exist, exposing the tension between establishing self and reconciling responsibilities to others.
Ancient Greek society was organised around the hestia, meaning hearth. The hearth – a common communal space within the Greek home – can be viewed as an external manifestation of the innate human impulse towards connectivity and belonging. Patricia Thompson (1994: 39) argues that both religion and philosophy were born of the hearth. The sacredness attached to the hearth is evident through its deification into the goddess which shares its name. In Greek antiquity, the goddess Hestia was positioned as the central point of all levels of connectivity: to the spiritual world. Simone Well (2002: 43) suggests that ‘to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul’, and the creation of the hearth, and its deification, exposes the philosophical tenet that ‘to be is to belong’ (Brock 2014: 13). Kim’s piece entitled Spiritus Mundi encapsulates the way the domestic sphere becomes the point of origin where the horizontal and vertical axes provide a grounding of the self (physically and spiritually) and an opening of the self (relationally) to others.
For the Ancient Greeks, the hearth (or Hesita) was considered the sacred origin, and the pre-Socratic philosophers position the hearth, and thereby Hestia, as the centre of all being. For Philolaus, from the Pythagorean school of thought, the entire universe was Hestia-centric; the ten celestial bodies rotated around a central fire, which was Hestia (Songe-Moller 2003: 14, Heidegger in McNeill & Davis (trans) 1996: 112). The Hearth, and therefore belonging and connectivity, is positioned at the center of human existence. Kim’s work Radiant Love magnifies the concept of the hearth – the circular focus of the Mandala existing in both the pull toward midpoint and the ever-widening expanse from the centre.
Spatially, the construction of the hearth formed a boundary of inclusion; everyone within the circumference of the hearth’s fire entered into a hestian identity, where the individual became part of the collective. Heidegger’s notion of the homestead as a place of gathering – where space is made into place – exposes the sacredness of belonging. To be separated from the hearth is equivalent to dismemberment; to be without home is to be without the fullness of being. Kim’s piece Inner Core explores this paradox of existing both individually and collectively.
The hearth not only situates a person physically, but also has philosophical and psychological implications. The significance of this triadic positioning – the beginning of all existence, the incessant presence of all being, and the ultimate place of return – indicates a permanence of being that can never be severed: Hestia simply is. To begin with the domestic is to begin at the origin of all being and to acknowledge the human impulse to belong to the earth and to others. This is most evident in Kim’s signature piece Sacred in the Domestic, where the spiritual and the philosophical combine harmoniously.
In many ways, Kim’s work reminds us that ‘to be is to belong’ – and the individual self can only be accessed through an understanding of ‘one’s own’ connectivity. The domestic space – the duties of the domestic – have spiritual and psychological imperatives that inform our very being.
Dr Ginna Brock
University of the Sunshine Coast
Lecturere in English and Creative Writing
Higher Education Academy Fellow
Brock, G. (2014) Greek Tragedy and the Poetics of the Hearth, PhD Thesis, Queensland: University of the Sunshine Coast.
Heidegger, M 1942, Holderin’s Hymn ‘The Ister’ in W McNeill & J Davis 1996 (trans), Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Heidegger, M 1954, ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ in S Meagher 2008, Philosophy and the city: Classical to Contemporary Writings, State University of New York Press, Albany.
Songe-Moller, V 2002, Philosophy Without Women: The Birth of Sexism in Western Thought, Continuum, London.
Thompson, P 1994, ‘Dismantling the Master’s House: A Hestian/Hermean Deconstruction of Classical Texts’, Hypatia, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 38-56.
Weil, S 2002, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind, Routledge, London.
An eight page catalogue is available upon request.