150 years from when Vincent Van Gogh once lived in this house, at 87 Hackford Road, today sets the scene for The Living House. The Living House is a group exhibition, inviting artists Do Ho Suh, Godai Sahara, Eva Gold, and Olivia Plender to present their work. These four artists’ works are celebrated alongside and in relaxed dialogue with the objects and archives which detail Van Gogh’s former stay at this residence.
No assumptive speculation here, the house is a part of the journey of the exhibition for the viewer. The artists and their work, like the house itself, are in settled company with the ways of living. Breathing with the records of time lived and memories spent, these of which are truly active collaborators working in harmony with the exhibiting artists.
If you follow the home’s layout, the first work you will encounter is by Do Ho Suh. In the back parlour, Toilet Bowl – 01 Apartment A, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA  is a Cyanotype made to almost forensic detail in the documentation of Do Ho Suh’s translucent textile sculpture of the toilet. A royal blue flush, and an apparition of former consequence, this ghostly image of the toilet is a signal to a place where Van Gogh found solace and spent a lot of time smoking his pipe mirroring Do Ho Suh’s pre-occupation with his toilet from his former NYC apartment. No longer familiar, the Toilet Bowl does not seem to sit still. With no respite or resolution seeming to be found, a connection out of order, to a home out of the place you grew up in. This is a displacement in importance – it lives as art usually does, entwined with life, and the living. Do Ho Suh discloses with visual clarity our attachment to the melded dichotomy of universal and individual physical spaces, especially the ones we call home.
Godai Sahara’s contribution to The Living House is two-fold. A bedroom once inhabited by Anna, Van Gogh’s sister, is the space for the first encounter. Laden upon the covers, rest here, the two bronze spheres. The Healthier the People, the Poorer and Happier the Doctors  titles these shiny and smooth forms, made as if from solidified liquid gold. Through the artist’s notice, the spheres are to be held and through being warmed they carry the wears of the people who have shared space with them. The objects will lose their sparkle and become tarnished. Impacted indefinitely, they cannot be remedied by simply being wiped clean. They occupy a duality; they are art objects and objects of use. The bronze spheres are a pair of non-identical twins that in relation to the known, resemble massage balls or round palm-sized fruits. They are known without being known, they are to be moved by bodies, depending on the needs, thus pushed by Sahara to be objects that through touch and rubbing allow contemplation.
A Gift from Someone Who Wishes to Cry but Hardly Ever Does, [2018 -2023] by Sahara is a collection of small sculptures made from a vegetable source cast into soaps. They have been dotted and arranged around the bathroom, on tiles, on the bath’s rim, by potted plants and inside the bathroom cabinet. Cast and moulded into a range of living and non-living things, from cigarette filters, pebbles, ear plugs, fish bladders, sea cucumbers and smartphone cameras. An invitation is set upon the sink encouraging visitors to wash their hands with a soap of their choice. This transaction between objects of use and sculptural art oscillates between hygiene and cleanliness to the feelings of the intimate. Again, the touch is brought in as a turn of transformation: a change to their form, and the feeling of these mediatory objects. Ultimately it is overt that this is a choice directed by the visitors who decide to occupy themselves in this living house and engage even if for only a few spare moments to instigate a change to both the objects and themselves.
Eva Gold’s offering to The Living House includes Scenes from a Dream (the Night Before Last) , a capsule work of neighbours intertwined. Held in polystyrene fishing containers, the walls between neighbours are just that. It feels almost voyeuristic to face downwards on these modelling clay home-like interiors, at all the domesticities, the objects shared and all that may or may not transpire between these adjoining but private rooms.
It is paired upstairs with, Face Up , a pencil drawing of a film still from The Humans (Steven Karam, 2021). This reproduction is a close-up of a fluorescent light on the ceiling mid-flicker. The drawing has been curated to be hung on a wall shared with the neighbouring property. This festers the continuing theme in Gold’s work for this exhibition of no sides chosen between neighbours. The walls are porous, and words even privately shared continue to pass leisurely through these dividing walls.
In the former Landlady Loyer’s quarters sits, Celia and Olivia Plender Raising the Fox , a double portrait of the artist, Olivia Plender and her sister dressed in the wears of 19th-century women. The work places women to have a reclaimed power. They stand poised and are tall, Celia and Olivia have powers that are channelled through the mystic. They act as a stand-in for all the women who have powers despite the societal expectations that are in political contradiction to that fact. This is the case for all the women in Van Gogh’s life who have been minimised regarding their impact on Van Gogh’s legacy survival. A handmade quilt, titled To Our Friends,  is the backdrop of the portrait, and lies in physical presence, on the second floor atop the bed Van Gogh once slept in. The quilt has handwritten stitching of quotes from ‘Urania’ a script which speaks for the disfranchised woman. This does everything and more to drive the point home of a history of women missing out.
The living is weaving throughout the house its intermingling ripe, and this is most certainly example-filled. The curtains which hang in Van Gogh’s former bedroom are by Artist Rachel Jones and were made during her residency at the Van Gogh House in 2021. The Paul Chalcroft paintings hung up in the back parlour were made in a brushstroke-to-brushstroke reproduction of Van Gogh’s paintings. As well as an avid fan of Van Gogh himself, Chalcroft was also the postmaster who discovered that Van Gogh did once occupy this former boarding house as a tenant.
Alive and inhabited, these works cast a lasting impact on the artists who live here on residency and the visitors who arrive for an hour to know Van Gogh better. We have no fear of losing the room, for each object, art or otherwise, every act of conservation and commission has allowed this house to live well, thriving in the reminiscence of Van Gogh’s once-upon-a-time permission to call this place home. On show till the 17th December, The Living House details direction, and distraction with equal measure, with all aspects of the home treated with such amorous care.
For more information visit The Living House — Van Gogh House London
Install image of ‘Toilet Bowl-01, Apartment A, 348 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011, USA’ 2016, by Do Ho Suh. Photograph by Jack Elliot Edwards, copyright of Van Gogh House London.
Review by Devika Pararasasinghe
Devika lives and works in London, by trade as an artist and snake oil salesperson. Devika graduated, last September with a research MFA at Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford.
Read Devika’s latest review here FACET – JUNE LAM stages a cut of his life through his poetic embrace of collage (abundantart.net)