Open the Door

by Caitlin

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What’s in a door? An invitation, an invasion. A barricade, a thresh-hold. Something to walk into, or to be kept out of. A world of opposites and ultimatums. You are locked in or out, you have the key or you don’t. What happens if you had the key, but you’ve lost it. What happens when the door is bigger than your front door, but it’s the door into societal agency, into class mobility and self improvement. The microcosmic world of owning your own front door, is no longer the pursuit of individual interest; it is a very political matter. Our choices are shaped by those setting the housing policy agenda, and those who are regulating or deregulating the housing finance sector. So, what is in a front door? Much more than your domestic dreams it seems.

As I start to think about how to invite people into the broken world of home ownership, wealth redistribution and affordable housing, or not. I invite the millenials, then generation x’s their children and their parents to step through the door into the stories of the precariat and the privileged. The way in is through the front door. And what does the front door signify? As Barthes likes to talk about the semiotics, the signifier ( the thing that refers to a thing) and the signified (the thing) of things, the door in my mind, refers to way more than itself. That is to mean, that the door becomes a symbol, a conduit, a transmission of cultural meaning, of desire, of identity. It does not mean it is the entrance to a house. To help expand on my thinking, I shall take the time to break the door down into three main groupings of semiotic reference that stand out to me.

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Relationships 

When the door opens, are you welcomed or shunned? Was the door opened for you or did you push it? The door has connotations of belonging or being left out. The door is the emotional space, warmth, love, acceptance, soothing. The door is the refusal, the dismissal, the rejection. You can walk into a warm gentle space or a brick wall. Sometimes the door that you always used to walk through and be loved, now leads to a ghostly darkness. To a cold damp space, where no soft arms wait outstretched. The door signified safety and danger. You can be locked in or locked out. You can be left with the key or it can be taken from you. The main choice with the individual, is to do with which door they open, and how they are prepared and equipped to step through that door and into the unknown.

Status

Barthes says no-one ever acts innocently, in the sense of not meaning to convey meaning. Behaviour, possessions, gestures, movement, all of it signifies a code, a set of signs a subtext. We have considered this when we dress. Who exactly are we trying to impress, and why. So when you next walk through a front door, take a good look at it. It is important as it is the first look into someones domestic realm. Their values in action and materiality. It signifies the first impression and last impression of that home. What colour, how clean, plastic or wood, the poetics of materiality as well as space are at play here. The symbolism of a door is the symbolism of the self. The use of signifiers in language and gesture, are means of claiming belonging or affiliation with a group of ideas and people. The front door can be the difference between the denouncement of private property or the self made capitalists who think poverty is born of personal failing.

Identity

Identity is based on the concept of self that is constructed as we live our life. Personal identity is what we convey to others when we dress, when we communicate with others, and how we present ourselves to our wider community. Personal identity is the cornerstone of self, it is closely related to questions around existence, the experience of existence and how we come to relate to others. The door is a means of signifying to others our sense of self. It is a means of saying this is what I value and who I am. It is also a means of suggesting things of who and what we are not. The door is the first portal into personality, and it is also a filter; who is welcome into the home of the individual and who is not.

So the door is not only an invitation or refusal. A filter between the private sphere of the home and the public sphere of the city. When I am thinking about gathering insights from a range of individuals about what they think home is, what it means to them and how they work towards accessing it, I will start with the metaphor of the front door. What does the front door say about you, and have you considered it.

In terms of using the door as a symbol of transition within the final sound installation, to be exhibited at Somerset House, it will act as a signifier of entrance into a new ethnography of home, as well as a signifier of shift and transition into a new space. You open the door, and enter a space where a different voice is aired exploring personal and political choices around home. The door also signifies access. There will be some doors that are locked, where entrance is refused. The doors will not only help to describe the voice situated behind them, but also help to create a sense of uncertainty, exclusivity and inconsistent access; traits that run through individual experiences of the housing market today.

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