The housing market, as we all know, is sort of, slightly, maybe, a little bit…well, screwed. In major cities, at least. Amanda Lwin, curator of Unreal Estates, a group show which opens in an estate agent’s office in east London this week, tells us that the conversation on what consists a “crisis” in housing and how it manifests itself is very different in the Midlands or the North than it would be amongst a group of renters paying through the nose for tatty two-beds in Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge and the capital.
The British-Burmese artist, who has put together a show which pairs original paintings with fictional texts which loosely resemble property marketing material, says that the housing crisis is an example of what the philosopher Timothy Morton calls hyperobjects — “it’s sticky, turbid, extensive, deeply systemic,” she says, adding that “We also do recognise the unhealthiness of the idea of being able to retire off the proceeds of your home. Many baby boomers have made fortunes not from their lifetime’s work but from having had the good luck to make a purchase in the right place at the right time. This doesn’t seem fair and just screws over the next generation.”
When asked why the show — which runs over the next month at Homefnders Estate Agents on Kingsland High Street, London — has taken the slightly unusual route of combining painting with fiction Amanda mentions a lunch break a few years back when she was eating at her desk and staring at Chris Ware’s Building Stories and more specifically, the Chicago brownstone drawing that the whole collection is based around.
“I’d probably been looking at Rightmove that day too, and I started thinking, what if that apartment block got put on the market? What happens to all that richness?” she asks. “And then the whole project, more or less, came to me. What if the estate agent’s photos had fictional texts? Or – what if the images were fictional, created only from seeing the agent’s description? What if both image and text were fictional?”
The result is an exhibition featuring work by the likes of painters Hannah Bays and Dawn Beckles, and written contributions by John Z. Komurki, Karina Lickorish Quinn, and Martin Jackson.
Housing the show in an estate agency, Amanda says, “part of the idea of the show — is to juxtapose these richly vivid worlds that tell stories of lives lived, with the very bland, homogenised language (both visual and textual) of the estate agency.” Said agency have given over space to Amanda and the team to present their work next to the actual properties on the market. After all, what better space to talk about the different ways of valuing property, than in a place where property is being valued every day?
“It’s worth mentioning too how wonderfully welcoming the team at Homefinders have been,” Amanda says. As you can imagine, when it came to discussing the underlying subject of the show, I approached the topic pretty tentatively. To my surprise, it was greeted with real enthusiasm, their reaction was “I don’t mind if you make fun of estate agents”! Which goes to show, when moving out of our comfort zone, we all have expectations and prejudices that need to be reassessed.
Unreal Estates runs until 13 October 2018.