A little after 12pm on Thursday, Anne Mullee knocked on the door of Glandwr, a house on St Laurence’s Road in Chapelizod.
She’d been dying to see art in real life, she said. “The digital stuff is actually quite dissatisfying after a time.”
Once inside, Mullee leant down to examine six concrete baguettes in a wooden box in the hallway, an artwork called Day Sleepers by Joanne Reid, and said: “That casting is amazing.”
Debi Paul, who owns and lives in the house, ran her finger over the jagged and bubbly concrete crust.
Paul acted out how the artist had filled the silicone mould: “She actually had to make like an armature, and poooour the concrete in, and tap tap tap tap tap.”
Day Sleepers is one of 10 artworks at Glandwr as part of an exhibition called Home Bodies, which pulls together works by Jennie Moran, Sibyl Montague and Joanne Reid.
The works are all on a theme of hospitality. The artists have set up displays on hooks and surfaces in the house’s hallway, the stairwell, a bedroom and living room.
“I always enjoyed hosting events,” said Paul. “This show has been booked out, which is really encouraging.”
She’s enjoyed having strangers in her home so much she’s planning another exhibition in October.
“You can see all the history, like these beautiful patterns from the wallpaper,” said Paul, earlier that day, as she ran her hand over a swirly design on flaxen walls.
“And the lovely radiator that looks like a mattress,” she says, leaning over to touch it.
Paul sanded the hallway walls herself but didn’t wallpaper over them again. So she can playfully paint them in between tedious work, she says.
“Because I’m a dancer, I need to be physical,” she says, rolling her hands up and down through the air, mimicking painting.
Glandwr, Welsh for “River View”, was built more than 100 years ago, she says.
Colour fills the red-brick house: the living room is half-painted in honey yellow and green, and a downstairs bedroom in corals and greys. Turquoise stairs lead to Paul’s studio and bedroom.
In the back, a wicked orange fridge and sky-blue stove occupy the pink kitchen. A window frames the garden view.
Through the triptych of windows in the living room, across St Laurence’s Road, beyond where the buddleia and bushes grow, runs the Liffey.
Paul’s next-door neighbour was Sr Caoimhín Ní Uallachaín, who established the Matt Talbot Community Trust in Glandwr in 1986.
The organisation was there to rehabilitate young men when they left prison, she says.
After she bought the house eight years ago, Paul would visit Ní Uallachaín in her house, named Cana, next door.“I would drop in food to her, and she would tell me stories about the building,” she says.
Ní Uallachaín passed away in 2018 and the Matt Talbot Community Trust is now based in Ballyfermot.
The classroom layout of the house might not have been a buyer’s dream, Paul says, but the history was part of the draw for her.
“I loved that idea of community, it being a place of cooperation and recuperation,” she says. “It sparked something in me.”
Paul says she felt a responsibility to preserve the house’s history.
“I just had this moment where I cleaned the cooker better than I ever cleaned it,” she says. “But I really had this feeling like okay, this is your job, to look after this place.”
She sees herself as a caretaker rather than the owner, she says, and is conscious of respecting what came before.
“So just very, very slowly slowly trying to kind of let, you know, its inner being out,” she says.
Dublin’s housing crisis has been difficult for artists, she says. “I would feel my role to share the space.”
Mullee had been to home exhibitions before, she says, in the homes of wealthy New York dealers.
“It’s fantastic to have kind of, you know, a normal person in a regular home,” she says and chuckles. “It’s a beautiful house, and I know that Debi put a lot of love and hard work into it.”
Artists she knows have struggled to work during the pandemic, she says, and not seeing work in real life is a part of that.
“Things have a presence, they have physicality, and they can provoke emotion and feeling, in a way that things don’t in an image,” she says.
In the second door to the right, a bed is laid out in white and pink covers, and comfy blankets piled in the corner next to a Singer sewing machine.
By the shaded window hangs a floor-length gown made of clear bubble wrap. An amber light bulb glows under the skirts.
It is clothing for an antechamber, says Paul, for when you welcome your guests.
Hospitality is a courageous and generous act, which can leave you feeling naked, say the event notes by one of the artists, Jennie Moran.
When someone visits your home, it is mutually reciprocal, says Paul. “If it’s in the right way, it’s something that lifts up both.”
There’s a crunch from the living room. Poppy the collie is munching on an artful display of twigs and fairy lights in the fireplace.
“Oh my god!” Paul says. But she laughs. “It’s all part of it! We’re in the chaos of a living, breathing home, you know.”
Poppy loves meeting new people, says Paul. As does Paul, who says she feels comfortable welcoming strangers in as she used to host tourists.
Exhibition visitors come one at a time, with three visits a day between Thursdays and Saturdays.
“It’s very intimate. Either I talk through the work or a lot of people simply want to wander with the map,” says Paul.
She might potter up to her studio to work while visitors explore downstairs. Or she’ll give a tour.
“I can see when people visit that they’re really enjoying it being a much more natural environment,” she says.
Galleries can be a reflective space but they can also create a threshold between the art and visitors, she says. “Maybe a home space is something more accessible.”
Sibyl Montague, a sculptor whose work is part of the Home Bodies exhibition, says she was into displaying her work outside of a gallery.
“I welcome anything that is outside the gallery space or that’s creative that can be experienced in alternative spaces,” she says.
Her works are from a 2018 collection called Saplings. Papier mâché sculpted into shapeless flesh hangs alongside the bannister in the hallway. On the mantelpiece in the living room, there are jars of pickles, peanuts and woven straw.
Montague likes to see her old work in new ways, she says. “It changes all the registers.”
In a gallery space, a visitor is consciously aware of looking at things, she says, but in a home it’s different.
“Maybe it makes the works a little bit more intimate, in that sense, than they would be if they were sitting in a cold daylight-lit gallery,” she says.
The pandemic has disturbed intimacy with art. Exhibitions like this might bring that back, she says. “In the future we have to look at loads of different ways of interacting and exhibiting art.”
Paul recalls the day that one visitor came in the door, looked down at the baguettes, and started crying.
“They just picked up the stillness of it, and I can understand why,” she says.
Living Amid the Art
Paul is living amid and alongside the art, with the concrete baguettes at the front hallway and the elaborate straw sculpture on the mantelpiece, across from the dining table.
She doesn’t move the artworks as she goes about her day, she says. Instead, she works around them. “Sometimes I put them to bed, like I put a bubble wrap around them.”
She loves having the artworks as company, she says, which is rare even for a curator. “It can be seldom that you’ve time just to spend time with the work.”
That Paul’s possessions were lying around and the bed was laid out made it feel personal, said Luke van Gelderen, who had booked a slot to visit the home on a recent Saturday.
There’s a pot of honey on the dining table, an old-fashioned wooden sled in the hall and the bedroom bookcases are lined with the yellow spines of copies of National Geographic.
Paul says this is partly deliberate: “It’s for me, but it’s also to remind people that it is a home space.”
She didn’t buy anything new. The copies of National Geographic belonged to her dad, she says, who was also an artist.
“What I’m really passionate about is art not being separate, and instead being part of living,” she says. “That’s part of curation, kind of setting the scene.”
Visitors like van Gelderen get an information sheet to carry around as the artwork isn’t labelled.
“You were kind of going through her house and going through her stuff, and you weren’t quite sure if something was an artwork, or if it wasn’t,” he says.
Paul says she plans in the future to extend exhibitions out to the back garden, where she currently grows beetroot, radishes, and peas.
“It’s quite wild out there at the moment but there’s a plan to work with another artist to have a kind of evolutionary project,” she says.