Published  15/06/2004

The art of home improvement

Michael Landy's 'Semi-detached' is an arresting sight at Tate Britain. A perfect - full size - reproduction of his parents' house in Essex. The house is split in two, separated by a columnated space, with two large screen facing one another. From the front entrance of the Tate, you approach the front of the house, greeted by the echoing sound of whistling (a selection of old favourites including 'Danny Boy' and Jim Reeves). The first screen shows cartoon-like images of DIY, in the style of a naff 1950s home improvement manual, intercut with photos showing beaming couples engaged in DIY. The second screen shows objects that seem as though they should be familiar as the camera pans over them in slo-mo (although slightly too quickly and too closely for them actually to be identified).

The Tate blurb tells us that it means to question the way in which we value ourselves through labour - the remains of DIY attempts (some seemingly unfinished) can be seen, as carried out by Landy's father, a tunnel miner until an industrial accident left him disabled. Certainly a very 'British' exhibit, and a reflection on house as home and home as castle (or sanctuary), Landy's house throws up many interesting ideas - consumerism, toil, life, politics (for labour read 'Labour') - and something so familiar in such unfamiliar surroundings stops you short. Impressive in terms of the feat of rebuilding a house within a gallery space, is it a celebration of 'ordinariness', or rather a snide judgement on the ordinariness of those who live in 'ordinary' houses? You decide.

Michael Landy's 'Semi-detached' is on show at the Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain until 12 December 2004.

Susan Fairbrother

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