Thoughts on Home and the Beauty of Everyday

Sue Taylor

This exhibition is about finding the beauty at home. There may be some viewers who think to themselves, "Wow, I must open my eyes more to my own surroundings, maybe get out the camera." That is great. Others may think to themselves, "Beth Taylor is lucky to have such a happy, lovely, interesting home - I have no such luck." Well, Beth may or may not be fortunate, but that is not the point. The point is to see the beauty that is there. It is all in the seeing - and the selecting. The camera is a special way of opening our eyes because it forces us to isolate and put a frame around what we see. This helps everything to show its specialness. First we look and notice and then we frame it with the camera. As artists do when they paint something. Beth, as a true artist, chooses well. With time, having seen beauty framed, we learn to see it in the wide, so to speak.

We lose beauty when we are depressed, it is true. There was a time in my life when I hated my surroundings and craved beauty. I'd look at the houses marching across the landscape and hate them. I'd look at the monochrome of the gorse-covered hills and hate it. Then someone taught me to meditate (on the light within, actually), and an amazing shift happened. I looked away from the houses I'd been fixated on and discovered we also faced a green hill-farm dotted with white sheep. It had been there all the time of course. My eyes opened to the beauty of our curving lichen-patched garden path, and of the intersecting lines of our front porch seen through the bedroom window, and to the blue sky behind it. It was a revelation of how we choose our world.

Which comes first, beauty or seeing, is a moot point. It goes both ways. Progressing to seeing the specialness in the not-so-lovely things is I guess a more advanced talent. Modern art perhaps? A very different kind of beauty. The truth in ugliness.

Life Stages and Home

Most of us have had more than one home. First there is the home where we spent our early years. That is the deepest layer. Attached to that, if we are lucky, are the homes of our grandparents - also a deep layer, deep memories.

Then for many there is the different home where we came to the full consciousness characteristic of adolescence, the time when our eyes opened to beauty, no longer just taking it for granted as part of the furniture. Passions wakened. Interests and long-lasting friendships formed. We decorated our own rooms, became jealous of our space, jostled with our parents perhaps.

There is the home we made when we first "left home". Many firsts here. We arrange, acquire, decorate, become more ourselves. The moments of beauty there are inspired by freedom and independence, discovery and choosing, poverty, necessity and resourcefulness.

There is the home we make together with a partner, the forming of a new identity as "we" and "our home". Compromise, sharing and moving into the future. With luck we may even own it, giving more stability and allowing the further "homeness" that arises from making, mending, improving, planting. Children bring extra life. Pets are possible.

Then the empty nest and the down-sizing, and we have to winnow down our precious things, keeping the dearest, smallest, the most useful and most beautiful.

We find everyday beauty in any home we have been happy in, but we also find it in the home where we have been unhappy, for it is a blessing of our nature that we find consolations in most circumstances, and finding beauty is a great consolation. (Beauty is the canary in the mind of our wellbeing. If it really disappears we know we need help.)

Beth touches on all the life-stages, but the main body of her work is about seeing beauty now. Remembering the past but seeing the fleeting beauties of now. Framing them and holding them with the camera.

Home-making and moving house

What is the very first thing we do when we move into a new house? It says a lot about us, I think. For me it is to unpack tea things - kettle, tea and tea cups - and to make the bed so I can lie down whenever I need to. A chair is good. For Beth's father the first necessity is to set up the electronics (those tangled cables Beth finds beautiful - maybe that is why). Music, TV, phone, battery chargers, computer.

So what is your own first action? What needs to be done straight away?

We often have "familiars", as the old witches were said to have, our touchstones for feeling at home, no matter where. The picture, the favourite objects, the piece of cloth. Whatever it is, it comes with us and makes an instant home. People who are often forced to move find these very precious.

Moving house is notoriously tough. Our choice is usually a compromise of some kind. After the upheaval of moving it can years of gradually increasing familiarity for us to bond with a house so that it can become truly ours and "home". We slowly come to terms with the house's own look and feel. The presence of loved ones is a massive help. Tending the house, improving and putting our stamp on it is a help. The slow growth of trees, shrubs and flowers softening the bones of the house and becoming beloved in their own way is a help too. A good camera, taking note of that beauty of everyday will speed up that bonding no end.

Favourite Things, Inheritance and Hoarding

As we get older our dear ones die; the old homes with which we have such deep connections are dissolved. They leave behind many inanimate objects that are full of our past and that have such an aura of home places and home people, it feels all but impossible to let them go. And they come to us. The vase that speaks of the hydrangeas Gran always had in front of the mirror. Her bed. My mother's paintings. The fascinating little box that is now falling apart. Every house we had had objects of beauty or usefulness or love that are with me now. Gradually the auras fade, but they are still hard to let go. Yet let go we must.

In this context the camera is a wonderful tool indeed.

Changing Countries and Home

Changing countries is a big, big thing. There is a confusion, a dispossession, an extension. Which country is "home"? Where is the deepest refuge of the heart? Where do I belong? In which place can I say, "My country". Is it my first place, or where I grew up, or where I first spread my wings? Where do I not feel a stranger? Is the prime language our mother tongue or our most fluent one? Is it the country where we have suffered or been happy? The one attacked by enemies or the one where we have known only peace? Which one do we feel homesick for when we are not there? (Bad homesickness is an awful feeling. We must never judge or feel rejected by a person who simply feels homesick.)

One way to ease our sense of dilemma is to let go and just be a human being, belonging to the world. (In this case, we might find ourselves accused of lack of patriotism.) Another is to let each country, each home, be as a room in our mind. I am an Australian in Australia and a Kiwi in New Zealand. We make these choices unconsciously.

I think ancestry comes into this. Our parents transmit some of this "belonging". My own mother was a "fourth generation" Australian, my father was of Kiwi pakeha stock. They each transmitted to me a sense of these worlds. My mother brought "Snugglepot and Cuddlepie", my father read me the story of Maui-Tikitiki-a-Taranga from the Maori world. First-generation Australians (ie, the Australian-born child of migrants) must have a very layered sense of home. When I was young, some older Australians still called Britain "home", even though they were not born there.

The stories we read in books also come into the porridge of our identity: every great writer transmits to us such a sense of their place and culture that we somehow feel we belong to it too. Thus we develop new places in our heart and minds eye for homes we have never known and identities that are little more than feelings.

I envy people who hold "all their eggs in one basket", so to speak. Life is simple. They can really belong. They seem to forget that their ancestors came from far away and set up home in a foreign place, taking it from its native inhabitants. They can treat the Australian Bush as their own place, and forget the oaks and the pines. Or conversely they can plant an English cottage garden here, and happily see it as Australian. No probs. (I am not referring to farmers in this: their connection to the land must be all too real.)

To me this kind of Australian identity remains an uneasy thing. My Gran had a garden of phlox and stocks, gardenia and roses, and it seemed right and lovely. However, once my consciousness was raised it became hard to see this as appropriate for this land. At the same time it was still the kind of beauty I grew up to and craved. So where is "home" in all of this? It is difficult. All I know is that, in my mind at least, in the same way that only a mink can truly wear a mink coat, only an Aboriginal Australian can feel they are truly at home in this landscape.

To add to this sense of homelessness, the Britain of my forebears is fast disappearing. That "home" no longer exists, except in memories, books and photos, so it is more important than ever that we see the Beauty in the Everyday.

Home is Where the Heart is

The most elusive thing to catch and put into words is the essence of the idea of "home". It is the essence that makes us feel we belong, we are ourselves, we are nurtured, the place is "right", and we are in it. In the deepest sense we are alive and we are home.

So, what makes a place feel "right" in this way? I have been pondering this for most of my adult life, particularly in the context of Sydney vs New Zealand in my own case. I feel it but cannot put it into words. It is so elusive, so subtle and yet feels so important.

I doubt that it is simply a longing for one's early childhood home and its surroundings or for one's mother and father. It is deeper than that - beyond words. It is ordinary fact that Wellington was my own native town. But in later years, Wellington never felt "right" in this sense. The presence of Kiwi aunts and cousins helped, but it was not enough. I am a half-breed and have been homesick for both countries in my time. Shuttling from one to the other there is no absolute home for the heart. How much worse it must be for those whose countries have been very different and far apart. One can understand the longing in the songs of homesickness: 'Hoist up the John B sail...I feel so broke up I just wanna go home' and the hymn 'Ye who are weary come ho-o-ome'. It is a reliable button to press.

One theory of mine is that if my mother had been happy and was still there in Wellington, and if Australian Gran had been a Kiwi and lived there, cultivating a Wellington garden, baking her biscuits ("hearth and home"), and calling me "Chick-a-bid", and if my other grandmother were alive and there and I knew her, I might have felt more anchored. Wellington and New Zealand might have felt "right" and valid to my heart.

In other words, I wonder if that feeling of rightness is associated with the presence of the beloved home-makers of our childhood. Maybe it is they who validate our whole world, make a place feel bedrock normal and OK despite anything to the contrary. I know that in Australia when Gran and, many years later, my mother died, the heartlight slowly faded from the old house and the foreshores and ferry rides of Mosman.

However, it is all still there in my own photos of Everyday and they are beautiful to me.

So thank you Beth for this exhibition. To no doubt misquote John Keats, "Truth is beauty and beauty truth. That is all ye know and all ye need to know."


An installation by Beth Taylor

23 Feb - 19 March, 2013

Sweets Workshop, Summer Hill