What happens when you ask an online chat room how to make a home?
In an interview-style format with about 50 people attending, Belfast Exposed Curator Ciara Hickey asked artist Jan McCullough to share her journey.
Home Instruction Manual is the product of the Internet.
That is, while Jan McCullough is the author of this book (ISBN 978-3-86206-564-6), the outcome is a revealing example of what happens when you surrender your ego to the aspirations of others — in this case, anonymous strangers “craving a normality of homeliness”.
Jan described working alone in a two-month rented suburban house as like “being in a large doll house”.
The photography came afterwards, as a form of documentation.
“Well, home interiors photography is usually presented well lit like in Ulster Tatler, or what you see everyday in family albums. I wanted the latter, and took an amateur photography approach, using an SLR with direct flash.”
Humour was in some of the specific instructions provided by the unknowing project participants, like the need to put particular recipes on a corkboard, or making a kitchen look more realistic by leaving a bit of a mess.
Jan provided some background in the physical production of Home Instruction Manual. Her initial mock-up — “Why did you use the colour blue for the cover!” — won the 2015 Fotobookfestival Dummy Book Award. The final version’s cover is in a more manual standard yellow, bound with a black elastic band, and inside a fold-out schematic plan of the dwelling is tucked in a pocket.
The body text is a stream of chat room dialogue, with particularly interesting sections highlighted in blue.
The outcome is an object that appears functional on the outside, but is actually useless as a guide on the inside, as Jan put it.
Indeed, Jan agreed with a questioner that her work represented more of a performance piece.
I asked whether she showed the finished home with her unknowing participants. No, because they weren’t there to show; the online links were broken.
Thus, art imitates life, with transient strangers influencing each other in fleeting moments and projects.
Jan McCULLOUGH interview by Ciara HICKEY (Belfast Exposed). Home Instruction Manual launch event, Belfast Exposed, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Look inside book (images courtesy of author):