Who? When Alex Sainsbury purchased 56 and 58 Artillery Lane in Spitalfields in 2004, with a view to creating a non-profit contemporary exhibition space, he found himself with two pre-existing installations in the form of sisters Rebecca and Hannah Levy. The two ladies had occupied a three bedroom flat on the building’s fourth floor since their family moved there in 1918. Fond of the sisters and loath to disturb them, Sainsbury allowed the pair to remain there rent free and went about setting up Raven Row – now one of London’s top contemporary art spaces – below the colourfully eclectic 1970s time capsule in which they resided (the last time they had renovated the flat was in 1972).
What? Following Rebecca’s death in 2009, two years after Hannah’s, Sainsbury made the decision to leave the immaculate suite untouched, initially using it as kitsch accommodation for visiting artists. Nevertheless, he was keen to do more with the space, and so in 2013 approached renowned Canadian conceptual artist IAIN BAXTER& to devise a scheme. The brilliant result was a clever reconfiguration of BAXTER&'s seminal work Bagged Place (1966), where he wrapped everything in a four-room apartment – from walls, floors, beds and bathroom fittings right down to the toaster and even the piece of toast inside it – in plastic sheeting. For his Raven Row instalment, Rebecca's Bagged Place, the artist turned once again to plastic, shrink-wrapping the entire home – floral carpet, chintzy wallpaper, drinks cabinet, plastic-handled television, cheese grater and all. And the results are pretty spectacular.
"The artist turned once again to plastic, shrink-wrapping the entire home – floral carpet, chintzy wallpaper, drinks cabinet, plastic-handled television, cheese grater and all"
Why? While Baxter&'s initial "bagged" work was, in the words of author Marie Fleming, "a multi-layered satire about a sterilised society where everything, material and immaterial, is packaged or bottled...with suggestions of suffocation and shrouds", Rebecca's bagged place seems somehow the direct opposite. It is much more than an installation; it is a poignantly preserved home, every object inside it standing as a testament to the taste and lives of the women who grew up there. Packed as they are like museum pieces ready for transferal, the trinkets and design elements have become isolated from one another, begging closer inspection and consideration of the roles they played in the sisters' daily existence.
Raven Row's next exhibition Control. Stephen Willats. Work 1962–69 opens 23 January.
Text by Daisy Woodward