Stewart Home Is At Home Amidst Chaos


Stewart Home brings rebellion with him. Invited to a conference in Copenhagen in 2007, his visit coincided with the Nørrebro riots, which protested the government eviction of the city’s leftist Youth House. “It’s quite unusual for riots to occur in Scandinavia, and I got to go there and see exactly what was going on,” Home told A.i.A.

It’s been 16 years since the 49-year-old, London-based Home last visited New York, and his return coincides with Occupy Wall Street. Matthew Higgs curated a show of the artist’s film, drawing and writings, on view at White Columns [through Nov. 19].

The mini-retrospective features works from the mid-’80s to the present, and highlights Home’s forays into self-publishing and multimedia art, and his relatively well-known experimental novels. There’s a large display of his self-published magazine SMILE (1984–1989), a publication inspired in part by General Idea’s FILE. Home produced SMILE with an aggressively antiestablishment agenda—one issue features an image of Molotov cocktails and the tagline “smile back at the ruling class.” According to Home, the precept of the publication was that anyone in the world could publish their own SMILE, and that all magazines could be called SMILE. Several other publications created by people around the world under the name SMILE are also on view.

A wall drawing done in the style of a homemade screen print features a man injecting himself and wearing a T-shirt inscribed with an adapted quote from Marx: “Heroin is the opiate of the people.” It’s a jab against Britain’s anti-drug campaigns, which Home feels glamorized drugs by creating images featuring elegantly disheveled models.

Global political themes parallel autobiographical themes. For his 2004 series of photographs, “Becoming (M)other,” Home transferred images from his mother’s modeling portfolio from the ’60s onto images of himself emulating her poses. Identity of mother and son collapse into a third, less knowable being, for a personal and complex exploration of identity, sexuality and loss. (Home didn’t grow up with his mother, and she died in 1979).

Home has always lived modestly, in Shoreditch (“before it became fashionable,” says the artist), as a gesture of protest against the constraints of modern-day capitalism. “I created this relatively precarious existence for myself, where I don’t have to work a regular job, which is a real privilege,” says the artist.

Also included is a filmed interview with Home detailing Art Strike, wherein the artist stopped making or talking about artwork for three years. “In 1982, I had this idea that art was an institution, and you manipulated this institution in various bureaucratic ways,” he says. He undertook the strike in 1990, delayed “because I wasn’t sure if my attempt to manipulate the bureaucracy of the art world would work,” he says. “And I made very negative propaganda about art and artwork around that, to illustrate capitalist alienation.” In 1993, Home resumed his art-making and has since remained true to what seems to be the core principles of his creative production: to follow his interests where they lead, and to never compromise on his political integrity.