Dilapidated Dwellings / Uncanny Ikeas

October 13, 2009

I watched Patrick Keiller’s The Dilapidated Dwelling on Saturday, with this fellow, and courtesy of the Savage Messiah Film Day. Made for television in the year 2000 – which felt more exciting to write than the number would suggest – it’s an accurate dissection of the current (via 2000? – a neat reminder of a little substantive change in the nine years since it was composed), state of the housing market in the UK. The contention being, that the techniques of modern industry have failed to permeate the manufacture of housing in the UK – unlike in Japan, which Keiller illustrates with footage of the Toyota housing plant – consequently, there exists a dilapidated and insufficient stock to meet demand.

One intriguing aspect of the film was its choice of ‘dwelling’ as opposed to house or home in the description of subject. Keiller is perhaps playing on the meaning of dwelling as both a place of living and mode of thinking. Implying then, that the physical stock of housing is dilapidated, as well as the ossified thinking and techniques of the UK’s house builders. Illustrated by the current architectural and developmental tropes of mock period architecture, a direct eschewing of the productive techniques of modernism and the in contrast to commercial architecture’s drive towards efficiency in and of manufacture; a drive that is indebted to the prefabricated and mass produced components so inherent in the designs of the 20th century’s early utopian ‘more with less’ maxim.

Continuing with appraisal of language, is there perhaps a second layer of unburdening in choosing dwelling over home. Here, we can look at the appropriation of the latter by Ikea, who, for the last number of years (I fail to recall the exact duration, but the ubiquitous yellow Oyster card holders seem to exist indefinitely in my memory) have played on a total co-option of the notion of ‘home’ in order to peddle stuff. In choosing dwelling over home, Keiller is dispensing with the accumulated burden of a set of commodity relations that bear  on the internal configuration and accessorization (neologism of the day and watchword of the culture industry?) of a dwelling, as well as referring to the external structure. So, Keiller is dealing then with structural rather than social baggage. ‘What is the building there for?’, rather than, ‘What does your living room say about you?’.

In Freud’s The Uncanny, he puts forward a case for the ‘double’ as a trigger, as a source of the uncanny, that the uncanny derives from being “marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own”. Is this not made real in Ikea’s narrative fiction of the showroom: in the model rooms, the ideal homes, the private spaces located in the public? It’s here that the subject meets their double: in the uncanny pictures of idealised private spaces – these supposedly individualised spaces displayed as coherent commodity sets – the subject locates themselves. They identify then with the commodity sets, with what each set offers as an identity; within the mirrors of bathrooms next to bathrooms, of kitchens next to kitchens, of lambent rooms next to rooms; they become located in the familiar made unfamiliar, the heimlich made unheimlich. If home is where the haunt is, Ikea is where the haunt begins.

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One Response to “Dilapidated Dwellings / Uncanny Ikeas”


  1. […] do love Keiller’s Robinson films! Leave a Comment Leave a Comment so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments […]


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