This July, I received an email from Margalit Fox of the New York Times, informing me that Frances Gabe, inventor of the Self Cleaning House, passed away at age 101. Actually Frances died seven months earlier, but her death went unnoticed. Eventually a reader from Oregon tipped off the Times’ obituary section and they were the first to report it, “we will appear to have this obit exclusively, which pleases us very much.”
After hanging up the phone from the interview with Ms. Fox, I was truly perplexed that I was one of the few people asked to go on the record about Frances Gabe and the Self Cleaning House. I made a film inspired her invention, but our only direct interaction lasted for two hours, ten years ago. It suddenly occurred to me that Frances’ story and life’s work was far more obscure than I realized. But I have held her in my heart as a feminist icon and domestic savior since I was a child.
When I was about 8 years old, my mother gave me a book called something like “Famous Women in Science” or “Important Female Inventors,” to inspire me to be an accomplished woman of the future or something. I distinctly remember finding the book super boring until flipping to the chapter about The Self Cleaning House. I finally discovered the solution to never doing chores again! For years, I expected this technology to be installed in our neighborhood so I could stop wasting my time with petty endeavors like unloading the dishwasher. The automated system never arrived, but the invention permeated my subconscious and I perpetually await my own self cleaning home.
After the New York Times obituary was published, other news outlets requested interviews. These journalists approached me simliarly; wanting to know exactly how the house was meant to work, asking me to agree with how preposterous it was as a concept, and requesting details about how badly the prototype functioned. Since I was one of the only people asked to speak on Frances’ behalf, I began to feel responsible to attest to the significance of her work. The film I made was inspired by my dismay at her defective prototype, but I had never bothered to think about WHY it had failed or WHY it had never gone mainstream. It dawned on me that Frances was significantly ahead of her time, since reporters in 2017 were still flabbergasted by her idea from 1963. I never bothered to consider that back then, venture capitalists weren’t interested whatsoever in liberating women from doing housework, in fact the second wave of feminism had only just begun the same year, with the publication of Fridan’s Feminine Mystique.
Despite the lack financial support, Frances just went for it and built the entire house with her own funds and her own hands. While the prototype didn’t function perfectly, it provided her with shelter and contained a lifesize model of her vision and dream. Her invention received some attention over the years, but often as a quirky aside on a talk show. But when you really think about it, The Self Cleaning House is not that weird of an idea at all- automation is one of the main buzzwords in contemporary politics and Ford’s assembly line is at the heart of American culture, and domestic labor was one of the central issues taken up by early feminists. Frances knew what was up way before we did, and I don’t think we’ve caught up yet- it took us all seven months to acknowledge her passing.
Recent Press for A Tour of the Self Cleaning House
I spent this past fall researching an upcoming film, as an artist in residence at Fabrikken in Copenhagen, Denmark. Fabrikken just published a conversation between myself and Fabrikken’s curator, Maria Gry Bregnbak, where we talk about from everything from video-making thought models to trend forecasting. Read the Interview Here
This January, I published a small text to accompany my long time collaborator, Jorun Jonasson‘s, new body of work. Now on view in Stockholm, Sweden.
All Waves Are the Same
In semiotics, the first thing you encounter is a tree. You learn that the word ‘tree’ (the signifier) magically evokes an image of a tree in your mind, or demonstrates one in reality (the signified). From then on, this ‘tree’ serves to bring you back to basics, offering a comprehensible safety zone as you explore the labyrinth of language.
In quantum physics, the signifier and signified are blown apart. It may not be possible to conjure an image or explore a tangible reality for any of its terms. This field is not part of traditional science; its theories cannot be tested and the mere act of observation will alter any results.
Fascinated by the radical implications of the quantum, you patiently attempt to grasp its basic concepts; following along step by step, taking small breaths and jotting down notes, when suddenly the heated wooden floor falls out from beneath you and… logic fails. Why are there radio waves, micro waves, sound waves, electromagnetic waves, longitudinal waves, transverse waves, if really all waves are the same?
No one answers your question.
It’s suddenly 2016 and you are here. You may ask, “What the fuck is a Calabi-Yau manifold and why should I care?” Or on the other hand, you may sprain an eyebrow from trying to look away from the spellbinding hologram of an unfolding tesseract. Either way, if you get lost, just find your way back to the tree in the corner.
– Lily Benson
I’m currently an artist in resident at Fabrikken for Konst og Design (Factory for Art & Design) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stop by for a studio visit!
Some new work will appear in Berlin next week:
The Unknown Signal opens on October 2, 2015 at Loriza Gallery
A special edition of A Tour of the Self Cleaning House is now a proud member of The Artoteket, an art library curated by Hans Carlsson in cooperation with Konstfrämjandet and Tensta Konsthall.
On September 13, 2015 at 8pm, a new series of films I curated will premiere at Spektrum Berlin.
THE WEIRD SPACE BETWEEN LIFE & DEATH
Here we find a fine gray mushy spot, sitting directly between vibrant life and eternal death. As medicine advances, more of us are given the opportunity to catch a glimpse of this strange and magical in-between space.
Even still, this place is infinite and tricky to find, making it difficult to visualize or understand. So join us on an exciting journey to The Weird Space Between Life and Death, through the transportive works of eleven filmmakers who aren’t afraid of dying.
Featuring work by: James Kienitz Wilkins, Vika Kirchenbauer & Martin Sulzer Kim Shively, Oprah Winfrey, Helene Nymann, Will Rahilly, Saki Sato, Min-Wei Ting, Rainer Kohlberger & Wilm Thoben
“The voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins.”
– Roland Barthes, Death of the Author
“When I was very young, I had a near death experience. I fell into a lake and almost drowned. I was too young to really understand it, but it’s obviously stayed with me as a major part of my life. It think what it taught me is that nothing is really permanent and nothing is really stable. And I was shown death at a very young age, luckily I didn’t stay over there in that side, but it really affected me very deeply. I think that’s where a lot of my imagination comes from, and a lot of my feeling that there’s always something below the surface.”
– Bill Viola, InFrame TV Interview
“What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily? For we are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed, Whatever years be behind us are in death’s hands.”
– Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
“You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing.”
– Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of Medusa
“To die, to sleep – To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Feelings is on view on August 5, 2015 at Raumerweiterungshalle Berlin in a series curated by Catalina Alvarez
SPEKTRUM / Sunday July 19 / 8pm
Recordings of whispers, delicately opened mail and packages, amplified chewing, fingernails tapping on hard surfaces, descriptions of spa treatments: simple everyday gestures filmed with intimacy. Inspiring a YouTube subculture of thousands of videos, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (A.S.M.R.) is a pleasurable tingling in the head, scalp, and back that is triggered by certain sights, sounds, touches, and scents. Intrigued by the fast growing community that celebrates and activates this feeling, Lily Benson invited artists and filmmakers to create new work inspired by A.S.M.R.
– Max Boss (DE) & Stine Omar (NO)
– Josephine Decker (US)
– Helena Olsson (SW)
– Adam Khalil (US)
– Saki Sato (US)
– Ana Rebordao (PO)
– Billy Rennekamp (US/DE)
– Alex Tyson (US)
– Jessica Williams (NO)
– Lily Benson (SW/US)