Heim
Steven Humblet

In German, the word ‘Heim’ refers to the place where one has settled or where one comes to rest. As such, it has a double meaning: it refers back to the place where one was born, but also to the place where one stays at the end of his life (the ‘Heim’ as a home for the elderly or the sick). ‘Heim’ therefore encompasses the fundamental movement of all human beings: born and raised at a certain place, referring to this place as his ‘home’, he goes out into the world, only to return again to his homestead. This fundamental movement of going out and returning, of leaving and coming back, explains the emotional associations this word conjures up. It speaks of the anthropological need to have a place one can call one’s own, and of the equally essential requirement to leave that place, at least periodically (otherwise the ‘Heim’ would be nothing more than a prison without any possible escape, growth, or adventure: a life spent at home is not a life worth living, but a life without a home is a living hell). Furthermore, ‘Heim’ stands also for cosiness, for the agreeable place where you’re always welcome, the place that functions as a secure shelter against the pressures of the outside world. The ‘Heim’ is a safe retreat from the hustle and bustle of life, the place where you can feel at ease and find relief from the obligations of the worldly business outdoors. Some of these associations return in the Dutch word ‘heimwee’, this maddening desire for the homeland that can befall travellers when they are abroad for too long. It is important to note, however, that this feeling of homesickness is not always linked to an existing place to which one could easily return, but more often than not to a dreamt-up place. The ‘home’ for which one longs is the house where one has grown up, which even if it still exists, is never the same as the one remembered. The ‘home’ is a place in time, only accessible through memory.

When looking at the series composed by the Belgian photographer Arnaud De Wolf (°1981), it becomes immediately clear that the title ‘Heim’ can only be meant ironically. Indeed, it seems improper to use this term to qualify the buildings we meet in these images. There is nothing homely about these imposing, large, but also somewhat impersonal constructions. They fill the whole frame: no (or just a little bit) space left on either side of the construction. Such tight framing emphasises our experience of being denied access, of being radically disconnected from these places. We hit a wall, at regular intervals punctuated with square or rectangular holes. The holes, transparent membranes uniting outside and inside, are similar in form, they only differ by the draperies that are hung or the things that are placed on the windowsill. The individual markings are superficial, window-dressing that tries to suppress the feeling of being put in a nondescript building. They are desperate attempts by the inhabitants to make the living quarters seem somewhat distinctive, as something that truly expresses the singularity of those that occupy them. A vain attempt. Besides the windows, there are (strangely enough) no doors visible. Those who are inside can look to the outside world, but they cannot leave: their eyes can gaze on what is out there, but their body is locked inside. At the same time, the absence of doors means we are also unable to enter: the separation between the people in their comfortable interiors and the onlookers (us) outside in the bleak, empty and cold landscape is absolute. As viewers we are forever condemned to the position of outsiders; as inhabitants they are the prisoners of their snug interior.

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