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The way we remember childhood homes

Courtesy of the artist and Meesen De Clerq, Brussels

Try to imagine your childhood home. Maybe it comes back in glimpses: a window at the top of the stairs, the view from one room into another. A new exhibition at MIT, "Drawing Apart," deals with the fragmented way distant yet familiar places live on in our imaginations. It features sculptures from Icelandic artist Katrín Sigurdardóttir, who creates physical representations of elemental, broken memories.

"What's interesting with her work is how it deals with memory and history, but not just personal memory," says Jeffrey De Blois, co-curator of the exhibition. "[There is] a slippage between personal memory and collective memory."


"Drawing Apart" includes two different lines of work. The first, "Ellefu," which means "eleven" in Icelandic, is a set of austere sculptures based on Sigurdardóttir's childhood home. The pieces have the plain, linear aspect of architectural models and provide different, incomplete perspectives on the structure.

The second, "Unbuilt Residences in Reykjavik, 1925-1930," is a series of sculptures based on plans for homes from that period that were never built. Based on these plans, Sigurdardóttir built models, which she then destroyed — by setting them on fire, or dropping them from the roof of her studio — and put back together. "They preserve some marks of their own destruction," says De Blois. "For me there's this cipher between the built and the unbuilt. It's an unresolved cipher."

The childhood home can be treacherous ground for an artist, because it's so easy to sink into sentimentality. De Blois says Sigurdardóttir avoids that trap by stripping away details that set childhood homes apart from each other, and leaving behind a general form that anyone's memories can fill.

"Drawing Apart" runs at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames St., from Feb. 13 to April 12.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.