As both resident and curator at Walmer’s Yard, Laura Mark is acutely aware of the boundaries between dwelling and gallery, public and private, home and work.
The term Keeper refers to someone who looks after and cares for a collection within a gallery or museum space. At Walmer Yard my collection is the four houses and their contents, as well as the exhibitions I put on within them. As a curator I didn’t quite expect how far my role to care would reach. As I’ve picked weeds off the roofs, mopped out sewage, and jetwashed the courtyard spaces I have been heard to exclaim rather jokingly ‘This is not the job of a curator!’. But this multifaceted role has really led me to reconsider my role as a curator, a keeper, a caretaker, and a maintainer. My work at Walmer Yard, and the research for my PhD which I am currently undertaking at Newcastle University, considers our experience of the domestic, of house museums, and of my own time living in Peter Salter’s architecture.
I’ve had to consider the boundaries between personal and private, home and work. At Walmer Yard the boundary between public and private becomes blurred. Tours and events used to take place when the building was empty and unoccupied and therefore there was never an issue of privacy. I would often find students and architects peering in through the windows and I would invite them in, but now as they peer in while I eat my dinner, it feels different. They are surprised to see me as I wave back at them from my bowl of pasta. The visitor forgets that this work of architecture – designed as a home – actually is someone’s home.
My research into house museums and their framing of the domestic environment, has led me to consider Walmer Yard’s place within this canon. It is neither museum nor home, nor gallery. By reflecting on Walmer Yard’s houseness and museumness we can open up discussions on how we live, and the everydayness of our domestic environments.
It is a rare anomaly for an architect to complete a home and for it to stand still at this point, unoccupied either by client or resident. The building fixed in a moment in time just as it was reaching completion. Now the houses are occupied, the story of Walmer Yard takes a different turn, whether we as residents want to consciously play a part or not. Here, as I inhabit Walmer Yard, my version of its story is changing. I hear the noises it makes at night, notice the light as it moves through the day, feel the textures of the materials, and consider my own movements through the carefully yet eccentrically planned spaces. These are all things which can only be noticed through a period of long occupation.