Culture notes

When Van Gogh lived in London

Immersive new Artangel commission explores the London house of the Dutch artist

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

31 May 2014

9:00 AM

Eighty-seven Hackford Road, SW9, is unremarkable but for a blue plaque telling the world that Vincent van Gogh once lived there. The building has been empty since 2012 but now the Dutch artist Saskia Olde Wolbers has filled it with voices.

‘Yes, these Eyes are the Windows’ (until 22 June) is an Artangel-commissioned installation that explores the line between fact and fiction by telling the story of this terraced house from when a 19-year-old van Gogh was a tenant there in the 1870s to the present day.

As a visitor, you enter a dimly lit hallway. You are held there for what can be only a few minutes but feels much longer. Already the tension is palpable. A door opens, seemingly of its own accord, and you step into an eerie parallel universe. Physically, the house feels unlived in — lace curtains hang in rags; the bamboo-patterned wallpaper is peeling; old newspapers are scattered on a mix of bare boards and scraps of lino — but there is a disconcerting sense that you are not alone. Sounds — running water, footsteps, a banging from you can’t quite tell where and disembodied voices — transform the building into a living, breathing entity.

Wolbers’s voices weave a semi-fictional narrative that reveals tantalising snippets of the lives of the house’s occupants (including its most famous one) but never the whole story so that visitors hoping for fresh insights into van Gogh may come away disappointed. As a voice says at one point, this ‘house is an unreliable biographer of this historic character’.

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