The first memory that comes to mind is the birdsongs,
when you opened the glass door.
But also the wood cracking, and the steps,
the steps on the paving stone, on the sandstone tiles.
The tiles were cold, you could feel it walking barefoot, and when you walked,
and when you walked, I don’t know, it used to creak in a way I loved.
And then the smell of the wood crackling in the fireplace.
I think those are the main memories.
But dare I add also the silence, coming from a city,
coming from a place where, even with closed windows, you can hear the sound of cars,
simply hearing the calm, the silence and the sounds of nature,
this is what I associate with this house.
I want to talk about what happened here.
A fire broke out which completely destroyed the whole inside of the house.
It was a caban, an extraordinary caban, built out of wooden logs.
The construction was unique in the region and that is was seduced us:
the audacity of having built something like that in such an unlikely place.
I think this house also represented the first investment my husband and I made together,
it was our house, the only one we were both owners of,
which means it represented something important
for the establishment of our relationship as a couple,
and a place to gather the family, for them to feel good, like they belonged there.
I think that is what mattered the most to us.
And also to be in the countryside, to rest.
When I heard the house was burning, we were far away,
we were a three hours drive away,
and it was a total incomprehension and a total denial,
I couldn’t fathom it, it was impossible for me.
But at the same time, I knew that the distance meant
I wouldn’t be able to save anything,
should it be true, and that when I arrived,
everything would probably be over.
The sound I remember when I arrived, obviously isn’t the firemen or the fire,
since the fire was practically put out already,
it was this sort of deafening silence, and when I entered the house,
it was the cracking of the ash, of the charcoal under my feet,
that gave me this feeling that all material possession was paltry,
that you could crush the remains of it by merely a footstep on the ground.
Do I have the feeling that this space is still mine?
No, I don’t. All the pieces of me I put there are gone.
The site is nothing but desolation. It’s open to the wind.
But I have to say that the day after the fire,
an incredible sun was shining on the village
and of course all the windows had been blown out,
and the sun was peaking through the roof and the windows
and made the charcoal shine on the beams,
and I was struck by the absurd beauty of this vision of this blackened wood,
of this burnt wood, shining in the sun.
I got my camera out and captured a lot of pictures of this apparition,
and these pictures and this beauty in horror very much pacified me
and gave me confidence that the mourning was to be a wise one.
This is what I would say.
I haven’t dismantled anything yet, because the house,
and it’s been two years now, cannot legally be demolished.
What’s extraordinary is that, it’s a house made of wood,
the logs of which, the structure of which is still standing.
And often people around me say ‘Yeah, a house made of wood’
as if saying, a house made of wood is something that burns and consumes quickly.
I think we all think of the tale of The Three Little Pigs,
I think it impacted our collective imaginary.
As far as I am concerned, what saddened me a lot,is that the next day,
as we were sleeping at the neighbor’s place and were devastated by the events,
we were burgled, because the house has a solid basement that the fire hadn’t destroyed.
And this basement was overflowing with memories, things from the children when the were young,
memorabilia from my husband, when he was small, his notes from preparatory year,
my notes from preparatory year, my daughters’ first Barbies,
all sorts of things you keep, cherished memories.
So it was so painful to see that people lacked humanity that much
and that seeing such a despair of having lost everything
they still came and helped themselves to the remains.
It was a very deep shock and I felt bitterness and resent
towards the region where it happened.
I also thought a lot about war, I don’t know why it moved me so much,
thinking that people had a certain avidity
and that the weakness and misfortune of some
sometimes revealed a certain cruelty in others.
I think that was it, the dismantling, the burglary,
was quite a retching that probably made my mourning of the place
⎼ not the house, but the place ⎼ much briefer.
My relationship to the ruins today is not easy.
I don’t like going back, I don’t like being there,
especially because I always see what’s been displaced,
that is, there are people who come and look for who knows what in this pile of ashes
and it disturbs me deeply each time to see the house,
the ashes and the remains having been stired in search of whatever,
maybe jewellery, truth be told I don’t know,
it wouldn’t come to my mind to do something like this in a house that’s not mine
and that has moreover been through something so violent.
I also have a peculiar feeling when I go to the basement.
One thing that stayed with me after the fire:
the firemen obviously throw huge amounts of water of the house,
and this also make a lot of damage, and the basement that had been spared
was however being infiltrated by the water
and you could hear the ploc, ploc, ploc…
Water infiltrating through the ceiling and falling down the basement,
and since this basement was empty after the burglaries we were the targets of,
these drops of water falling on the ground with the echo
gave me an impression of despair, and a general feeling of how fragile we are
and how all we amass can go up in flames so quickly,
so a feeling of derisory, and at the same time a great nostalgia,
a great sadness, at the sound of those drops hitting the ground.
The sound palace documented here was built from the ruins of my
family’s house that went up in flames. It was located just at the border
the small village of Francheval, in the french Ardennes. The house was
designed and build by D.R., a train driver, for his own family to live
in. D.R., his wife V.R., their 3 sons, a snake, a gecko, and multiple
dogs lived in the house for 5 years. At first, the only neighbor was
the village’s cemetery. When they moved to a new house on the
neighbouring piece of land, my family bought the house and occupied
it for ten years, until it burned down due to an incident with
Voids are history-loaded spaces waiting to be rethought, redesigned,
redevised, rebuild. Here, I use dismantling as an act of documentation
and creation. Dismantling the last remains of the physical space to
create an immaterial structure to exist in its place. Can sound be
sufficient to give the feeling of a place, to transport the mind into
a coherent immaterial structure?
Project by Nina Overkott,
for the Palais Idéal seminar by Sereina Rothenberger,
at the HfG Karlsruhe, WS 2018-19.