From the Current Occupant of the No Assumption Home:
In an era where technology, social media, and contractual agreements with large corporate structures and governmental agencies are prominent means by which we navigate our daily lives, it has become quite apparent that these means are intended as ways to feel closer to people, and to enhance everyday efficiency through the agreement to rules, terms, and codes of behavior. At the same time, these contracts are often the very same things that can make us feel furthest from people, furthest from real connections and the common modes of basic real human interaction and community feeling.
Many of the contracts a modern American person enters into in life are committed through the rule of law, and normative behavior. We give over–our money to banks, our liability to insurance companies, our political voice to representative government, and our bodies to doctors, ‘specialists,’ and health care systems. We give away some fundamental ‘freedoms’ in order to feel more ‘free’. It would be ridiculous to assume that one person could live as an island unto themselves lawless, and/or lawful but at all times negotiating every factor of a community life, acting entirely as their own bank, lawyer, teacher, policeman, civil engineer, etc., etc., etc…
But what happens when the process of ‘giving over’ to other parties turns into merely a life spent in maintenance –the managing and navigation of various borders and boundaries to the point that much of our ‘free’ time and our ‘free will’ is spent trying to keep up our end of the bargain?
Is that not a lack of freedom on its own? Is it not a kind of loss of autonomy, selfhood and dignity?
And so following, I have to ask myself: What am I supposed to do with this loss?
With these commodities, objects, and artificial frameworks of communication all centered around the guarantee that they will make my life easier, happier, and more ‘free’, I am left still, with the feeling that I’ve just been duped.
I would love to keep my home. I love my home. It’s in need of a lot of work and has some cosmetic and structural issues that need to be attended to (In other words: fork over some capital for repairs). But it could be a good home, and has a lot for creative potential. My mother and I have lived here for over 12 years now. There was a dream for this home, once. And we pursued that dream everyday, the best we could.
However, the value of this home, the value of our dream, like so many others in our community is far above the realistic. Beyond that, the loans against the property are far above any reasonable purchase price that could be negotiated if I were to sell. My mother was physically disabled, and she needed money to cover her surgeries and time away from work. So like many reasonable people at the time, she refinanced and borrowed against her house when the market was good, expecting to recover the funds because the market appeared to be on the up and up. She made every single payment on time.
She worked and worked to pay her bills, laboring through the snow and negotiating the icy ground to get there. As she deteriorated physically, she went from walking and sitting normally, to needing a wheelchair while at work, and crutches and walkers to get around to and from her wheelchair. She could have gone on government disability years ago, but she was determined to get better. Her biggest goal was just to one day in the future, ride a bicycle again.
The fear of losing her health insurance, the fear of losing her home, of losing other necessary property and also of losing her health, kept her working. It kept her struggling and doing nothing more than venturing to work, and resting the remainder of her time in order to work again the next day.
I returned from New York City 2 years ago after learning that my mother was considering selling her house within a year or so and moving to a warmer climate to escape the dangers of winter here. I knew she couldn’t pack up the home on her own. Just mopping the floor was a dangerous task for her. There was no way that bending and packing boxes, cleaning, organizing, and schlepping items from the basement and up and down the stairs would have been a manageable or safe undertaking for her. I decided to help her. I wanted nothing more than to make her life easier.
2 days after I arrived in the summer of ’08, she fell ill. We went into the hospital to find she had a bad case of pneumonia. For the rest of that year we were in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals for tests at least twice a week and often more frequently. It took them a while to sort through the problems, and in June of ’09 she was finally diagnosed with cancer. By this time she was very ill, and I was taking care of her 24 hours a day. They ordered her an oxygen tank; she was restless and not sleeping well. But she still believed she would beat it.
On September 23rd of 2009, three months later, she died in my arms.
She was a single mother, and I was her only child. My entire world has been ripped apart. We had been a team and made it through so many hard times together over the years. I hadn’t planned to come home to be with my dying mother. I had planned to help her live better. It was as if she just slipped away from me. Right out of my hands.
And then everything else unresolved in her life came crashing down around me in this new foreign world of ‘Life Without Her’. A tidal wave of unfinished business that was not mine but is mine now, fell upon me.
Dying is expensive. It’s wasteful. It is so complicated for the living, while it is probably the most uncomplicated process each of us may ever come to know. The bills, the creditors, the assets, the debts, the last wishes, the property, the dirt, the grime, the ‘stuff’, the archeology of it all! The horror!
I could not count the faxes. The emails. The phone calls. The meetings. The notaries. I have been embroiled in a battle with bureaucratic structures from the moment she passed. And none of theses structures can account for the feeling of loss. In fact, these necessities of law and protocol and accounting, while I firmly believe are rooted in the need to protect survivors and curb inappropriate looting of a deceased person’s good name in life, in the end seem to translate realistically, into busy work. Required and serious busy work. So serious to the point of nearly illegal if not completed.
I could go right down to the courthouse and pay some thousands of dollars in legal fees to do the processing and have this house put in my name. Or, I could have paid the unreasonable mortgage for a property that I then wouldn’t be able to afford to fix. Had I done this, I would have agreed to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt in order to have a home that is worth not even half of what is on the principal loan.
It’s not her fault the home is foreclosing.
I’ve talked to all of the loan people and banking departments I could find. In fact, they even know they would save money by selling the property to me for the fair market value of the home rather than paying all of the bills that are accrued in processing this foreclosure. Foreclosures cost banks a lot of money in fees, insurance, maintenance, etc., etc… In fact, I could sell it, as the executor of the estate, to anyone else but me for fair market value (or even less). However, if I want what is my right to have for myself, I must pay over double what any stranger would have to pay.
And that is just not fair.
The guarantee stops. The contracts go null, or suddenly, they take effect depending on what is most advantageous to protecting the corporation. Everything becomes flipped on its head in a carnival of legalese. I have been left in a double bind scenario where in order to modify the terms of the loan, I must have the house in my name. I cannot justify paying to have the property in my name unless I can be guaranteed a modification of the loan. We go around and around.
And so not only do I lose my family, I lose my family home.
In the end, I will be okay. But my principles and my sense of what’s right won’t let me take this process lightly. My mother’s principals also would not have agreed with this scenario and it is in her spirit that I find the strength to work just that much harder to do host an art exhibition for my community here in Minneapolis. I cannot just sit quietly while the contracts she signed take effect and stake their claim on tragedy, erasing the protections of other contracts, and everything turns into a free-for-all fight over the negative amounts of money left over. If anything, the only thing I can do–and what I am inviting all of these artists, visitors, and the community at large to do upon visiting my house and No Assumption–is take a moment to examine this economic and structural society we have built around ourselves. To look at this house, and ask ourselves, “What happened here? What is it: A gallery? A memorial? A useless object?” Could it be that now, finally, it is the ‘something’ that my mother and I had always wanted it to be: Not an albatross around our necks. Not a dead weight or a burden, but a place full of hope and light, happiness and the kind of dreaming that imagines life a little better than it was before?
Perhaps it is now only another version of what it always was: just a dream. And in life, what do we have more than various facades, dreams, hopes, and moments of subjective meaning? Fleeting pleasures, pains, electric bodies and self-reflexive, internal, incommunicable consciousness are but nothing in the scheme of the physical world prior to us, and continuing beyond our small lives into the unknowable future.
Still, none of these contracts can account for this. Nowhere do the technological, monetary, and governmental agreements by which I am meant to feel free account for this, or truly protect of my sense of security, health, and happiness. Efficiency becomes itself its own kind of dream.
And so what am I supposed to do with this loss?
Realizing I truly have nothing more left to lose is in itself a kind of personal transcendence of what it means to live freely again. I turn now towards what I have to give. It isn’t much. And certainly nothing of any physical value. This gift, slightly somber and slightly serious, is itself nothing more than a loss. I give over my loss, I acquiesce and peel it open, even if only for the experience, and the memory, and the dream.
No Assumption: A Collaborative Exhibition of Art in a Residence has developed over the span of a 2 years and 2 lifetimes up until the present moment. The experiences of one particular family within the walls of one particular home–while at the heart of this exhibition–are intended to be merely a catalyst to launch an urgent conversation about the various effects of contemporary struggles in pursuit of property & security; and the impact these struggles have upon our societal, personal, and psychological well-being.
There is no need for agreement or sympathy, I only hope interaction with these concepts and artworks will bring viewers to their own conclusions. Fighting for my home is absolutely futile now. Fighting for this kind of scenario to be given weight in the eyes of our community and a new sense of urgency and importance among us is all I can do. I am enthusiastic about presenting No Assumption: a Collaborative Exhibition of Art in a Residence, purely in hopes of a shared experience of humanity and understanding, as well as a nuanced and fresh kind of pleasure despite the rising foreclosure statistics and the growing number of families experiencing this epidemic of insecurity in our homes, infrastructure, and contracts with corporate entities. Let us turn this deep pain and loss affecting countless families throughout our country on its head for a moment, even if it must be temporary. It is for them, that we must engage, and also for them that we should carry on with honor and perseverance against the fear of the enormous structural Frankensteins we have created to ‘protect’ us.
In an era where we are supposed to feel closer to people via all of these artificial mediums; feel safer because of the contracts we sign on to in order to negotiate everyday life; and command a sense of security through promises of efficiency and protection from risk – it still seems that the best way to have a conversation of any kind is in person. With that in mind, I want to thank all of the other curators, artists, performers, and the many people who are a part of this project. More importantly I want to invite you to meet them. Please come on by, to No Assumption. Come on over to our house. Have a look around -let’s just start there.Mirelle Zacharis Co-Curator, No Assumption: A Collaborative Exhibition of Art in a Residence