Rasha Kahil: In Your Home

The Lebanon-born artist tells us about the thrill of secretly posing nude in other people's homes for her new double exhibition with Liane Lang

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'In Your Home' is a series of nude self-portraits by artist Rasha Kahil, who secretly disrobes in other people’s homes while the owners are away and blissfully unaware of what she is doing. Her naked body, being the only constant, takes on the character of the background: soft and beautiful lounging on a sofa, or alien and pallid crouched furtively beneath a sink. Kahil explores issues of privacy and personal space by putting her own intimate moments into other people’s places. The photographs form part of a joint exhibition with Liane Lang at Art First and are also available in a book, which follows the project in its entirety between 2008 and 2011.

Dazed Digital: What inspired you to take naked pictures of yourself in other people’s houses?
Rasha Kahil:
'In Your Home' came about quite intuitively in 2008. I was staying at a friend's house in Berlin, and as he left me alone in his flat one evening, I starting playing around with a new 35mm point-and-shoot camera I had just acquired from ebay. After taking a few still-lifes in his flat, I pointed the camera back at me, and with the use of the self-timer, shot self-portraits nude in his kitchen and bedroom.

I never told him what I did, there was a thrill in knowing that he was unaware of the fact that I ran around his place in the buff and recorded the experience. It was my memento to keep. And that was the birth of the project. From then on, whenever I found myself alone in someone's flat, even if for just a few minutes while they popped out to buy cigarettes, or cook in the kitchen, I'd whip out my point-and-shoot and photograph myself nude in the available domestic space, unbeknownst to the host...

DD: What do the photos say about privacy and personal space? How is this affected by being brought into the public sphere of an art gallery?
Rasha Kahil:
The process of working on the series, from 2008 until 2011, was a solo affair shrouded in silence and secrecy. It was a ritualistic marking of relationships and experiences encountered through time that I amassed photographically, stealing and collecting like one would cinema stubs from first dates. It is only once these images were made public in the last few months, through being exhibited and through the self-published book, that the confrontational aspect is brought to light and the bubble of privacy bursts. 

When looking through all the images, my body is the only constant, a repetitive pattern throughout the series. Apart from slight evolving traits (weight fluctuations, tan lines that appear and disappear, tattoos that build up) the body takes on a benign and ghostly presence. In contrast, it is the different personal spaces, through their ephemeral state, that become the focal point: narratives of glimpsed private identities, each one unique and distinct, that are disturbed by the violating semi-nude, blank-faced me. They are portraits inasmuch as they are self-portraits, but it is their 'stolen' nature which makes their exhibition in a public sphere all the more subversive. 

DD: What has been the reaction when they see the photos?
Rasha Kahil: Usually, there's an initial embarrassed reaction at the idea that I'd somehow violated their space. But eventually, they almost always seem to love seeing their own homes photographed and 'chosen' somehow to be part of the project. A friend even has a small test print I did of one of the images that I took in her house hung up on the wall of the actual room in which I had photographed myself. Some people who haven't seen the project or the book still don't know that their own bedroom or kitchen features in the series, so there are more reactions to come, which makes the project still fresh (for me anyway) with every exhibition!

Rasha Kahil's exhibition with Liane Lang is on now until November 12th 2011 at the Art First Gallery, 21 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DD

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