Secret Parts - Die Familie Schneider

By Camelia Gupta
photo shows a black-clad woman with long dark hair wearing yellow rubber gloves in a kitchen. We are glimpsing her through a door held slightly ajar.

Die Familie Schneider © Gregor Schneider. Commissioned and produced by Artangel, 2004. Photo by Thierry Bal.

Editor's note - Camelia added footnotes to her review which I am adding here, in a 'secret' page, in the style of the exhibition. JP

There’s a woman in kitchen washing dishes endlessly, in a way that is reminiscent both of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and of Lady Macbeth’s ‘out damned spot’.

The 70’s aesthetic of the bedroom is deeply unpleasant. The heat is suffocating, the carpet muffles my footsteps. I realise suddenly that there’s a body in a bag in the far corner. I feel faint for a second. It appears to be wearing a uniform and is small: child-sized.

Bathroom. A man masturbates in the shower, back turned and partially visible through curtains. I don’t know how to behave - and hover, while his pants and groans fill the small room. Needing distraction, I rummage through cupboards.

I’m glad that I have to write, I’m using it to anchor and ground myself, to remind myself that there’s a world beyond this one. I badly need the reminder right now. It’s hard to battle the sense that this awful space is all there is.

Deep breath, and onto the second house. Scared of what I’ll find. Another condition is that once you’ve left one house, you may not return to it.

On my god. It’s the same. But I’m different looking at it. I feel the need to look closely at the woman in the kitchen. As I say, I feel moved/able to speak to her. She’s exactly like the first one. (They’re twins.) In the bathroom, I’m moved to examine the wanking man to get closer. He seems louder than the first, but I cannot compare. Perhaps my mounting panic is heightening my senses?

I can’t know whether it’s the same, as I’m not allowed to ‘go back and check’.

Downstairs is also the same, and now I’m finding this sameness terrifying. What the hell is happening here? The repetition has varying effects; the carpeted room feels even more like a cell. I can hear nothing but my own, heavy, breathing. I’m scared - in the cellar, I’m reluctant to shut the door.

photo shows what seems to be a reflection in a mirror, perhaps showing a bin bag in a dark corner.

Die Familie Schneider © Gregor Schneider. Commissioned and produced by Artangel, 2004. Photo by Thierry Bal.

And I notice the secret door behind the shelf, follow the narrow passage to a dank cell. Was there one in the first house? I didn’t see, so I’ll never know. The same goes for the attic, where I notice a pipe leading out of the locked room. My mind leaps unwillingly to thoughts of gas chambers/asphyxiation.

The cell is where I have a moment of pure panic. There’s a small mattress (from a child’s bed/cot perhaps) in the dark, damp space. I crouch down to get closer, and have a second where I feel that I cannot get out, am physically trapped. Utterly terrifying. I’m so relieved to make it out. I think of a child being left there to die. Of the family of Anne Frank, making a bolthole their home to avoid death.

My state of mind at this point: I examine something hooked to the ceiling, convinced it is some kind of sinister pulley. It is in fact a washing line. But in this space, all normal rules are suspended; fear rules.

Walking back to the tube station, Schneider’s grim vision infects my participation in the world. I feel as though people are staring at me, but then I probably *am* distinctive right now, a terrified, bug-eyed mess, starting at my own shadow. I find myself looking at ‘normal’ houses, wondering what’s actually going on inside, as for all the internal modification, Schneider’s houses present an unchanged, ‘normal’ face to the world.

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