The Performance of Domesticity in the Theatre of the Sidewalk
Bronx, New York
Domesticity is not a condition, but a performance. There is nothing about the table covered in a plastic tablecloth patterned with a faded flower motif that imposes the feelings of domesticity in abuela’s kitchen. Yet the image induces certain emotive and sensory metaphors that urge us to behave in certain ways around the kitchen table.
Yet, the table may just be a table, and the kitchen just a room with cooking appliances. The prescriptive nature of the plastic covered table and of abuela’s kitchen materializes through the way these rooms are used and the memories created in them, which they in turn evoke. The kitchen table is covered with plastic to make cleaning an easier chore for grandmother. Yet the same exact table serves as a study for the granddaughter more often than it hosts a large family meal. Is this room a kitchen, or is it a study? Perhaps it is both.
And the aforementioned description of the table becomes a nostalgic image of memorizing the multiplication tables just as it brings back the smell of a hearty arroz con gandules. The rooms in a house are thus imbued with an aura by the inhabitants, instead of the rooms commanding a certain behavior from the same residents.
This aura of domesticity and the multiplicity of experiences lived in the private sphere are not confined to the house. If the living room is not defined by the couch but by the fact that the family gathers every evening to listen to music, talk, and eat, then the living room could move to the stoop on a balmy summer evening. Domestic performance is not constrained by the living space, but rather by domestic activity in and of itself. Domesticity can thus be read as a self-referential act, an autopoiesis.
The space of domesticity in the public sphere is thus a hybrid place, which changes its aura and significance at a much quicker pace than the space described the home. People have a tendency to alter the space they inhabit so as to tailor it to their specific user requirements. Just the kitchen is a place exclusively for cooking in one house and a room primarily for studying in the unit next door, the public domestic space of the sidewalk can take on many meanings. In fact, it proves an even better laboratory to observe the performance of domesticity, as it acts as a tabula rasa, a blank stage which is serially occupied in mutable ways. If we agree that domesticity is less so described by a domestic space, but instead by a domestic actor, the sidewalk becomes the ideal place for the playing out of domesticity. As a non-prescriptive, flexible space, the public theater of the sidewalk allows the autopoiesis of the domesticity to expand and metamorphose to its full potential.