Frances Gabe in her house. Photo: Shane Young

The title ‘Stoop, Stoop, Stooping is Stoopid!’ quotes Frances Gabe, creator of the infamous ‘Self-Cleaning House’. Gabe, an artist, builder and inventor, who died in 2017, Newberg, Oregon aged 101, is a central character in this show’s narrative, a silent, third collaborator invited in by Glasgow-based artists Rachael Adams and Tessa Lynch. Gabe’s self-built bungalow was completed in the 1980s on a small budget but was added to and adapted by Gabe for years. Although perpetually faulty, the result was an impressive feat of household–automation; by twisting a tap, with the furnishings inside covered in plastic, jets of water and soap came down from the ceilings to clean each room, followed by a rinse and a heat cycle.

There are traces of Gabe’s influence throughout the show and we are introduced on first name terms. She’s even left behind some clothes: earth-toned garments, including beige tights, tossed into a laundry-basket-sized model of her house. ‘Frances’ House (Laundry Basket)’ shares a tongue-in-cheek aesthetic with Mackintosh’s posthumous House for an Art Lover next door, perhaps a reference to the dolls-house effect of its perfect, furnished yet uninhabited rooms. Inside Adams’ and Lynch’s more domestic model home, a miniature emblem of a more humble kind of puritanism hangs on the wall —also never to be used— a Shaker-style chair.

Frances House Laundry Basket 2019
‘Frances’ House (Laundry Basket), 2019. Photo: Max Slaven

Stacking plates, dunking dishes, plunging the mop, Gabe’s house aimed to condense these actions into a single intensified event, doing away with the drudgery of household chores. I imagine it as a violent affair, an explosion of bubbles teeming out from a ‘viciousness in the kitchen!’[1] like a swarm, a Mickey Mouse cleaning frenzy à la Fantasia(1940). After all, glycerol, an innocuous, colourless, odourless substance, becomes deadly if you add nitrogen, packing a dynamite punch.

But in this exhibition, the frenzy of invention is on pause. Like a utility room version of the Mary Celeste, the Windolene-like glycerin sprayed on the windows has been left mid-drip in ‘Wet Room’.

Anouk Kristina Lily Louise Martyna Megan Rachel Tess Plug 2019
‘Anouk, Kristina, Lily, Louise, Martyna, Megan, Rachel & Tessa (Plug)’, 2019. Photo: Max Slaven

‘Anouk, Kristina, Lily, Louise, Martyna, Megan, Rachel & Tessa (Plug)’ are sewn into the soft fabric vortex at our feet. Adams and Lynch have captured repose amidst the incessant cycle of housekeeping and the Zen swirl of a circular rag-rug in the middle of the room evokes the last whirlpool of water down a plughole, bringing a soothing tone to the show. Like the subtle intimacy of hands periodically touching the same bar of soap, the braids of the rug intimate the bond traditionally forged through collective cleaning and crafting. By exposing the intertwining of people and material, an element of gratuity is apparent, allowing even practical gestures a dynamic significance.

This surplus pertains also to decorative concerns. Good ornamentation does not hide form and function [3], and by virtue of this being the case here, nothing in the show comes across as artificial or ‘useless’. The collaboration suggests a vision of domestic life beyond pragmatism and not purely by elevating objects of use to decoration but instead, the ornamentation of the objects all remain in touch with their form and function. The edition of endearingly branded ‘gabe care’ soap in its marbled packaging reveals how the potential for use can become the purpose of design. Soap seems to escape the bounds of practicality even in its natural performativity with its excessive foam and lather.

Savon Cleaning 2019
‘Savon – Cleaning’, 2019. Photo: Max Slaven

Attached to the wall-mounted ‘La Maison du Savon de Marseille’ French soap holders, the paraphernalia of domestic work is shrunk down to miniature size and encased in slabs of soap, mimicking the Perspex containers used by Gabe to protect the objects in her house. Inside this embalming are tools (‘Savon – Fixing’), tableware (‘Savon – Serving’), and mop and bucket (‘Savon – Cleaning’), all perpetually clean like the plastic-wrapped sofas of an old-fashioned ‘good room’. While cute, these blocks feel a little ominous, like talismans of sanitation.

It is such dichotomies that makes ‘Stoop, Stoop, Stooping is Stoopid!’ a meditation on what it means to clean and be cleaned, tapping as it does into the stark reality of ritual purification through housework, but also encompassing the light-hearted side of it all and the playfulness, as well as the deeper social realities represented by the materials and practices used in the work.

[1] Plath, Sylvia. Lesbos. (18 October 1962).

[2] See, Pickstock, Catherine. Repetition and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. p. 156.


Gwen Dupré is an artist and researcher based in Glasgow.

Jenny Richards, Tue 20 Aug, 6-7pm. Cleaning Machines

Frances Gabe’s desire to escape the drudgery of domestic labour through her self-cleaning home, can be seen as an attempt to outsource, automate as well as refuse the conditions of domestic work. The talk shares research into the political history of outsourcing maintenance work, the automation of feminised labour and current ways this is being challenged and refused.

Dr Yvonne McFadden, Tue 27 Aug 2019, 6-7pm. Washing the nappies: Working in the Post-War Suburban Kitchen

Dr Yvonne McFadden is a social and cultural historian whose research focuses on housing design and how people use space to meet their needs as individuals but also as a couple, family or household. She is particularly interested in how women’s work, paid and unpaid, impacts on social mobility and affluence in the second half of the 20th century.