Thomas Ruff – Size is everything

I visited the Thomas Ruff exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery yesterday, prior to going to listen to Annie Liebowitz’s talk at the Royal Festival Hall. It was a bit of a rush, but well worth the short space of time I spent there. Ruff likes experimenting with the materiality of the image, which is something that appeals to me as well, and my over-riding feeling was that I’d like to see a lot of more his work than was on display. It was a bit frustrating to be limited to a relatively few of his processes, and I will be looking at others in the future.

The exhibition was a retrospective, showcasing his work from 1979 to the present. It started with his university work, the Portraits, Interiors and buildings. These seemed of their time and place with a style reminiscent of the New Topographic group, which of course he was exposed to, being based in Dusseldorf at this time. However, from about 1991 his work veered away from the Brutal, very deadpan aesthetic and Ruff started the experimentation that has since become his hallmark. The exhibition included lithographs, chromogenic colour prints, granolithographs, collages and a host of other techniques. Later, as digital photography took off, he became interested in how the digital photograph is made up, and began to look at the concept of the pixel, the essential meaninglessness of an image when it is expanded past the point where the subject can be made out, while he also maintains a long term interest in astronomy. His images tend to be large, very large in fact (which is where the post title came from) and it is interesting to see how he contrasts the incredible detail of his Mars images with the highly pixelated opposite of the images of 9/11 and space rockets. He also played with photograms and scans as well as inverting negatives and other variations on analogue photography. More recently, he has been playing with digital images to experiment with what is possible by focusing on particular elements that form part of the make-up of the images.

Some of the parts that I did not like included the series Substrates, where he repeats and alters comic images until the meaning has completely disappeared, producing huge multi-coloured prints of nothingness. (My own experiments with reducing images to their colour palettes follows in a similar, but less extreme path, which retains elements of the structure of the original, albeit significantly altered). The zycles series, although visually arresting, did not make me want to know more about how he had achieved the patterns, and some of the phg images were abstract in a way that did not appeal, although others were fascinating. 

I found this exhibition quite inspiring, not because of anything Ruff ‘has to say’ particularly, but because of his interest in deconstructing the idea of photography and then playing with the elements he uncovers. Also, his way of appropriating images from newspapers, advertisements and other media to alter, so that they become something different is something I would like to explore. So many ideas to consider and to play with . I came home and tried out a very simple version of his 3D images of the craters of Mars, using simple techniques that I found on the internet, and surprisingly, the concept actually worked. See below.

 

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Preparation for assignment 5

Following a suggestion from my tutor that I work with the prints I made for Exercise 4.5, I have been thinking about how I could present them in an organised way. This would mean that they need to be contained and viewable from both sides. After some mulling and a few experiments, I think I have come up with something that will work, using one of the books I made after the SW OCA workshop last month. The Sewn and Tied binding (Golden, 2010, p66) but essentially it consists of pieces of board sandwiched between a folded sheet of paper, and sewn together as individual leaves. The result is a book that lies completely flat and each leaf has weight and thickness.

So what I have done is cut a window in the leaf and then sandwiched my image between two sheets of plastic and presented it in the window. The remaining question I have now is about whether one can do away with the inner board altogether and just have the plastic sandwiched within the folded paper.  This process means the images are both contained and double sided, but an added bonus is that each leaf is made separately, so the chances of ruining the book from one of the leaves is much reduced. (The whole process of gilding and then presenting the work is very fiddly and time-consuming, so this is a real bonus). There are a couple of photos below of my test images below.

My next consideration needs to be about whether to include some of the words that I put around the edge of the version of the work below. I suspect that it will need them.

two side of womanReferences

Goldin, A. (2010) Making handmade books. New York: Lark.

OCA hangout notes 2 November 2017

Seven of us met in an OCA Hangout last night. The subject of the hangout was Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, first published in 1967 in French. There are a number of translations into English, each of which gives a slightly different viewpoint of his theories. Debord was a Marxist philosopher who theorised that the fetishism of the commodity through the business of advertising has led to “The Spectacle” – which essentially means that our lives have become so mediated and informed by what we see and hear in the media that we have lost all touch with the underlying reality of being alive. Will Self, in this 2017 BBC Radio programme, identifies the Spectacle, as ‘both the result and the producer of the existing mode of production. It’s the heart of the unrealism of the real society, in all its forms. The Spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life’.

If I am honest, this circuity and lack of simple clarity is a major part of Debord’s theories. They are not easy to understand, even though they are presented as 212 very short pieces, which he calls theses, and which I would call unsupported statements. There is no research of background material in the book to validate his theories and his ideas seem, like those of Susan Sontag, to have been accepted  by the academic cohort of the time without any of the requirements of proof and logic of argument that we would feel necessary today.

Having said all that, 70 years on, it is uncanny how correct Debord’s theories have proved to be. The ever-increasing drive to produce more (and more complex) products to feed a market that didn’t know they needed them until they appeared has become the ghastly reality. We are constantly bombarded with images telling us what our lives should be like and which has the dual effect of making us desire those objects and feel discontented with our current lot.  The banking crisis, which was based on extending credit (i.e. debt, in truth) facilities in more and more complex ways until nobody at all knew how the system worked was one very clear example.

More recently, social media exemplifies the ideas present in Chapter 2, that by specialising more and more and reducing the potential/need for face to face interactions between people, Debord’s theories of separation and alienation are becoming ever more obvious, with consequent effects on mental and physical health. Our lives which are now rich in complex technology have become poor in real interactions and face to face group activities. The internet has rendered the majority of them unnecessary. We are inevitably moving towards a scenario where each person sits alone in their home, constantly being fed a diet of social media, tv and advertising, over which big business has total control. It is a scary scenario to envisage, but we are well on our way towards it already.

So, if we are locked in this system, which has become self-perpetuating and circular in nature, what can we do to return to a proper sense of reality? Debord’s answer is that we can do nothing. Every effort to work in alternative ways or to return to a time when produce was necessary, beautiful and sturdy rather than mass-produced, cheap and poorly made will be ruthlessly knocked back by the mainstream, and escape is impossible, even if we know (and not many of us do know) that we are trapped inside the Matrix. The very best we can hope to do is gently subvert it with the long term aim of making slow changes. The worst scenario is much more likely to happen though, one where life gets more and more complex and mechanised at and every increasing rate, until catastrophe strikes and we swirl down the plughole, never to be seen again. It’s not a happy prospect, is it? The inevitable collapse of society, drowning in a sea of plastic rubbish and galloping climate change.

There are those who have since proposed alternative models, such as Naomi Klein, whose book This Changes Everything (2014) , (which I realise that I have read, but obviously not taken in) suggests a more collaborative, gentler model, but none of them have any chance of being put into practice without a seismic change in the way we run society. And try as I might, I can’t think of how that change could be initiated.

And who are the winners and losers in this model? Well, the workers are needed to make the products, but they also need to have enough money to consume them too. Without the finance to consume, it would not be profitable to make the products. These days, this simple circular economy has been altered by automation and so the workers can no longer earn their money by making things. Therefore the service economy for formed in order to give the workers jobs which will continue to allow them to consume. In the two chapters we read, Debord did not really elaborate on who is making these decisions, arguing instead that The Spectacle makes them, without human intervention, and that the continuance of capitalism makes them inevitable.

Bringing this down to photography and our student work, I have been wondering how to incorporate some of these ideas into what I make. Other students have made work which is relevant, most recently Matt Davenport’s commentary on social media, Contactless . I am going to see whether I can fit it into the work I am doing towards assignment 5, which will almost certainly be a continuance of my work on the Female Gaze.

Many thanks to Emma for organising the Hangout, and to all the other participants for their interesting viewpoints. This is definitely something that is worth doing again, not least because it forces me to read books that I would go out of m y way to avoid normally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://hyperallergic.com/313435/an-illustrated-guide-to-guy-debords-the-society-of-the-spectacle/

Tutor feedback on assignment 4

Feedback

My tutor has excelled this time with feedback coming back within three days of my assignment submission. A link to it can be found here: 4.Holly Woodward assignment report

I can only say that I am very happy with his feedback. He does not feel that anything needs to be improved, although I myself have a few niggles with it that I would like to iron out before assessment. Aside from the points I already mentioned in my reflection on the assignment, I would also like to alter the following:

  1. Remake the book with smaller holes to make it less floppy. Thanks, Richard Down for telling me this. Very useful for future reference.
  2. Consider whether the typeface is appropriate. I have been doing some background research on typefaces and design lately, and I am now not happy with the standard Ariel  one I have used. Keen eyed readers might have noticed (probably not) that I have changed the default typeface for this blog, and I may do the same for the physical book.
  3. Put a soundtrack to the Vimeo piece, though this is less important as the assessors will have the book itself to review. The video was my first, and I did not want to overstretch my abilities with it, but having seen the results I am now confident I can put a track to it.
  4. Page numbers. I keep thinking it should have page numbers.

Suggested reading to look into

Photographers and abandoned spaces:

Yvonne De Rosa (Crazy God): http://www.yvonnederosa.it/galleries.php?id=5&mode=foto#.WfsTfGU3HzI

Robert Polidori: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/new-orleans-after-the-flood-a-photo-gallery

Take a look at the work and ideas of Sophie Calle (If you haven’t already) may inspire your creativity.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/sophie-calle-2692

Did you see this show at The Photographers’ Gallery? This may provide you with further ideas. http://notionmagazine.com/exhibition-feminist-avant-garde-1970s-photographers-gallery/

Suggested ideas for assignment 5

My tutor liked the work I was doing on the feminist gaze and in particular exercise 4.5 Fictional texts. He suggests that I look at building on this for assignment 5. Some serious thought is going to be needed on this over the next week, as I’d like to get the assignment finished before Christmas.

Assignment 4 – Whatever Happened to…?

Create a series of work (aim for 7-10 images) which in some way reflects upon the ideas surrounding identity and place that you’ve looked at so far in this course. Use the written word to play a part in its creation.

This assignment has been made as a physical book. It can be viewed on Vimeo here: vimeo.com/240275519 The commentary and individual images from the assignment are also shown below.

Whatever happened to…?

Introduction
A forgotten building lies a mere 200 yards from my home, almost completely hidden by a screen of brambles, nettles and rampant buddleia. It was once a care home for elderly dementia sufferers, but was suddenly closed in 2007 as a result of two consecutive very poor CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection) inspections. The twenty two residents were transferred to other accommodation in the Swindon area almost overnight and the building has been unoccupied and slowly deteriorating ever since.

Very few confirmed details are readily available about the reasons for the closure. However, it appears that it comprehensively failed an inspection in November 2006, partly because of concerns about how the staff were treating residents and partly because it did not meet several of the recently imposed health and safety requirements, such as each person having their own bathroom. Six months later, the inspectors arrived again, and were not happy with progress on the measures imposed by the previous report. They therefore deemed the home unsuitable for its residents and took the owners to court. It appears that the owners of the care home were either unwilling or unable to fund the required improvements and they applied for bankruptcy, while the residents were farmed off to any local care home which had space.

Throughout the world, the proportion of older people in society is increasing and resources are being limited. It is hard not to be aware of the difficulties we, as society, are beginning to face in securely and comfortably housing our elders. At least one in six care homes in the UK is close to bankruptcy, according to a study by Moore Stephens [1] and while 70,000 new care home places will be required over the next 8 years [2],the rise in the National Living Wage and Brexit are having a significant effect on the finances of care home owners and the availability of care workers. These macro level problems can be seen at the individual level in this series which asks us to question whether our elders are being treated with the respect and consideration they deserve.

Images

P1610540-Editv2P1640485v2P1610529v2IMG_4151v2P1610532-Editv2P1640449v2P1640482v2P1640466v2

Nature
As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Endnote

A week after my second shoot at this building, some of the land was cleared and the gates were padlocked. It is now up for sale and will most likely be demolished to make way for new housing within the next few months.

HW (October 2017)

Commentary

Write a short reflective commentary (about 500 words) describing how your chosen words have informed your series of images and make this available to your tutor alongside your images.

This assignment is about absence and the objects left behind that remind us that an empty place was once someone’s home. The words came after the images to provide some context to the work. The idea of exploring the old building stemmed initially from nothing more than curiosity. What was this place, almost entirely hidden away in the middle of a Wiltshire village? I have done a small amount of urbexing before, but nothing where so little was visible from outside and where there was such a palpable sense of decay. Entering the building is a shock – the vandalism and quantities of rubbish, broken glass and smashed furniture seemed overwhelming at first. Very soon though, I began to examine the objects left behind and it quickly became clear that the home had been emptied very suddenly. Open books lay on the beds; very dead potted plants sat on windowsills. Cupboards were still full of people’s clothes. Photographs, pictures and name plates were lying smashed on the floor, alongside residents’ care notes and personal possessions.

The overall effect is one of a sudden trauma in the residents’ lives, and of them being torn away from the place and possessions they knew to be sent who knows where. This seems particularly hard as people who have dementia are highly reliant on the security of a stable and unchanging home environment. Moving them from one location to another is perceived as difficult, although studies seem to indicate that the risk is not as high as one might imagine. [4][5]

At the same time, I was aware that there were good reasons to close the care home. Not only had it failed inspections twice, but there were rumours of ill-treatment and neglect around the village. However, the suddenness of the way the closure was undertaken is written into the debris lying in every room. And in that debris are remnants of the lives of the residents and the staff, should one choose to look for them. There are still indications everywhere of the people who lived and worked here; hairdressing equipment, games, the old pedal organ, which speak of real lives. Much of what is left is quickly being trashed by vandals – even since my visit in June, there has been a visible deterioration in the place and soon those individual signs of the people who lived there will be gone, smashed beyond recognition by thoughtless kids.

The particular aspect of the relationship between these photographs and the text that interests me is whether the text affects the reading and meaning of the images or not. Initially, I showed the images to some fellow students and asked for comments without giving much background. Their responses ranged from:

  • Your photographs were very evocative for me and I think you can do a lot with them as a metaphor for how the vulnerable elderly are treated if you choose to go that way. (Catherine)
  • I think this is where text can add such value, moving the work from interesting urbex to socially relevant and something that has certainly made me think about the care we provide for our elders. (Kate)
  • Thinking about it literally jolted my senses and brought a tear the eye. (Nicky)

In an earlier iteration of the work, I considered providing no text, but instead adding either the words or music from the old music hall songs that the residents might have sung, sitting around the organ on winter evenings, but it was suggested that this might steer the viewers towards the idea of recalling happy times, which is clearly not what the situation was towards the end. My current opinion is that providing some direction to what might be in viewer’s thought as they look at the images helps steer them in the direction I would like them to go, without being too explicit about what I would like them to think.

References

[1]   Causer, L (2017) 16% of care homes at risk of failure At: https://www.moorestephens.co.uk/news-views/august-2017/16-of-care-homes-at-risk-of-failure (Accessed on 28 October 2017)

[2]   Kingston, A. et al. (2017) ‘Is late-life dependency increasing or not? A comparison of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies (CFAS)’ In: The Lancet.com 07.10.17 [online] At: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31575-1/fulltext  (Accessed on 28 October 2017)

[3]   Warchol, K. (2010) How to Reduce Transfer Trauma for a Person With Dementia. At:
https://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/November-2010/A-Real-Issue-for-Many-Individuals-With-Dementia (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

[4]   Capezuti E1, Boltz M, Renz S, Hoffman D, Norman RG. (2006) ‘Nursing home involuntary relocation: clinical outcomes and perceptions of residents and families.’ In:
 J Am Med Dir Assoc. Oct;7(8):486-92. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17027625/  (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

[5]   Kali, ST et al (2012) ‘The Impact of Forced Transitions on the Most Functionally Impaired Nursing Home.’ In:  J Am Geriatr Soc. Oct; 60(10): 1895–1900. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530394/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

Reflection

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I am happy with the images I have selected for this series. They were taken over two separate visits in June and September 2017 and the overall number from which the selection was made was in excess of xxx. Because some the images from the first visit were so striking and held such a sense of failure and sadness, I decided to investigate the building again later, with the aim of bringing the shocking array of personal items which are still to be found in the building, everything from clothing to care notes (the latter being completely illegal under Data Protection laws. The building had no electricity and all of the images were taken using natural light and occasionally a reflector, which is why they are visually quite gloomy. The windows of the ground floor rooms were heavily shaded by the foliage jungle which has grown up around the building, and this gives an eerie greenish-blue light inside the building which is very much a part of its character, and which I did not want to lose.

Equally, the production of the book, which was made after attending a book-making workshop with OCA tutor Polly Harvey, provided some technical hurdles that I needed to overcome, such as deciding on papers, size, the cover and the binding, and having shown other students at the Thames Valley Forum, I believe it works well. For future reference, the binding holes could have been smaller, and I will need to recover the back as it has become marked somewhere along its production, but the wonderful thing about Japanese stab bound books is that one can easily take them apart for another iteration.

(It should be noted that in the physical book, the relative importance of the images is reversed, with the landscape ones being larger than the portrait ones.)

Quality of outcome

Overall, I am pleased with the outcome. Initially, my plan was to simply set the scene with the introductory text, but I found the poem by Henry Longfellow and added it as it seemed so appropriate. It will be interesting to hear my tutor’s feedback on whether I should retain both the introduction and the poem, or whether he thinks one of them should go. Potentially, I might also re-edit image no. 3 of the bedroom, as the lighting seemed a little forced.

Demonstration of creativity

For me, the creative aspects of this project have centred around trying to capture the mood and feeling of the building. It is a creepy place, with strange corridors and unexpected rooms, much larger than it looks from the outside, and ten years of neglect and vandalism has taken its toll. Floors are rotten, and are covered in broken glass and bedding. Ceilings are drooping and collapsing, broken furniture and sanitary-ware fills every room, and incontinence pads are strewn everywhere, like over-sized confetti. It is neither a safe not a comfortable place. My aim was to use this ambiance as a metaphor for what had happened to the residents and for their own slow decline and degradation.

Context

Most of the background research I have undertaken for this assignment has been about the care home itself and what has happened to it over the years. My initial thoughts were to include some background about the building and what had led to its closure, as the information is in the public domain, but I was advised against this in case any individual could be identified and to prevent any possible litigation from the owners. Given that none of my research relies on heresay, and much is recorded in local newspaper and court documents, I don’t believe that they would have a case, but discretion seemed sensible.

The wider background of the assignment was initially informed by the Urban Explorer (Urbex) genre of photography, in which adventurous photographers explore abandoned buildings, not only to take risks and interesting images but also to bring to the public’s attention the fact that so many wonderful old buildings are gradually falling into decay, and their history and importance is slowly being forgotten. Many of the larger building which urbexers explore are listed buildings, but the cost of repairing and renovating them would be astronomical and so they are left to gently rot away. For anyone interested in the history of the subject, this article about the academic, urbexer and occasional Guardian columnist Bradley L. Garrett is an excellent starting place. Garrett’s books, which start with Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City (2013) have a lineage based on history, economics and psychogeography, with a strong link to Guy Debord’s  ‘situationist dérive – the randomly motivated walk designed to disrupt habitual movement through the cityscape.’ (Guardian, 2013) There are some wonderful examples of the genre online, for example: Alicia Rius’ Abandoned, Christian Richter’s series, also called Abandoned, Romain Veillon’s various projects and Rebecca Bathory’s Orphans of Time, to name but a few. Many have their roots in the concept of memento mori – the idea of ‘an artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life’ Tate (n.d.). and have the same eerie sense of the people who once lived there.

Further references

MacFarlane, R (2013) ‘The strange world of urban exploration.’ In The Guardian.com 20. 09.2013. At: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/20/urban-exploration-robert-macfarlane-bradley-garrett (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

Garrett, B. (2013)  Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City. London: Verso.

http://www.aliciariusphotography.com/abandoned/  (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

Winston, AS. (2016) ‘Christian Richter’s Abandoned series chronicles Europe’s empty buildings.’ In De Zeen.com 11.09.2016 At: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/09/11/christian-richter-photographs-abandoned-empty-buildings-europe/ (Accessed on 29 October 2017)

https://romainveillon.com/

http://www.rebeccabathory.com/orphansoftime

Tate (n.d.) ‘Art terms: memento mori’ . At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/memento-mori

 

Assignment 4 – Whatever happened to….? (First draft)

Introduction

A forgotten building lies a mere 200 yards from my home, almost completely hidden by a screen of brambles, nettles and rampant buddleia. It was once a care home for elderly dementia sufferers, but was suddenly closed in 2007 as a result of two consecutive very poor CSCI inspections. The twenty two residents were transferred to other accommodation in the Swindon area almost overnight and the building has been unoccupied and slowly deteriorating ever since.

Very few confirmed details are readily available about the reasons for the closure and  However, it appears that it comprehensively failed an inspection in November 2006, partly because of concerns about how the staff were treating residents and partly because it did not meet several of the recently imposed health and safety requirements, such as each person having their own bathroom. Six months later, the inspectors arrived again, and were not happy with progress on the measures imposed by the previous report. They therefore deemed the home unsuitable for its residents and took the owners to court. It appears that the owners of the care home were either unwilling or unable to fund the required improvements and they applied for bankruptcy, while the residents were farmed off to any local care home which had space.

Throughout the world, the proportion of older people in society is increasing and resources are being limited. It is hard not to be aware of the difficulties we, as society, are beginning to face in securely and comfortably housing our elders. At least one in six care homes in the UK is close to bankruptcy, according to a study  by Moore Stephens and while 70,000 new care home places will be required over the next 8 years, (The Lancet (2017) the rise in the National Living Wage AND Brexit are having a significant effect on the finances of care home owners and the availability of care workers. These macro level problems can be seen at the individual level in this series and ask us to  question whether our older people are being treated with the respect and consideration they deserve.

Whatever happened to…..?

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Individual images

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https://www.moorestephens.co.uk/news-views/august-2017/16-of-care-homes-at-risk-of-failure

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/16/lancet-70000-extra-care-home-places-needed-2025/

http://www.lse.ac.uk/News/Latest-news-from-LSE/2017/08-August-2017/Care-home-places-needed

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31575-1/fulltext

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/news/article/235/extra_71000_care_home_places_needed_by_2025_lancet_study_suggests_%E2%80%93_alzheimer_s_society_comments

https://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/November-2010/A-Real-Issue-for-Many-Individuals-With-Dementia

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44641/nature-56d223cf7262b

 

 

 

 

Assignment 4 – decisions about editing

I made a second visit to the location of my assignment ( a derelict care home close to where I live) this morning with a fellow student (thanks Kate for coming along so I didn’t feel so nervous that I might be robbed, murdered, or fall through a hole in the ceiling).  I now have enough images to make a selection for the assignment. Here is the long list, and I plan to accompany it by a series of words or phrases taken from generic care home advertisements, along the lines of person centred care, individual, respect, understanding, etc. The assignment will also include an introduction explaining the history and background of what happened to this home for dementia patients, and my aim is to ask viewers to consider how the residents might have felt about being moved from a place they were familiar with, notwithstanding the concerns about poor quality care, to totally new homes at only a day’s notice.