[expositie] A Reflection on the Sense of Home and Rootedness

A Reflection on the Sense of Home and Rootedness

juni 2024 door Hasse van Leeuwen

© Hasse van Leeuwen

“You could ask the house. If this house had a mouth, this house would speak”
– Aeschylus, Agamemnon

“To be rooted”, writes philosopher Simone Weil, “is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul”. We want to belong, to connect with ourselves and with each other. The search for rooting, home, belonging somewhere, is a well known theme in literature, philosophy, art and research: The need to understand where we belong is what inspires humans to create. 

By the way, dear reader, note that research and philosophy are included in my list of creative expressions not by mistake but on purpose. In this context art and science start at the same source, a need to make sense of the world.

The ten artists featured in the exhibition “Home: A Sense of Belonging” show ten perspectives on home, feeling connected, being rooted, this unrecognized need of the human soul. To make sense of these ideas and to provide some background, I want to delve into the notion of home. Where else in the story of humanity does it show up, this question that betrays the need of feeling rooted?


Language shapes and reveals our world: The way we talk about something, the words we choose and how we use them in our sentences, they tell us a little bit about the mental models we have on those topics. At the same time, the words we know also influence what we can say.  

Starting with the language is common practice in philosophy, as well as in poetry. When studying ideas, you want to be precise in how you communicate them.

English, along with the other Germanic languages, uses two almost-synonyms for places we could live in: House and home. The former a structure we inhabit, the latter seems to be something more complex.

The way we word things is important, what does it mean to call something a home? 


The most logical way for something to become a home would be to start with a house, since most houses are also homes. But what about the truck driver feeling at home on the road or the surfer feeling most at home close to sea? These are places without houses, yet they feel like home.

Home must then be a feeling, something that isn’t strictly tied to the structure of a house. And since it is a feeling, something that you do instead of something that just statically exists, we should look at it from the perspective of a verb instead of a noun. 

Buildings are built to house people, but inhabiting something is not the same as living there: Schools, stadiums and offices are buildings, but they are not homes.

German philosopher Heidegger writes about dwelling, according to him an innate aspect of humanity. This way of thinking opens up the notion of ‘home’ by twisting it around. We don’t dwell in houses that we built, we build those houses because we dwell. Verbs instead of nouns. Home isn’t tacked onto house, the house is built because there was a need for a home.  We are dwellers first, builders second: we build because we dwell and not the other way around. Dwelling doesn’t derive from having access to a house (place for dwelling), the house (having built it) derives from the need to dwell. 

Home precedes house. 


However as much as dwelling is a verb, the noun-ness of home stays relevant. Houses are a closed-of space, they consist of an outside and an inside world separated by walls. Visitors need to be invited in before they enter: A home exists within a boundary. 

Bachelard, in his Poetics of Space, mentions the capacity for dreaming that is created through the privacy of the home: “the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace’’. Because of the stability provided by the home, having somewhere to return to, the mind is able to wander freely. 

A similar process is seen in the work of Loulou João who uses her own work as this safe space to operate from. Her work questions what it means to feel at home – in society. Art can feel like home when it operates as a home. Paradoxically: stability creates freedom. When you have something stable, something familiar that is yours to return to, you gain freedom to explore and return – to take risks. 


Another factor in stability is habit, routines. We build our homes to care for all our needs, and over time they become extensions of our bodies. You are able to navigate to the kitchen to grab yourself a glass of water, even at night, even without thinking. The doorknob, the five steps down the hallway, the position of the light switches – these spatial relations are known to your body, without involving your mind. 

You can see this in practice in the film by Douwe Dijkstra, who recorded cherished objects in the hands of their owners. There is an ease in the way the hands move, handling the objects that are so familiar to them. 

We don’t think about it, because this knowledge is experienced as given facts: The body knows the exact dimensions and weight of your favourite object, the body knows the distance to the couch and sits down trusting it will be there, the body knows how the shower needs to warm up and waits exactly 25 seconds before stepping in. Our homes are familiar to our bodies as our actual bodies are familiar to ourselves. 

These habits, routines, ways of relating to our homes are carried over, adjusted, changed and carried with us throughout our lives. From this follows that “making ourselves at home” is more about the ways we are than the actual space. Replicating home rituals, starting our day with a cup of coffee, or bringing a book to read after lunch are ways to carve out a sense of home away from home. 

The surreal animations by Min Liu are snippets of daily life. Short fragments of reality are, of course, what makes up daily life and therefore home. The reaction of visitors proved the familiarity, almost everyone could recognize some small detail in one of the videos. This makes sense to me in light of home routines copied from people close to us. All these habits, this unknown knowledge, are things we developed slowly, over time. We copy habits from parents and peers, friends and family: you could line up all humans in the world, and eventually we would circle back to have the last one teaching the first.


Not all research is written down or results in something concrete, philosophy is the science of thinking, and an act of care. The search for an understanding of home, scientifically proof or not, is intertwined with human spirit. I’d like to think that by caring about this question, writing and reading, making and looking at art about it, we are contributing to the search of home, looking into that most important and least recognized need of the human soul.

© Hasse van Leeuwen