Nail House 钉子户

A multimedia installation by Yuanyang Bao (Visual Communication Design, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou), Simona Bischof (Art Education, Zurich University of the Arts), Xiaoli Liu (Intermedia Art, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou), Nikolai Eneas Prawdzic (Dramaturgy/Theatre, Zurich University of the Arts), Sir Meng Yau (Fine Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts)


When does an object turn into a symbol? When does a story turn into a myth? When does a place manage to inspire people to be inconvenient, to find a voice and to take action? And most importantly, where does one find these places?

One place to look to would be a nail house. A nail house is a neologism used in China to refer to homes that belong to residents who are reluctant to move in order to create space for real estate development. The residents are referred to as ‘stubborn nails’. Despite their refusal, real estate development continues anyways. As a result, their houses are left uniquely standing out, and hence referred to as ‘nail houses’.

A couple of years ago the city of Zurich thought about “importing” a nail house as a symbol of resistance. Ironically, there already was a house at Turbinenstrasse where the residents stubbornly tried to resist the gentrification process of the area. What binds those ideas or narratives together? Is there a common way to resist? And can we still find traces of those stories in what is left behind on site?

How does one construct the so called reality or truth?


We tried to tackle our site and topics with the mindset of a research team, of archeologists trying to lure out the narratives hidden in the remains of the site. So we tried to value each stick and stone found, every shred that may or may not lead us to our collective story. We also took quite a liberal approach towards the truth. Being fully aware that events in history are very much shaped by those who tell the story we asked ourselves how we as story tellers would interact with and interpret our findings.

For instance, one storyline developed around the finding of seashells in a place where the closest shoreline is miles and miles away. How did these shells end up on a pile of rocks in Zürich? Was there an ancient cult worshipping a strange sea goddess involved? Did someone bring them over from a holiday? What images do they draw up and what narratives can we learn from them? What are the people in the streets able to tell us about them? Do they buy our stories? Do they add to them or dismiss them as fables?


When do these artefacts start to communicate with each other? How much space is there to fill for us with a narrative?

Curiosity drove us on. Wanting to unravel the tale of the site the five of us went through different processes of searching and constructing the (un)spoken history of the place and the myth surrounding it.

Since we all went into our research with different training and background the methods and findings varied massively from researcher to researcher thus creating a kaleidoscopic, multi-faceted view of the site.

We went through a lot of mind mapping, showing each other different references and interests. We soon found that each of us brought a lot of opinions, ideas and material to the table, which was a curse as well as a blessing. On one hand there was so much we could draw from, on the other hand we struggled to keep on finding links and common grounds within the individual snippets.

Result/State of play

House of resistance ended up to be a multimedia installation that tried to focus on showing different narratives simultaneously. A room in which these different artefacts could whisper their stories but the polyphonic truth would be hard to decipher for the audience. A place where one needs to decide for oneself which statements to trust and which narratives to construct. A space that invites each and every one who visits to take action in actively constructing his or her own version of the story. A site to explore, to question and to wonder.

Photo by Claudio Rainolter

It was important for us to never show the actual house in Zurich or an actual nail house in China. Instead we tried to circle the topic, showing the audience flashes of our house of resistance  instead of putting it in the flashlight.

These various snippets were arranged in a way so that people would be invited as well as forced to move in the installation, trying to find a perspective where what they were looking at would come together to make sense at this moment. The different stories were fleeting, moving out of ones grasp as soon as you tried to put your finger on them.

The overlapping of sound, video, drawings and objects added to a sense of disorientation in which holding on to one story, one truth or even one train of thought proved to be difficult. Wading through these streams of half truths each spectator was forced to decide for him or herself how far he or she was willing to follow their individual narrative or be swallowed by the many whispers and voices of other relicts.

Photos by Claudio Rainolter