Like Höller, Odenbach came to art from another field, after studying architecture and art history. By the time they met, Odenbach was established as a leading video artist, a “major pioneer,” as Stuart Comer, the curator of film at Tate Modern, describes him. Odenbach belongs to an international network of artists whose work critiques the media, consumer culture, and sexual politics. Among them are various members of General Idea who became friends with Odenbach and made the flag that now flies outside the house.
One of the things Odenbach and Höller share is a long-standing fascination with Africa. Some of Odenbach’s relatives had lived in Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and he grew up listening to stories about their life there. “As a kid,” says Odenbach, “when anyone asked me what I wanted to do when I was older, I’d always say that I wanted to go to Africa as a discoverer.” Höller spent his childhood in Brussels flanked by neighbors on both sides who had lived in Congo. He was intrigued by the African artifacts he saw in their homes and in the nearby Royal Museum for Central Africa. Both he and Odenbach had traveled throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and in 1999 they visited Ghana together, staying at the Biriwa Beach Hotel, run by Claudia Kleinebudde. “One evening we were saying how wonderful it would be to have a house nearby, and Claudia said, ‘Well, you could buy that land and build one over there,’ ” recalls Odenbach. “That’s how this crazy idea started.”
Anyone who chooses to construct a holiday home in Africa would be well advised to do so in Ghana—for the same reasons that President Obama chose to go there in 2009 on his first official visit to sub-Saharan Africa. A robust democracy with an expanding economy and enviable natural resources, including oil off the coast, Ghana is a visually stunning country whose people pride themselves on their friendliness. Not that it’s exactly easy for foreigners to operate there: Freaky weather, gridlocked roads, and a labyrinthine legal system are just a few of the problems. “Ghana is friendlier and quieter than other African countries,” notes Höller. “But it is still Africa—very much so.”
So much so that once they decided to build there, it took years to complete the byzantine process of securing the property—land then owned by the village, although the only people using it were local fishermen checking their lobster nets. Then Höller and Odenbach realized they could not start work on the house unless they constructed a road for shipping the equipment and materials to the site—and they couldn’t do that without buying the land on which the road would be built. The surrounding land had never been measured and is so steep that there were several false starts before a viable route was found. “One day the guy building the road took us out into the scrub to show us where it would go,” Höller recalls. “It was the middle of the day. We didn’t have any water. We were climbing through the bushes in our flip-flops. You have no idea what we looked like—complete idiots, really.”