Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Shhh - do not disturb

Apologies for the brief hiatus on the Utterances. I'm currently in the middle of a piece of work looking at the use of space in Chris Orr's 'Road to Damascus' and Wenceslaus Hollar's 'Long View'. It's probably one of the hardest things I've attempted to make sense of since I tried to do something clever like discuss the existence of different kinds of scientific proof (demonstration and argumentation) in Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Yes I know. Remind me to put that one up here at some point.

Anyway I blogged about these two prints previously and was so taken with their connection that I decided to do my first MA course work on them. That was an easy task: writing up a lecture from notes is a straightforward proposition. For this 5000 word academic essay I'm having to actually think about complex ideas about slippery subjects. Like space, for instance.

Please no more books
Space, the final frontier. I can't write that in my essay but I can here and I just have. But I'm asking quite seriously, what is space? And coming up with very woolly answers, depending on the writer's discipline. From geography, geometry, physics to social science, philosophy and art, all have attempted definitions from their own perspective. Perhaps the most clear definition of the nature of space is from urban geographer David Harvey. Whilst he acknowledges its mysteriousness, he says 'if we regard space as absolute it becomes a 'thing in itself' with an existence independent of matter...[but] the view of relative space proposes that it be understood as a relationship between objects which exists only because objects exist and relate to each other'.(1) Therefore the concept of space is best understood in relation to other objects.

So I am finding myself looking at the more interesting aspects of space, how it relates to things and its interdisciplinarity potential. I'm reading about collective memory, cityscapes, spectacle and fantasy, panoramas, trauma, change in land use, London's topography and how bodies interact with the space around them. This is ground breaking stuff because as far as I can tell no one has done this before with these two images. For example, the sheer fantasy and dreamlike world of Orr turns historic London into a fairground of humour which is reflected in the Hollar. On the face of it the Dutch engraving seems very serious, however look closer and you see the entertainment of bear pits, the theatre and a bucolic earthiness of randy horses.

To place both artists firmly in space - and I would say, in a place -  Southwark Cathedral is my point of departure, a veritable genius loci I was fascinated to discover that Hollar has a small memorial in Southwark Cathedral and I went to pay homage and have a natter with a very nice churchman there. Not only that but it was the place where pilgrims embarked on their journey to Canterbury every April, as well as the resting place of Chaucer's friend and poetic rival, John Gower. Everything seems to open up from Southwark like an x marking the spot. I even heard Carol Ann Duffy read her specially commissioned poem in the cathedral, her words will open the essay;

...players, publicans, paupers, politicians, princes,
all to this same, persistent, changing space,
between fire and water, theatre and marketplace;
us, lighting our candles in the calm cathedral,
future ghosts, eating our picnic on a bench.

Throughout all this winds the River Thames, connecting, separating, and allowing all the little ships to make their way into the picture, giving it interest and movement. The river is vital to these two images in many ways but primarily; 1. London isn't London without the Thames, 2. It enables the composition of each image to work, separating the foreground from the background, contrasting the open river space with the busy space either side.

Whether I can pull this off, I don't know. But I've already had help from the librarians from the Royal Academy, a conversation with Chris Orr and read fascinating articles on microhistory, urban history, topography of speculative finance and books such as 'What time is this place'.

Don't even get me started on time...

1. David Harvey, Social justice and the city, (University of Georgia Press, 2009), p13 

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