21 November 2010

London, Southbank, River Thames, 15 October 2010

A sketch of plans for night-time reflection captured on iPhone between 18:05 and 18:15, inverted, shuffled and layered.  The superimposition of different sequences may be structurally symbolic of a conception of place as containing multiple temporalities.

01 November 2010

Muybridge Mirror Lake

Eadward Muybridge, Rekootoyen (Water Asleep) 
Mirror Lake from the Western Bank, 1867 - inverted.
Thanks to Some Landscapes

04 October 2010

Operation Orange Tree RNLI video

RNLI video of Operation Orange Tree mock rescue, 30 September 2010

29 September 2010

Reflecting Pools

Recent attempts to capture video images reflected in the Thames have been frustrated by a number of factors: dim light on overcast windy days creates a surface that reflects little but the cloud and then that is broken up by ripples; the river is also prone to murkiness when the mud gets churned up, but there is something essential to the nature of the river itself that frustrates the attempts, it is deep and tidal, which means that it is forever a large bulk of water that never stays still.

Recently it was the ninth anniversary of the collapse of the Twin Towers of the New York World Trade Centre. There were reports of relatives of the victims gathering at a 'reflecting pool' at the former site of the towers.  What is a 'reflecting pool'? The answer that Wikipedia gives is that it "is a structure often used in memorials. It generally consists of a shallow pool of water, usually quite calm. A design with edges being slightly deeper than the center of the pool is often used to suppress wave formation."  It seems that there are a number of such things in various places around the world.  We are told that there is one at the Taj Mahal reflecting an image of the mausoleum and at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, US where "behind the basilica sits the famous, yet intimate Grotto - a Marian place of prayer and reflection. It is a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858."

Robert Osborn promises to 'deconstruct' the Lincoln Memorial, but does little to illuminate the intended purpose, meaning or significance of the reflecting pool that reflects both the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

We are also promised that the National September 11 Memorial and Museum will have two reflecting pools on the location where the Twin Towers stood.  If the architect Daniel Libeskind is a 'deconstructivist' as stated and holds to the postmodernist idea of architecture as a language capable of transmitting meaning, his Master Plan would suggest that there is indeed a meaning, a symbolic nature and a purpose to the reflecting pools.

The reflecting pool currently at Ground Zero, however, is provisional and really quite small; on Saturday 11 September 2010 was filled with flowers and, one would imagine, did very little reflecting.

It is perhaps appropriate that in order to deconstruct the idea of the reflecting pool, I have to work from reflection, from deduction based on referents, because I can find little specific or explicit reference stating what the intended purpose of such structures might be. Libeskind himself offers that the memorial site will be "...a quiet, meditative and spiritual space" and "a space of reflection, of meditation", and in the 'Site Program' I found reference to a "Memorial--Reflecting Absence", so there is the idea of both literal and metaphorical reflection embodied in this site of meditation along with the symbolism of the reflection of absence.

The concerns with meditation and reflection sound Buddhist and sure enough we find in the teaching of Dogen Zenji the idea of the reflecting pool representing the duality of form, being and non-being, and used metaphorically as a place for meditation.

Is Bill Viola's The Reflecting Pool linked to Buddhism? Ida Panicelli certainly thinks so: "Bill Viola's video The Reflecting Pool, 1977-79 perfectly summarizes some of the fundamental steps of Buddhist experience: self-inquiry, the negation of the individual ego, the interrelatedness of all human beings and nature... Viola conveys the radical transformation of mind that occurs in the practice of meditation, when the individual ego is purified until it disappears, the aesthetic and the ethical merge, and the void gives rise to innocent and spontaneous action." While Cate Elwes (in Video Art, A Guided Tour) takes the more formal interpretation that it is "reflecting the pictorial landscape painting that employed deep-space perspective anchored to a monocular viewing position." The figure is from another religious fable,"a modern day Adam" in "primal nakedness", while the "compression of different time-frames" producing this "illusory rural view", reveal both the video apparatus and the"artist's subjectivity", and finally at last the metaphysical payoff as the result of all this is to "suggest a harmonious, even spiritual relationship between humanity and nature".  Maria Luis Syring is quite clear about it being "a parable of mystic experience... He has trodden another sphere, a secret strange world of which we, as yet, know nothing". (Bill Viola, Unseen Images, Whitechapel Gallery, 1994) Wow. None of this is terribly surprising, Viola is renowned for his work being variously symbolic, metaphysical, metaphorical and concerned with mysticism.

The cultural construction and resonance of the concept of reflecting pools are then linked to the metaphysical, in art and religion as in symbolic architecture, as memorials they embrace both the deep thought of reflection and the non-thought of meditation. But who or what is reflected?

The idea of the reflection as memorial is reminiscent of Jean Baudrillard's writing in Simulations about the "precession of simulacra" and the "desert of the real" perfectly describing a landscape in which the mirage preceded the image. In Google images of reflecting pools many mirror buildings or monuments: the image, the reflection, but not the thing in itself, it is the simulacra that is the subject of reflection. Perhaps this is the key to its significance, the simultaneous existence of the notions of surface and depth, the simulation and the real, the reflection of absence, a duality of form, being and non-being, the narcissism of reflection, architecture and the memorial.

And so we return to 9/11.  Jarek Kupsc directed and played the lead role in a film about 9/11, The Reflecting Pool, a drama made as a vehicle for raising questions about what actually happened, positing the theory that the Government was responsible and the alleged terrorists were patsies.  The film is actually a rather pedestrian affair, presenting its theories via an investigation of the events by a Russian-American journalist and a father of a 9/11 victim implicates the US government in the attacks and reclaims the revelation of its truths as an act of patriotism, to demonstrate "what they're doing to our country".  Its central theory is that the WTC7 building was rigged for demolition in advance, and by extension so were the Twin Towers, the evidence being the trademark characteristic of sophisticated demolition planning is that the towers fell straight down into their own footprints. What is interesting is that the filmmakers decided to make a fictionalised account rather than a documentary: perhaps to distance the project from the plethora of YouTube 'conspiracy theory' videos and the lack of credibility inspired by their sometimes hysterical hectoring, they opted for a restrained but somewhat cliched dramatic approach. The commentary on the DVD version is full of details of the extensive research that underpins the film, careful to cite real world sources, reports, technical details and so on, describing where dramatised interviews are composites of transcripts of actual interviews, and so on, all to reinforce the veracity of the story.  The WTC reflecting pool is never referred to in the film apart from a brief graphic in the title sequence.  Perhaps the intention is for The Reflecting Pool to be considered to present a reflection of the facts, however in this case whatever 'truth' there is, is more likely to be found out of direct sight, under the surface, and on the DVD commentary.

21 September 2010

London, Wapping Stairs, River Thames, 18 September 2010

London, Wapping Hermitage Moorings, River Thames, 18 September 2010

London, Victoria Embankment, River Thames, 14 September 2010

Last week, while reading about reflecting pools - those static waters of literal and metaphorical reflection [of which more notes imminent] - the reality of the weather in London made the Thames anything but reflective, instead I could only use a polarising filter to shift between its murky churned up mud and the steely monotone of the reflected light from the grey cloud dominated sky.

24 August 2010

Operation Orange Tree

On the 30th September 2010 a major exercise code named ‘ORANGE TREE’ will take place in the Upper Pool from 2030(BST) to approximately 2230(BST), simulating a collision between a commercial non-passenger vessel and a Class V passenger vessel in the area off St Katharine Pier - HMS PRESIDENT. The event may involve the use of smoke.

more here:

12 August 2010

video recce, London, Greenland Dock, 9 August 2010

Here at the west end of Greenland Dock, near Surrey Quays, the water is a little choppy in the steady wind; when the clouds move away and the sun shines the Canary Wharf complex is reflected quite well, albeit abstracted by the water. In future I should consult the weather forecast for the predicted wind speed. Wind speed can become an observable phenomenon contributing to the description of species of spaces and help me to assess good conditions for water video capture.  Should I look for the stillest and most sunny days?

Alternatively, I have also been considering capturing images in London at night, so that the reflections are of lit buildings; I imagine that the lights on the building would reflect quite spectacularly on the water. So Melbourne: diurnal, London: nocturnal, following time zone differences and following a pattern I used in Nightlight, but this time more precisely.

Walking along Cunard Walk on the south side of Greenland Dock, the names of the places are clearly a historical legacy detached from their original significance. What significance is attached to, or detached from, place names around the Docklands in Melbourne?

Greenland Dock is very much private water, containing a residential estate. The choppiness of the water is not helped by the use of it by recreational boating.

Walking around this place I feel as though I’m in an alien environment, as though like Thomas Jerome Newton I’ve fallen to earth, observing these peculiar places and phenomena that I’m finding.  During the day here it’s very quiet, just a few people around, some on the water in their little sailing boats, some sitting around the water, women with children in pushchairs, very little else.  A while ago I heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner in an apartment, and couldn’t help thinking that was probably the cleaner who was in, while the resident is out at work. Where?  Perhaps in the City, or just over there in the Canary Wharf complex that looms on the immediate horizon.

25 April 2010

video recce, Melbourne, Southbank, River Yarra, 5 April 2010 - binaural sound

View towards the central business district at 17:42 - 17:43.

24 April 2010

video recce, Melbourne, Smithfield Road, Kensington, 13 April 2010 - binaural sound

Across a footbridge over the Maribyrnong river, up to Smithfield Road, a small storm water run off canal beside the highway.

video recce, Melbourne, Newells Paddock, Maribyrnong River, 13 April 2010 - binaural sound

Walking further north along the bank of the Maribyrnong the incongruous sight of a Buddhist temple under construction and a giant statue of Guan Yin appears adjacent to the area known as Newells Paddock.  

Beyond the temple a suburban railway line bridge crosses the river.  Under the arches of the bridge shallow water reflects graffiti.

video recce, Melbourne, Footscray Wharf, Maribyrnong River, 13 April 2010 - binaural sound

Starting at Footscray Wharf at 1pm, a notice by the river in front of the Footscray Arts Centre informs with historical photographs and text about the history of the river:

Footscray Wharf. Remnants of an industrial past.  In the 19th Century the Maribyrnong was known as the 'Saltwater River'.  Its west bank was a hub of activity with extensive wharves reflecting the river's importance as an industrial transport route.

The sky is cloudy grey, the river blue grey green: a saltwater river. The medium breeze creates consistent ripples.  The river’s steely surface seems reflective, but in the grey uniform light it is unyielding.  Starfish cling to submerged sections of mooring pole.  Sounds of present industry and its trucks reverberate from across the river, across the Footscray Road bridge, across Hopetoun Bridge...

11 April 2010

video recce, Melbourne, North Wharf, River Yarra/Docklands, 5 April 2010 - binaural sound

Late afternoon (16:00 - 17:30) Closer reflections, detail fragmented, architectural form becomes liquified.  Low wind, low ripples. Binaural sound, some auto-level distortion/dropout due to breeze, headphones recommended.

07 April 2010

video recce, Melbourne, Yarra north bank, 4 April 2010 - binaural sound

This time of the day (17:00 - 17:30) the river becomes quite reflective.  Low wind, mild ripples. First capture with binaural microphones - headphones recommended.

05 April 2010

video recce, Moonee Ponds Creek, 3 April 2010

Late afternoon, by Macaulay station then walking south, beneath the elevated City Link freeway.

Low to medium breeze, low to medium ripples.

04 April 2010

Towards a nomenclature of water

Having never read it, but having long been aware of its existence and perhaps pertinence to this and other of my projects, before I left London I bought a copy of Species of Spaces and Other Pieces by Georges Perec.  It is a wonderful book, full of Perec’s observations of otherwise unremarkable places and suggestions as to how to explore, examine and describe them.

I have noted in Species of Spaces correlations with his interests in formal concerns and those of some of my own approaches. For example early in the book he quotes Paul Eluard’s Children’s song from Les Deux-Sèvres from Poésie involontaire et poésie intentionelle (itself a title that I’d like to adopt):

In Paris, there is a street;
in that street, there is a house;
in that house, there is a staircase;
on that staircase, there is a room;
in that room, there is a table;
on that table, there is a cloth;
on that cloth, there is a cage;
in that cage, there is a nest;
in that nest, there is a bird.

This bears a close resemblance to the lyric of my song Aroundabout. I have never knowingly read the Eluard poem, and of course it’s possible that, like me, he was influenced by the old traditional English song The Green Grass Grew all Around which was reworked with a fecund twist as The Maypole Song in the film The Wicker Man.

Perec’s descriptions of bedrooms also reminded me of my description of a Brussels hotel room in Direct Language 3.

Of course there is always the anxiety of influence, something that I’ve been conscious of in many forms in developing this project, but also something I’ve decided not to be overly concerned about, and it’s something I’ll deal with in another post.

There is something of a descriptive zoom, or a pan, a cinematic descriptive in Perec’s writing as it shifts focus from the microscopic, the macro view, travelling across space; as he writes: “force yourself to see more flatly”.

There are interesting and often oblique connections to Public Water.  In writing about street numbering conventions Perec discusses the Parisian model where odd numbers are on the left, even on the right, relative to the direction of the street, but then a third determinant being a fixed point that dictates the direction of the ascension of the numbers.

“Streets parallel with the Seine are numbered starting upstream, perpendicular streets starting from the Seine and going away from it (...one might reasonably suppose that analogous solutions have been thought up for other towns).”

Have they?  Well a cursory glance at my wholly inadequate street map of Melbourne suggests that this might be the case in relation to the River Yarra, but the map is not detailed enough to be definitive.  If it is the case, what is the meaning of this numerical grid placed upon the physical grid that Hoddle superimposed on this township in the distant colony in the middle of the nineteenth century: a persisting, perhaps permanent marker of colonialism?

Perec suggests that  “...rather than visit London, stay at home, in the chimney corner, and read the irreplaceable information supplied by Baedecker (1907 edition): ...If one is in the vicinity of London Bridge, one should take advantage of every available moment to visit the port and its environs, the ships arriving or departing and the enormous traffic in the docks.  For those wishing to enjoy a grand spectacle, unique in the world, the excursion to Gravesend is especially recommended.”

Perec quoting from Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino: “... so the world and space seemed to be the mirror one of the other both minutely stored in heiroglyphs and ideograms, and in each of them could equally well be or not be a sign: ...one scratch out of eight hundred thousand on the creosoted wall between two docks in Melbourne...”.  I am looking for that scratch.

Listings. Typology. Perec is concerned with species of spaces, categories of observations, I am concerned with categories of water as public space, and I have looked in vain for a way of categorising ‘species of water’, beyond the purely generic (“creek”, “canal”, “river”, etc) in terms of describing types of waves in order to standardise observations relating to the same conditions in various places, other than the likes of “calm”, “choppy”, “flowing”, “tidal”, etc.  Maybe this nomenclature is enough for my purposes; conventional sources tend to range from the ultra-scientific, physics-based descriptions of waves and particles, etc, to surfing vernacular.  Perhaps there are better terms, maybe meteorological ones, but I’ve yet to find them.

03 April 2010

video recce, Melbourne Docklands, 1 April 2010

Starting at Waterfront City ferry terminal, around the boardwalk with calm water protected from the wind below. Out in Victoria Harbour the medium breeze makes the water more choppy: medium ripple. 
I buy a chocolate chip and vanilla ice cream: single cone, two scoops.  
Continuing northeast along the promenade, the medium ripple waters reflect the Docklands buildings.

25 March 2010

Yarra River, Melbourne, 26 March 2010

email to John

Dear John,

I want to thank you for your interest in my work and to point you in the direction of this blog, which I am using to develop ideas for the exhibition project.  The (working) title for the show is Public Water, it will be a multi-projection and sound installation, at least that’s how I’m currently thinking of realising it.  Things are very much in process though so it’s perfectly possible that it will change quite a bit by the time it’s exhibited, which should be sometime later this year.

The initial ideas come from thinking around public space, something that has been much contested recently; notions of what constitutes ‘public’ space have become shifting, provisional, and contingent.  In the aftermath of the 7/7 bombs in London (and I guess by extension of 9/11) there has been a distinct change in the way urban ‘public’ space has been policed.  To qualify, ‘public’ space is defined as space to which the public is freely admitted, however we know that this space is often not strictly speaking public or publicly owned, it is often in private ownership and as such subject to the dictates of private security companies and their guards.  An example of this in London is Canary Wharf.  In addition to the ambiguity that surrounds what is or isn’t permitted in private public space, there has been a change in the way that public public space is policed, and the law allows for the apprehension of, for example, photographers who might be thought to be behaving in a ‘suspicious manner’.  Press reports about photographers being apprehended have appeared regularly and there has become something of a movement against this. This is in addition to, in London at least, a continuing increase in the amount and number of CCTV.  The sum total of this is an ongoing increase in the surveillance and apprehension of people in public and private, public space for behaviour no more sinister than taking snapshots, or simply being in a certain place at a certain time.  This increasing paranoia has resulted in a culture, not of safety, but of inculcated fear.  This is well documented and unpacked, particularly in books such as Anna Minton’s Ground Control.

With this as the background against which contemporary ideas around the nature and the reproduction of images of public space circulate, it seemed to me interesting to speculate about how one might conceptualise around the notion of Public Water, considered here as large bodies of water in physical urban environs, so rivers, canals, bays, lakes in parks, and so on.  On one hand I was thinking, in quasi-legalistic terms, about what is the status of water, urban water, as public space, where does it fit in the regime of what is or isn’t public space being, as it is, in the public realm but, presumably, in terms of property, owned by, or at least under the authority of, somebody, or some body.  On the other hand, more imaginatively and conceptually, what does it mean to create images, photographs, moving images, of urban water, specifically urban space and architecture reflected in water?  There is, in the security driven world described above, the implicit question, not of what one is photographing, but where one is photographing, in other words the question is not about representation, but of the nature of space.  This begs the question though, if where, why not of what?  Why is there an objection to taking a photograph here, if there isn’t an objection to the subject of photography? 

While I’m not interested in the work becoming overtly about these political/legal questions, they are informing its development as the background to how one negotiates the reproduction of images in urban space.  So when one takes a photograph of water, one is also photographing whatever the water is reflecting if it is indeed reflecting something, and the question then becomes about the status of the reflection as a subject for photography when water becomes a reflective medium of the reproduction of an image.

Water as public space, water as a medium.

In the way that my own personal connections link experiences of Melbourne and London as urban spaces that are familiar to me, in the way that Figuring Landscapes links Australian and UK artists’ landscape works, so I’m drawn to considering the two places, the two cities, in this work, constructed from the thinking around, and producing images of, Public Water in London and Melbourne; eventually I hope it to be exhibited in both places.

The function of this blog is to work through the ideas and sketches for the work as I develop it.  There is something interesting to me about making this ‘sketch book’ public.  Unlike some artists, I’ve always rather shied away from the practice of showing the notes and sketches associated with realised works, however in this case it seems appropriate, an interesting thing to do, making the process transparent and documenting interesting ideas and diversions that might not necessarily make it as far as the final work.  Also, whether anybody is reading it or not, the blog becomes a kind of public commitment to the work.

I’m now in Melbourne and starting to cast around for particular sites to visit and to capture video and audio, and to describe in text.  In earlier posts to this blog I’ve experimented with ways of writing, descriptive writing which is also in some ways ‘poetic’, influenced by Barthes idea of Writing Degree Zero and the poetry of Francis Ponge.  This involves careful use of language and in particular metre, which determines how the text might be spoken, if I choose the option of using a recorded voice over reading.  This is something I’ve explored in other recent work such as Aboriginal Myths of South London.

No doubt the very different meanings of water will inform the work in some way, which is to say the significance of water is quite different in Australia where drought is a familiar condition, but at the moment I’m concentrating on the Species of Spaces, as Perec would have it.  I’m particularly interested in contemporary transformations of Docklands in both places, in both their transformation from spaces of industrial labour to mostly exclusive residential use and leisure activity, and their connection of the two places through colonialism and trade.  So here in Melbourne these will probably be the first places I’ll be exploring.  The results of my research, no doubt will be posted to the blog.

07 March 2010

Earlier works around water

Periscope 180° super 8/1992 
At sea when it began: three months of water, and then down the west coast of Australia, nowhere else to go.  Three months of water and now a land-locked mast.  A western setting sun.  By the wharf, down at the docks, the pipes, the pipes are calling another aching load… and every day after that I went to the beach. 

Pools Between Land super 8 - video/1990
Still water, pooling water, not spilt like on land, collects in depression.

m-dot.report video/1991
… residents of the village of Elwood and other areas around Post Philip Bay, Melbourne, Australia, reported seeing a flying object hovering at about 250 metres above the water, 500 metres offshore at Point Ormond. 

As we drove north up the eastern side of the Island we came across the rusting hulk of a ship wreck; one of the more accessible of many such wrecks dotted around the Australian coastline.

03 March 2010

Canary Wharf E14, 1 March 2010

Preliminary observations at Canary Wharf.

In spite of the number
and amount
of areas of public water

(which is
not so public)

photographing buildings
in the once quays and docks
proved difficult

in particular the central and iconic One Canada Square.

Rippled reflection
perhaps caused
as it is today
by the wind

is the best that can be managed.

In a way


symbolic in its rippledness
of the critical aversion to representational imagery in photography

(as promulgated by religions such as Islam, Presbyterianism, Structural/Materialism and Homeland Security).

Perhaps the best view would be reflected
in the public waters of the Thames
[next stop Canada Water].

Clustered buildings at ground level
a view of the buildings
only as unfeasibly towering
adjacent structures
denying visual purchase on architecture.

As determined plan forms
to optimise the flow of traffic
human and vehicular.

The distant view
the view visible from all over London
(designed to be)
the most impressive.

And then
back in Bermondsey
as Jamaica Road recedes into the distance
on the closest we have to a horizon here

there it is




16 February 2010

Reflections on reflections on water

In most cities there are large bodies of water. 

In London there is the River Thames
there are lakes in parks
the Serpentine in Hyde Park
numerous canals
Regent’s Canal.

In Melbourne there are also canals
unlike those in London
are constructed primarily for storm water drainage.

Not for transport.

In Melbourne there are the rivers Yarra
a fresh water river
and Maribyrnong
a salt water river.
There is Port Philip Bay
into which both rivers flow.

Public Water.

The idea of urban bodies of water as public space.

But what is ‘public’ about bodies of water? 

Urban space can be public
loose space
but it is often
pseudo public
it is often
private space
where photography and filming is not allowed
without permission.

This has increased
with fear of terrorism
and photography in public space
can attract police attention.

What is the status of urban water? 

What is the nature
of the ownership of water
fluid public space
never twice stepped in.

Transport and Recreation.

Reflections on water
when photographed
what is the image?

Reflection is an image
water is a medium
and a lens
(albeit distorting).

Will the security guards at Canary Wharf allow me to photograph the buildings as reflected in the water?

The Hungry Miles - WWFFU

The Hungry Miles is a documentary made by Norma Disher, Keith Gow and Jock Levy for the (Australian) Waterside Workers' Federation Film Unit in 1955.

The Waterside Workers' Federation Film Unit [...] crossed the two intentions of 'art' and 'message' in a way which remains well worth study today. Its film-makers, harnessing the formal innovations of the new documentary, spoke for a group not other- wise represented in the mainstream media, engaging in cinema as a form of direct action mirroring the industrial and political campaigns which provided the content of some of their films.

The unit, with their Kombi, screened films in the traditional waterside communities of Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst and Surry Hills. They went further afield, to Melbourne, and to the Newcastle, Hunter Valley and Wollongong dockside and mining areas. The films were bought by other unions, community groups, libraries and government departments, won prizes locally and overseas, and were to be found on the programs of film society and festival screenings throughout Australia.

from ‘The Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit: the forgotten frontier of the fifties’ by Martha Ansara and Lisa Milner

12 February 2010