25 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.

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