I’ve decided to only blog my final project report, to view the full paper, including contextualisation and plans for future development. CLICK HERE
THE D.N.A OF SPACE
I have always been fascinated by the human race, the society we have created, and how we position ourselves within this man made world. The concept of identity has always been important within my work, and my practice throughout this MA has focused on how we identify, or fail to identify with spaces that exist as a consequence of society, the urban space. I began to research what contributes to our understanding and identifying of a place, and discovered its antithesis, the non-place. The writings of French anthropologist Marc Augé on the relationship between place and space acted as the foundation from which to base my research upon. According to Augé:
‘If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which can not be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place’
Augé observed that spaces such as motorways, hotels, airports and supermarkets all embodied a new transience perpetuated by the onset of supermodernity. Augé argued that these spaces affected us in ways previously un-experienced, placing new demands on the individual and our levels of observation. He writes:
The plurality of places, the demands it makes on the powers of observation and description (the impossibility of seeing everything or saying everything), and the resulting feeling of ‘disorientation’ causes a break or discontinuity between the spectator-traveller and the space of the landscape he is contemplating or rushing through. This prevents him from perceiving it as a place, from being fully present in it.’
I based my proposal upon these observations. The challenge then become to locate the personal within these non-spaces, to find the landscapes true identity, to question conventional attitudes towards them and to understand how they affect us, and also how we affect them.
One of my objectives was to look at a selection of non-places that had the most relevance to me (these being the motorway, underground and the supermarket) with the intention eventually focusing on just one. Through a process my project eventually focused solely on the motorway as a space.
With regards to how this particular non-space affects the individual; I found that the speed in which we travel through the motorway contributes greatly towards the conventional attitude that many of us have towards it, which is one of boredom and repetition. On the motorway our senses are fragmented, where the sights, tastes, smells and sounds are reduced to a two-dimensional view through a car windscreen. As we accelerate through the space means we are always in a state of distraction, having to deal with a barrage of visual stimuli. Augé supports this when he wrote:
‘Space, as a frequentation of places rather than place stem in effect from the double movement; the traveller’s movement, of course, but also a parallel movement of the landscape which he catches only in partial glimpses, as a series of ‘snapshots’ piled hurriedly into his memory and, literally, recomposed in the account he gives to them.’
In many ways the motorway exemplifies how we experience our modern world, which is as one of accelerated movement buffeted by a constant flow of people and information where everyday experience is increasingly about a fast-paced flow of imagery. This led me to question that because of this accelerated experience, we have we learned to overlook the subtlety and detail of the landscape? And what consequences does this have on how we may identify with the space?
Our relationship with the motorway is transient and temporary, and like our experience of it, many examples of identity within this space also appear to be transient. Examples could be as fleeting as a bag that blows through and away from the trees that stand on the roadside, or the last dregs of a coffee cup emptied out of a car window temporarily staining the asphalt. No matter how slight, our movement through this space creates events, and these events all contribute to the landscapes complex identity.
The next contributing factor is time. Like all spaces, the motorway is shaped by the time we spend within it, every event that occurs within this landscape originates from an individuals act of journey through it, as this process is repeated, the space becomes shaped by the accumulation of events we advertently, or inadvertently impact upon it. Whether it be the cracks and marks within the white lines that segregate the flow of traffic, or the exhaust fumes from our cars slowly staining the undersides of the bypasses, we still affect it, and these events all manifest themselves within the space constantly reshaping its identity.
Finally, the combination of time plus events allows for a narrative to develop. Michel de Certeau (whose writings Augé draws upon for the basis of his own argument) highlights the importance of narratives that ceaselessly ‘transforms places into spaces and spaces into places’
‘There follows, naturally a distinction between ‘doing’ and ‘seeing’, observable in everyday language which by turn suggests a picture (‘there is…’) and organises movements (‘you go in, you cross, you turn…’)
This results in the authorisation of a journey narrative, which is compatible with the double necessity of ‘doing’ and ‘seeing’‘….histories of journeys and actions are punctuated by the mention of the places resulting from them or authorising them’ Through this process spaces become authorised as places, this makes it possible for us to identify with them as we attempt to relate to the narratives that define them historically, or as places of memory
Narratives are an important element for the comprehension a space yet I have found that the narratives non-places generate does not conform to this conventional process as defined by Certeau. The non-place creates a new type of narrative, an almost silent narrative, one that is ephemeral and like our experience of it, is in a sense, a transient one. The identity of this space can be found within the accumulation of subtle changes resulting from our collective presence within it. It may be that because of how we conventionally experience the motorway, in continuous transience as we travel at speed in our vehicles, we, as Augé observed, are never truly within it, physically and also mentally. We fail to relate to the space because it is not on our agenda to do so, we have little intention to recollect our experience of it and therefore fail to see the changes that are the result of our own actions, and because of this the spaces true identity becomes lost, it is not acknowledged by us, therefore not authorised and consequently never exists.
Maybe that why I am writing now, as an artist, to bring my observations to the attention of others, for there is an identity within this space that is comprehendible, it’s just that it defies conventional understanding of how we relate to space. I can see why people chose to visit places that have been shaped by history and are rich in literal narratives, for there is something to relate too, events to comprehend that happened there once in time, but for me there is something more poignant about discovering something within a space that would have otherwise been lost. It becomes more personal to you, something you can keep just for you, and for that I find these anonymous zones more challenging and compelling than spaces that have been previously defined by guidebooks and journey narratives now ready for our consumption.