Sunday, 30 January 2011

Mist fishing in the Atacama

In the driest place on earth people cast nets into the sky, catching water from lost sea mist like strange spiders weaving webs for dew, like sky fisherman or farmers of the unseen - harvesting and milking water though it does not rain. Okay so it's actually just a very clever and practical way of collecting water where it seems there isn't any, but I can't help but romanticise it - mist fishing! Tis too perfect...

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Aunt Aggie's Boneyard

I've been meaning to write about this long vanished place in Lake City Florida for some time, but it's my recent musings on memory and ghosts, and how these things exist around us and how we acknowledge this, that made me think again of Aunt Aggie's Boneyard.

Aunt Aggie built her garden out of animal bones, making trellises and strange structures to create a lot of the shapes familiar in a garden of plants. It was well visited in the early 20th century and people used to come and visit and write their names on the bones. Everything I have read about this place suggests that people were never scared by its macabre strangeness - yes except for one human skull hanging they were all animal bones, and Aunt Aggie was a good Christian which would have comforted some, but I still find it interesting that a garden of bones was a place of delight and rest, not fear. Maybe it was Aunt Aggie's belief and desire to create something beautiful that rubbed off on them - she made visitors bouquets, told stories and fortunes - she had created her own bit of magic and opened it up for the rest of the world.

This makes me think of how the feelings of those who create a place can somehow be absorbed by that place. That like the idea of memories floating all around us, feelings and intentions could work in the same way - inhabit the air with an emotion, good or bad, that we pick up on. I have certainly been in seemingly pretty places that have felt sad and disturbing, yet here is a garden of bones that was calm and delightful - a place for magic and fondness.

I also love how she had a small homemade natural history museum with bottled snakes and alligators amongst other things. Perhaps along with the general fascination with such things, there is an appeal in that this was a personal collection - the whole garden is an archive in a way of one woman's dreams and thoughts, and I think there is an inherent intimate appeal in being let in to such places. As my friends know I am fascinated by monumental versus personal history - in theory as well as in terms of objects and monuments themselves. With a monument we are told represents an important event, our experience of the memories of that event is always mediated by someone's idea of what we should feel about something - it is difficult to have a truly personal experience of it. With something like Aggie's boneyard visitors have access to a personal vision - a monument to real memories (why I think Wilfred Owen's war poetry is a much better monument than the generic war memorials in every English village. Their power is in their words, the names of the dead listed, not the stone structure - if they did not have those names written on them, that personal touch, their power would be diminished) - and I would argue it is these personal monuments that memory really is contained in and is more accessible to all - it can be felt.

So long live eccentric gardens, outsider architecture, personal collections and archives, diaries and all personal visions that could never be created by a mediator. There is a wonderful power in the architecture of homemade.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ghosts deserve art too!

Whilst planning the Car Boot Museum's American debut for this autumn I've become obsessed with the idea of who the audience can be - with a project as flexible and evolving as this who are we creating it for? The plan at the moment is for a tour starting in Nashville and somehow going through New Orleans incorporating house shows, but a huge chunk of it will also be made up of impromptu stops along the way at any place that looks interesting, whether people are present or not. In places where there is no traditional art audience, is it art for its own sake, art for me and Elle, or art for something else entirely...?

I then (obviously... ha!) began to think about memories and ghosts. Both these things always influence my work, but is there a way to make them part of the creative process - my work is often collaborative with strangers - a way I could bring the ghosts and memories into it too to work with us? As we collect and create work to add to the museum as we go could we become almost ghost curators of lost memories? Search out the hidden for the hidden - creatively bring to life things we can never see or prove?

I'm obsessed with the outer realms of physics and its theories of reality. I don't pretend to fully understand them, but I don't think that negates the creative possibilities they open up. One theory states that as information can't be lost, even into a black hole, reality could essentially function as a hologram does, made up of information projected from the edges of space. I know I am hugely simplifying this theory, but if we accept the premise that information can't be lost, and visually think about the idea of a hologram, then in theory all information could be constantly floating around us and for me this includes memories - they are things that have happened - become information in the moment the action occurs that creates them. I like the idea that this could therefore work for people too - we are our experiences to an extent and therefore a collection of information that can't be lost. Could this be a new definition for what a ghost is? I know that this theory was never meant as a justification for the possibility of the existence of ghosts, but the nice thing about interpreting things creatively is that for my purposes it can be. If these ghosts of disembodied memories cannot be lost the logical conclusion is that they are everywhere. Therefore wherever the Car Boot Museum stops, even if there are no people around, there are memory ghosts. I like the idea that they could therefore become our audience, collaborators and co-curators of the places we visit; that we can create work with them, film invisible interactions, bring to visible "life" their memories as we go on our way.

In this way we could also become archaeologists of memories. Archaeologists look for physical artifacts to explain the past through physical activity in digging etc. I ran a creative workshop last year where to discover the past of a school grounds we dug up the back of the playing field. We found many objects that could illustrate the known history of the school - i.e. we found lots of bricks and we knew it was built on an old brick works - but what fascinated me was how we then took these objects and created stories and poems around them and the world that was brought to life by the children became not the known history but their own imaginary interpretation leading to a realm of memories. I have always wanted to discover an unknown ancient creature (preferably a dinosaur due to my general fixation!) and archaeologists constantly get the opportunity to do this, whether it's a new dinosaur like the recent one-fingered veloceraptor relative discovered in China, or the full mammoth skeleton found in November in New Mexico. But could memory function in the same way - can I creatively excavate a place to bring its memories to life, therefore having a chance to discover my own lost world?

My other pet outer physics theory of reality is the sci-fi fave of parallel worlds. It sounds ridiculous, but there are physicists who believe that theoretically every action performed splits reality so that there are an infinite number of different realities functioning at any one time. It's just we can't see them. But part of what fascinates me about this is again the idea that therefore these different realities, and the memories of them that presumably again can't be lost, are existing invisibly all around us. We can never "know" them in the traditional sense of what we expect from reality, i.e. physical experience (unless we are in that other reality, but we wouldn't be conscious of that...), but that doesn't mean that creatively there isn't the opportunity to bring them to life by exploring the hidden memories and stories within a place. Again I am thinking the Car Boot Museum could try and seek them out. I also think this ties with our original thinking about the Mnemosyne Atlas and the physical gaps in the displaying of images that the mind fills in with its own interpretations, I think obviously partly fueled by memory...

So, I am waffling now... but though the parts of the project where we stop in the middle of nowhere might seem empty of collaborators and viewers, I'm pretty sure this is not the case. After all... ghosts deserve art too!

Friday, 14 January 2011

The ruins of Lincoln Beach - dream rollercoasters and the appeal of abandonment

I've been meaning to post on the wonder that is the ruins of Lincoln Beach amusement park near New Orleans, ever since Elle's guidance and my own obsessions led to my spending hours researching it. And then this week, again partly due to the delight that is reading Rebecca Solnit's "A Field Guide to Getting Lost", it seemed like the time to post it.

I have always been obsessed with the magic of ruins - the inherent power of them on an intuitive emotional level that brings them into the realms of the imaginary rather than the physical reality that they are standing before you. I have often thought this could be because they speak of how we perceive our world in dreams - how here is a physical embodiment in our "real" world that actually belongs to the personal realms of how places can be in our dreams. In this way ruined theme parks are particularly powerful for me as their abandonment without demolition somehow speaks of a world of lost memories - a representation of days out we haven't had, a realm of play left for the amusement of ghosts - that these ghosts somehow represent the playing of childhood we have left behind. On a recent school project with six year olds we invented imaginary friends and took these invisible creatures on a day out to the woods. I asked the children to then create what their new friends would like to do on their day out and we immediately began to build rollercoasters of twigs and leaves. It was like these bodiless creatures began to inhabit the making corporeal of what we would rather be doing than being at school - that somehow again there was a magic to theme parks. And when the day was over we left these woodland rollercoasters and fairground rides to decay at their own rate in the woods. Days later the children still talked of what their imaginary friends were doing there - as if these places were taking on a life of their own as entropy pulled them back down to mud and leaf pulp.

In her chapter entitled Abandon, Solnit says:
"A city is built to resemble a conscious mind, a network that can calculate, administrate, manufacture. Ruins become the unconscious of a city, its memory, unknown, darkness, lost lands, and in this truly bring it to life. With ruins a city springs free of its plans into something as intricate as life, something that can be explored but perhaps not mapped. This is the same transmutation spoken of in fairy tales when statues and toys and animals become human, though they come to life and with ruin a city comes to death, but a generative death like the corpse that feeds flowers."

I think there is an inherent danger in the romanticisation of ruins that we forget the damage the decay of a city can wreck on its inhabitants, for example an arguably middle class preoccupation with urban exploring in the economic war zone that is the ruins of contemporary Detroit, but at the same time I think it is impossible to ignore that whatever they symbolise and physically represent, ever since the documentation of intuitive responses to ruins began in the 18th century with the Romantic poets, their appeal as a realm of poetry and dreams is indisputable. I was so pleased to read Solnit's comparison to fairy tales as I think it is in their ability to transmute reality into the realm of communication inherent in our historical folk psyche that their power could lie. That maybe there is something redemptive in how they communicate and that maybe rather than inconsiderate, ruins as a site of exploration and play is where they can become regenerative; where as the inspiration of art and dream-like ways of thinking they can open up a deeper communication between place and the people that create and pass through its memories. I think this can be seen in the playful scribbled interventions bringing lightness to the melancholy of the other photos posted - that the childlike defiance is the true spirit of such a place; is how it would like to be seen to exist now - I don't know... But I certainly think we should not underestimate the importance of the emotion of places - the power of how places make us feel as well as how they exist as a physical entity... I hope that with upcoming travel projects like The Car Boot Museum I will have the opportunity to discover the stories of these abandoned places of distant fun - the ghosts of days out past - for myself...

(Please note these are not my photos - I would of course credit them, but I cannot figure out their original sources!)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Hope lies in getting lost...

I'm currently reading Rebecca Solnit's wonderful "A Field Guide to Getting Lost" whilst ruminating on a current project with primary school children to create an imaginary version of Stoke-on-Trent. I could talk for hours about the flood of ideas its generating and theories of how to create personal transcendental experiences within familiar seemingly limiting environments, how to create hope through imagination in the everyday, but maybe that is for another time. For now it is a passage from Virginia Woolf's "To The Lighthouse" that spoke to me and created today's atmosphere of poignant optimism, so I thought I would write it here to speak elsewhere...:

"For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of - to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless... Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by. Her horizon seemed to her limitless."