I’ve been reading Art and Architecture: A Place Between, by Jane Rendell, who’s a really interesting professor, based at the Barlett (Faculty of the Built Environment, UCL). She comes from an architecture/public art/ art writing background, and is interested in writing’s relationship to art, place and architecture.
Rendell talks about ‘critical theory’ as work that “provides a chance not only to reflect on existing conditions but also to imagine something different – to transform rather than describe.” She goes on to describe various art interventions and pieces which set up a critique (of a place, a social situation or norm, etc) and in doing so start to offer suggestions for new ways of doing things. I am very taken with this notion, that through critique we can transform rather than just talk about what other people are doing.
The introduction charts the history of spatial theory since the 60s and highlights a point in the early 90s when “identity and place became central to discussions of space”. I think this connection between identity and space will be a very relevant one for the In Between project.
I’m wary of making this post too long, but I wanted to quote one piece (and then tell you about an arts piece that really appealed to me).
Roni Horn’s Another Water is a book of images of the surface of water, interspersed with technical accounts of deaths on the Thames, and footnotes which are descriptions in the 1st person by Horn. The project was part of a series of commissions for the River Thames. Talking about it, Rendell says: “Like the Internet, books are public sites accessible to diverse audiences, but not usually regarded as ‘physical’ locations. However, it is important to recognise that these kinds of sites have specific formal limits and material qualities, for example the size and layout of words on a page, and that ‘surfing the net’ as well as reading a book. Horn’s work points towards how different texts, from the empirical account constructed through careful and systematic research to the more poetic reverie, can, by drawing attention to the spatial ways in which we read images and words, main texts and footnotes, produce critical spaces through the act of reading, asking us to question the relation of fact to fiction in the writing of a cultural history of a place.”
I haven’t quite processed this yet, but I’m interested in the connection between text and space, and the idea of reading as a spatial activity.
Finally, a lovely piece by Adam Chodzko called Better Scenery (2000) (you can have a look here). Chodzko installed 2 signs, one in the car park of the 02 shopping centre on Finchley Road, the other in the Arizona desert. Each sign described how to get to the other sign. Both sets of directions ended with the text: “Situated here, in this place, is a sign which describes the location of this sign you have just finished reading.” Rendell uses it to discuss a critique of the idea of ‘off-site’ gallery work, but the thing that grabbed me, was the choice of language and detail used to describe the journey to each sign: “At this point stop and face due east (visible on the horizon are the Roden Crater and the glow of pink rocks in the Painted Desert)” and how this sets up a relationship between two distant spaces and brings one space into the other.