Sunday, 5 June 2011

a field student of tables and SSSSi's

A dry wind raked over an increasingly parched Walthamstow Marsh yesterday. The ditch water, if that is what it is, alongside Coppermill Lane has evaporated to reveal a grey green alluvial sludge littered with discarded cans and bottles, remnants of other indifferent thirsts quenched.
Field Study’s Man in E17 emerged from the mud to make a foray into the nature of the Archipelago of Truth, to assess the impact of The Table on the Marsh and it’s part, purportedly (?), as one of the tendrils of modern leisure and property development’s mission creep into this wildlife reserve or haven.
Walthamstow Marsh (including Coppermill Fields) has been a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) since the 1980s - a designation deserved in part due to the presence of adders tongue fern. Technomist, of the Archipelago, asserts there is increasingly a lack of an s for sensitivity in the management of this place. ‘The Table …’ is, according to Technomist, totemic of the insensitivity - a gimmick simply meant to appease the green arty set. The table is, as I understand his commentary, on a par with destructive lawn-mowing/habitat destruction, and, via other links (the comments following the October 2010 post about the table), artfully (?) fly tipped ('dumped') household goods and furniture. The presence of public art is frequently inappropriate, merely ephemeral ornamentation, indicative of the domestication of the environment - as if the marshes are just a back yard or garden.
Iain Sinclair wrote,

Without the Lea Valley, East London would be unendurable. Victoria Park, the Lea, the Thames: tame country, old brown gods. They preserve our sanity. (London Orbital, p.40)
How effectively The Lea Valley Regional Park Authority is caring for our collective sanity is a matter, in Technomist’s mind, of national importance - especially given the indifference of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in his distancing from the disputed Essex Wharf development - a matter of environmental neglect and abuse in which various local politicians are implicated or perhaps complicit. Technomist implores, support the Lea Valley Park in standing up to such insanity masquerading as ‘development’.
Is the Table on the Marsh capable of bearing the load of this psychogeographic context? Yesterday the underused perception of the table remained true but for the state of the ground around it. Perhaps the ground was well trodden by processions to the table or has it just been mown? Grasses were growing long and high into and around the spaces of the table suggesting not so many feet have come to rest at it. This growth may continue and consume the table. Close to the table there are patches of scorched ground - worryingly so given the increasingly dry state of the field and marsh. The table is not just the material presence but also the behaviour or conduct it attracts. The absence of people sitting at the table gives it an incongruous theatrical presence - perhaps making it an abandoned prop from some sort of performance. I think this is a problem for smaller groups using the table as it imposes a theatrical spectacle on those sitting at it, who become players/actors. Despite the choice of material, the methods of joinery and the anthropological research, I have doubts about the design of the table overall as a convivial space or site. I have attended and enjoyed events at the table however I have been uncomfortable with the authoritarian presence of the chairs at each end - they suggest or exert hierarchy and confrontation. The ostentation of the arrangement akin to a medieval feast or banquet is alienating albeit with a sense of humour and irony. I like the idea of a table or tables on Coppermill Fields, tables which are sympathetic to the environment and express inclusive ethics of community, celebrating its diversity of customs and beliefs. I respect the well intentioned energy of the work and disagree with Technomist about the appeasement and its part in a creeping mission. I believe The Table on the Marsh would be better situated in one of the municipal parks - Springfield Park or St James Park for instance. I think there could be more creatively ambiguous ways that tables might be interpreted to create convivial spaces on Coppermill Fields. In some ways these happen anyway in the way of picnics (communal chomping on liminal cheese sandwiches), ephemeral gatherings which improvise according to needs and don’t need such a stark formal presence or provision.

Coppermill Fields/The Table on the Marsh, 4th June 2011 

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