Wednesday, 31 August 2011

a field student of good intentions

As Field Study’s Man in E17, I have selected ‘my’ spots for a spot to spot art adventure; perhaps a veritable odyssey of good intentions.

Here is the fantasy selection to be formed into an E17 art experience:

2, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 19, 21, 22, 24, 30, 31, 42,


 47, 51, 62, 60, 59, 57, 67, 66, 73, 76, 80, 148


 149, 137, 138, 109, 111, 105, 103, 97, 100,


 153, 154, 156, 81

Field Study’s Man in E17 has been in training to develop his stamina for this art endurance event - namely, the ‘fortyoneathon’.  

Saturday, 27 August 2011

a field student of doors

As Field Study’s Man in E17, I have been looking at (pictures of) ‘The Gates of Paradise’, while waiting with my 5 or more humble senses preparing to embark upon the E17 Art Trail 2011. How did I arrive at this phantasmagorical 16th century Florentine threshold?
Following a discussion earlier in the week I had cause to anticipate some of the boundaries of the trail and assess the risks of straying into and beyond the blurs. Our discussion posited differences between art and craft and a dialogue exploring the relationship of art to craft ensued. We speculated many artists do not make their artworks with their own hands; they employ studio/workshop assistants. Bridget Riley was cited as a fine artist/painter who does not paint all the paintings created and exhibited in her name.
This artistic mode of production is not new. Artists have for a long time run studios and workshops which employ a variety of skilled designers, craftspeople, artisans, engineers, technicians, researchers … and so on according to the manner of the art. This creative workforce produces according to ‘thee’ artist’s direction and vision.
In this system the artist is the mind and the artisanal workforce the hands - the latter, Animal laborens, in service of the former (and for some, superior), Homo faber.
Why is Homo faber considered superior? According to Richard Sennett, one of his teachers, Hannah Arendt, believed the mass productivity of the 20th century resulted in mass destruction and annihilation as a consequence of Animal laborens lacking the guidance of Homo faber. Sennett sets out in ‘The Craftsman’ to promote the misunderstood Animal laborens as Homo fabers compassionate and benevolent multi-intelligent guide. A well practised cultural materialism will qualify Animal laborens for this new role.
What of the trail of E17’s cultural materialism when the gates of paradise swing open? Will we be jostling for the definitive creative pole positions? I assume most of the contributors to the trail enjoy making via the myriad processes contemporary culture offers. On show will be a culmination of diverse handiwork, a collective intelligence inviting similar and different intelligences to appreciate it. On what terms will the offers, invitations and appreciations be made? Of course I am not saying the materiality of culture is predominantly reliant on handicraft unless I were to make a tenuous link or lineage between the pleasures of hand held smart devices of recent and not so recent times.
Photographs in their diverse material forms may represent a (slightly tongue in cheek) celebration of the capabilities of the index finger (at the moment of capture/exposure). Which leading photographers e.g. develop/print their photographs? How are (or can) photographers be involved in the production process? A photograph may signify social skills and experience necessary to set up the photographic moment; the photograph being a memento of many skilful interactions. Could we say the darkroom technicians are craftspeople who provide the artist photographer with a choice of images; the artistic role being to choose the best vision of a particular moment - a matter of heightened sensibility and connoisseurship?
I might accept someone presenting themselves as an artist not having made/manipulated the artwork - or, even, not having made an artwork at all - as far as e.g. a proposal or design constitutes an art work not made. Artists have adopted such epithets as ‘celebration consultants’ (Pierre Huyghe) in an attempt to subvert the constraints of materiality.
I am less likely to accept someone identifying themselves as a craftsperson - even artist-craftsperson - if they show things in their name they have not made, at least even once. There might be ways around this suspiciously deep puddle of categories and definitions. Tanya Harrod comments on craft, saying:
‘it’s changeable, slippery identity is, as usual a good barometer of current anxieties, hopes and confusions about modernity and our place in a world over which we apparently have little control’
If I slip on a piece of craft while out and about on the trail, who could I blame? Who would be responsible?  Harking back to the bedtime reading of my art and craft student days, it was Ernst Gombrich and his ‘The Story of Art’, which offered some insights into relationships between art and craft. Gombrich’s rationale and historical perspective on their distinctiveness was based, in part, on the work of Lorenzo Ghiberti. Ghiberti (& co) created two sets of doors for the Florence Baptistery which took more than half a century (15th/16th) to complete.
The first set of doors was, according to Gombrich, a craft work. The artisanal work imitated the processes and products of a tradition which in turn they sought to perfect.
The second set, (The Gates of Paradise) 27 years in the making, was an art work in that it broke with tradition, no longer imitational, but experimental, expressing progressive and original ideas and forms.
Gombrich has been criticised for his peculiar 20th century bias and perpetuation of a myth of art and craft that projected the dilemmas of that time onto the past. What else could he do? The construct of mind and matter, and the ideological implications, persists. What Field Study’s Man in E17 wants to know is, if the definition or resolution of the gates on the other side of paradise are blurry/blurred, will it be an immateriality through which he can exit without opening - in the event of an emergency?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

a field student of a husk of hares

you have seen this hare

Plodding and plotting the ways of the foot, Julian Beere as Field Study's Man in E17 will contribute a series of actions, or 'field studies', carried out inbetween visits to fellow exhibitors and their exhibitions during the E17 Art Trail 2011. The field studies are intended to be part of a mapping process by which Field Study's Man in E17 will lose himself in Walthamstow, E17, E10 and elsewhere.

The purpose of this errancy is a search or prospect for fiction and it's underlying patterns here, locally and further afield.

The programme of actions will be announced via Lost and Found in E17 ( and via the community noticeboard, Here Local Further Afield, at the Hornbeam Cafe, Hoe Street.

The field studies will encompass a variety of practices, including beekeeping (for honey), fruit and vegetable growing and foraging, involvement in local community organisations, walking and cycling, mark making, digital arts and blogging.

Some of the outcomes of the actions/interactions will be collected, documented and contributed to the journals and reports of artist collective, Field Study International, curated by David Dellafiora.

a field student of tongue in cheek communiques

For the E17 Art Trail Blog - here

Field Studies in Progress - Spot 148 (Events and Performances)

1. Please tell us about the work you will be showing in the 2011 E17 Art Trail. Did you respond to this year’s theme “On Your Marks”? What impact do you think the Olympics will have on E17? 
Last and quite possibly least in the art trail guide is, Field Study’s Man in E17, aka Julian Beere, of Lost and Found in E17 obscurity. He is in the process of preparing a series of actions or ‘field studies’ as part of his plotting and plodding the ways of the foot in E17.
The field studies involve a variety of mark making processes constituting what might be spurious research into the psycho geography of the area - a 1:1 mapping or survey in readiness for the 2012 Olympic gold rush and after.
It is likely there will be more visitors to Walthamstow some of whom will be lost or close to being lost. The prospect of getting really lost in Walthamstow via certain counter cultural Situationist art strategies appeared promising until, distressingly, news arrived of ‘neighbourhoodists’ who will greet and guide visitors. What has happened to the joys of not knowing where you are or where you are going, Field Study’s Man in E17 implores?

2. What challenges (if any) did you face in realising this work? 
There is the constant challenge of maintaining a sufficient and appropriate sense of fantasy, pretence, delusion and lack of direction in the field studies in the build up to the games.

3. What do you like about E17 and why? Is there anything you would change about the area? 
Some places in Walthamstow smell fantastically; they have really hummed. Field Study’s Man in E17 has been working on an olfactory training programme that will enable him to guide (for those who insist on being guided) visitors to the enhanced fragrances of and about the town. He looks forward to the day when a complete stranger approaches him and says, take me to the best smell in town. Julian Beere has just quipped the only visitors are in your head. There may be some truth in that.
Fewer cars and better driving would improve the area a great deal. More people walking at night looking up at the stars and the aeroplane lights.

4. Who and/or what inspires you? 
People with ideas, energy, creativity and determination to make them happen - Cris, Laura and Morag of Artillery and the E17 Art Trail are among them. There is also the motley crew of Organiclea and Hornbeam - heroes of the ultra local vegetable scene. Can Field Study’s Man in E17 say he is inspired by them? To say yes to ‘inspired’ may be undue flattery on his part - admiration and respect absolutely.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
Field Study’s Man in E17 advises all aspiring artists to keep aspiring. 

Sunday, 21 August 2011

a field student of paths to 2012

As Field Study’s Man in E17 I am, like it or not, on the road, canal, footpath, cycle-path (and other byways) to 2012, a year increasingly synonymous with the Olympic Games especially so as I live in East London where the greater part of this sporting and cultural gold rush will be played out. The interesting times of late have not made making sense of this prospect any easier.  Getting the right answers to reach an oasis of solipsistic calm may be an accomplishment akin to winning a fool’s gold medal. For the most part I am looking forward to the 2012 Olympic Games with a sense of dread mainly founded on doubts about London’s transport system to cope with the influx of games goers - officials, participants and spectators. I have, perhaps foolishly, entertained suspicions that Transport for London, the Olympic Delivery Authority and other agencies have a nefarious (as in wicked) interest in cultivating such a sense of misgiving in order to deter use and so achieve a desired reduction in the normal use of the transport system during the games. My job, one of the principle ‘things’ which keep me socially enfranchised, involves working out and about on the streets. I am not permitted to divulge much detail as to the work I do as this is commercially sensitive and there is also a possibility of my biting a hand which feeds me if I assert a current and distinctly iconoclastic position on the Olympics.

Back in 2005 I did however join in several demonstrations against London’s bid for the 2012 Games. One was a convergence; a flotilla of canal boats on the Lee Navigation near the Bow Back River. The photograph (above) was taken from a bridge forming part of the Bow Interchange. This location is on one of my cycling routes to work and has recently undergone a substantial transformation with the installation of a new bridge which enables cyclists and pedestrians to bypass the Bow Interchange overhead.

If the Olympic bid had been unsuccessful, what would have become of the ongoing Bow Backs redevelopment? I believe some of the objections to the redevelopment of the rivers in that area were that there would be exclusion from them and the Olympics would impose some redevelopment which would undermine or prevent potentially more beneficial developments particularly in relation to the area as a haven of environmental and social diversity. I have lost track of the precise details and findings of Freewheelers investigation into the impending restrictions on cycle routes during the Olympics; based on them I think the current ease of passage may not be so next year. As I understand the spin of Lord Coe and other Olympic figureheads, the inconveniences during the games are the necessary and justifiable price to be paid for the longer term benefits or ‘legacy’. If I find myself incarcerated (ha ha) in traffic grid lock or diverted away from cycle paths onto busy roads I am supposed to look ahead gratefully and any qualms will have been only petty and personal.

The E17 Art Trail this year, with the title, ‘On Your Marks’ is anticipating next year’s Olympic Games perhaps more creatively. It includes some artists who are directly involved in the cultural lead up to the Olympic Games. Katherine Green, along with Mark Burton, will be presenting photographs celebrating the work of local community groups. The details are here. Katherine Green also has an exhibition at View Tube - ‘Road to 2012, A Local Story’, also linked to an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). The photographs may creatively contribute to current debates about society and community and how various constituents are represented. Katherine Green has done a lot to document the marginal and the passing - Wood Street, Walthamstow Dog Stadium e.g. The choice of a local credit union premises for the E17 Art Trail show seems apt in terms of a celebration of localism and the means by which people can participate in more genuinely local social enterprises (e.g. elsewhere in these parts, Organiclea - a workers cooperative I think). It is unlikely there could ever be a definitive view as to how genuinely philanthropic the Olympics are, with all the global corporatism, in relation to the local. Katherine Green’s portraits of young people participating in sport, some in preparation for the Olympics are (going by the promotional postcard/flyer) in stark contrast to the plethora of cctv mug shots following the recent civil disturbances. Perhaps that is a  stereotyping juxtaposition to make? What I wonder is what responsibilities an artist has for the ways in which their images are used or appropriated - as well as the responsibilities the sponsors have in this representation.
If local culture is increasingly directed towards celebrating the Olympics will this constitute a journey to a mirage - ultimately an El Dorado?

Julian Beere is a bronze sponsor of the E17 Art Trail 2011 

Friday, 19 August 2011

a field student of explanations

As Field Study’s Man in E17 I am reporting, with some disappointment, my honey harvest this year is relatively meagre. I and fellow beekeepers managed to harvest c. 65Ib from the two hives/colonies in our apiary. We will have to compare yields from other apiaries to see if there is something peculiar to our beekeeping to explain our poor yield. Last year we harvested nearly 120Ib from one hive in the same allotment apiary; a quite spectacular yield. I can happily report the flavour of this year’s honey is much richer.

This year’s yield split 3 ways gives Field Study’s Man this supply of honey for the coming year.

Some of the jars will be given away as gifts, some kept for my own sweet tooth and the surplus (abiding by allotment rules) sold via Organiclea’s local produce stall at the Hornbeam on Hoe Street. Ru Litherland, sage and wise elder berry of Hawkwood, has recently espoused the conviviality of Organiclea’s genuinely local food stalls.  The honey will go on sale on the first Saturday of the E17 Art Trail. If previous years are anything to go by the honey will sell quickly. I have been told other beekeepers may sell honey from that stall.

The jars of honey will be part of, ‘Field Studies in Progress’, my contribution to ‘Here Local Further Afield’; Hornbeam’s group exhibition for this year’s E17 Art Trail. There might be a beeswax/honeycomb sculpture to see, made by the bees from all the wax capping removed from the honeycomb during the honey extraction. While beekeeping is or has an art in its own right I have been thinking about how and why (other) artists have created art with and about honey and other bee materials. 
Chief among these honey artists is Joseph Beuys. Honey was a principle material in his art works - often expressed in the form of shamanic like performances or rituals. Beuys’ use of honey was informed in part by the anthroposophical ideas of Rudolf Steiner relating to learning, healing and community.

The appearance of the hare in this year’s art trail trope prompted me to think of a particular performance by Joseph Beuys. 

In November 1965 (a month before I was born) Joseph Beuys performed, ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’ at the Schmela Gallery in Dusseldorf. He anointed his head with honey, onto which he stuck gold leaf. Having strapped a piece of iron to one of his booted feet, he cradled a dead hare in his arms and whispered into its ears - ‘explanations’ about a variety of pictures displayed around the gallery. At times he may have walked ‘clunkily’ around the gallery to develop his explanations of the pictures and so develop the dead hares understanding. Twenty years or so later I became aware of this performance and I was (rightly?) baffled, intrigued and perplexed by it. What sort of lunacy could this be? What specious explanations or analysis could be given for the artist’s ‘action’ let alone those given to the hare? Of course I was only there in gestational spirit and never got to witness in the flesh, (honey and gold leaf) any of Joseph Beuys’ live performances. I wish I had.
Some serious international artists of repute have re-enacted Joseph Beuys performances - Marina Abramovic amongst them. It takes a serious and accomplished artist to tackle the ontological and epistemological challenges of dead hare education - certainly a calibre of artistic ability Field Study’s Man in E17 could only pretend to profess. I can however indulge in some artistic pretence at least for the duration of the E17 Art Trail and take on the slightly less daunting task of explaining pictures to a much less dead hare.

As to how Field Study’s Man in E17 will explain the art trail’s forest of media to the hare is a mystery as yet to be unfolded. You are invited.       

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

a field student of inbetweens

As 'Field Study's Man in E17', I took to the squares of Walthamstow Central on Sunday to contribute an art-book making workshop (under the auspices of Waltham Forest Arts Club) to the E17 Art Trail, 'On Your Marks', launch and warm up event. Above are snaps from the event featuring the book making workshop 'station' (manned by Julie Caves, Helen Porter and myself), the drop-in book-making workshop in progress, one of the 'djs' who provided musical accompaniment to the art games and various demonstrations including a bmx painting display. The art trail information hub, had a great many flyers, postcards, posters and leaflets on display. Among the posters is the one (below), designed by Devanyi Parmar, for, 'Here Local Further Afield', a group show in which I am involved. My objectives for the show have changed in the last month as I have decided not to exhibit my sculptural maps/field studies in progress until next year.

Of the many art trail leaflets, posters and cards I was happy to find, this one (below - both sides shown) particularly caught my attention:


As 'Field Study's Man in E17', I try to practise an art of walking as a way of clearing my mind of cluttered thoughts in preparation for a place to stop, stand still (sometimes with my eyes closed) and listen. I have found it easier to listen in places where I can sit as standing still with closed eyes incurs unwelcome self consciousness and a sense of vulnerability. I may present a field report on this aspect of my exploration of Walthamstow.


Saturday, 13 August 2011

a field student of portents

As Field Study's Man in E17, I was lost in the watery margins of Hackney and Waltham Forest looking for a fourth direction. As is the case for a great many there is no 4th direction for me pointing towards the Olympic site. I settled instead for one of the three directions and lost myself further north in a blasted wood. 

Path-side trees bowed over cracking and groaning as they did so and soon there was no path to stray from. Stepping tentatively through a matting of stinging nettles, I found  a clearing into which a single beam of sunlight had similarly strayed. Such comfort as there was to be taken from this fellow trespass was alarmingly  dispelled as a boggle eyed bogle (or was he a Bogamil?) stepped into the clearing.

His voice cracked like the blasted and fallen trees surrounding us. I believe I heard him say:

Hear me, I am older than thou; thou art like to meet with, in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and, in a word, death, and what not! These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many testimonies.
(World, Pilgrims Progress - John Bunyan)

What sort of portent could this be? I thanked him for the warning, turned away and fled, at which point he called out after me:

But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit what I shall soon cease to be - a miserable spectacle of humanity; pitiable to others and intolerable to myself.
(Frankenstein, Mary Shelley) 

I emerged from that fantasy, in St James Park E17, and began a traversal of Walthamstow through the siren filled streets. Guided by smoke shrouded moonlight, I walked in the direction of a huge plume become cloud of dark smoke rising from the northern horizon. The smoke rose from a warehouse inferno of a million and a half compact discs. As the smoke spread across the sky the moon acquired a mysterious corona; a filtered light from which nebulous shadows were cast into the dream time.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

a field student of warm ups

As Field Study’s Man in E17, I have been in conference with the various others of my inner self within the relative safety of Julian Beere’s head quarters; a gathering akin to a comical meeting of The Beano’s, Numskulls - Brainy, Blinky, Radar, Snitch and Cruncher. One of my little people is called, ‘Thicky’; another is called, ‘Silly’. Notwithstanding, our meetings have tried to consider local security issues given the flame lit and window smashed darkness of recent social disorder.
I, or we, intend (along with others) to try and creatively reclaim some local public space from the grim aftermath and memory of a night of wanton and opportunistic thuggery.
The E17 Art Trail will play a part in reaffirming a more benevolent community spirit. I will be contributing to the E17 Art Trail Warm Up with a small artist book making workshop that, if there is the weather and interest, will involve people in various innocent little book making challenges. The Bash Street Kids are welcome (gulp) only if accompanied by their parents. I sat up most of last night fretting about the possibility of them turning up and turning the workshop into a betting scam about the race between the trail’s dog, tortoise and hare. Thicky and his crew had little in the way of reassuring advice to give.
I notice the warm up poster features the book making activity pasted within a paint splat redolent of a map of Iceland; well of course I am duty bound to stick a William Morris reference in by any silly and tenuous means necessary. Via another art trail channel of communication the activity has been referred to as journal making and indeed that might be an appropriate idea for a field student to consider - making art trail log books.
Recently I have been reading, Bruce Chatwin, WHAT AM I DOING HERE. I particularly enjoyed his account of meeting Maria Reiche, ‘who has spent about half her seventy two years in the Peruvian desert surveying the archaeological monument known as the ‘Nazca lines’. The account includes a dip into the overarching theories of Kornelius Wittfogel - principally that of the ‘hydraulic civilisations’ - as well as some analysis of the influence of Reiche’s work on Earth Art (or Land Art) - influence of which she, according to Chatwin, was dismissive and sceptical.  Field Study’s Man in E17 has been studying some of the ways and means of the land artist, Hamish Fulton; a walking artist who did/does not practice the sorts of land art Reiche was sceptical about.
Bruce Chatwin is well known for his use of notebooks for recording his thoughts and experiences. I found this video on Youtube which looks briefly at some of Chatwin’s notebooks and the manner of their use. There is some dispute in the comments about Chatwin’s use of Moleskines. As Field Study’s Man in E17, I will be exploring the use of notebooks in relation to my attempts at a survey of Walthamstow’s public footpaths. These paths may be sung in the guise and manner of a tortoise.  

Saturday, 6 August 2011

a field student of progress

As Field Study’s Man in E17, I have lost myself this week in ‘Heritageshire’ in the hope of finding the true paradise. I have walked and cycled the corridors of internal (or could I say infernal?) combustion and in this progress I have sought relief from the heat of these rivers of road rage in the cool, slow, deep swims of the River Great Ouse. Here my progress is delivered under the similitude of a dream, wherein is discovered the manner of my letting out, my dangerous journey and safe arrival at the desired town of Bedford - a pilgrim to a pilgrim.

I joined 'Christian' for a walk to the feet of John Bunyan - a monument dating back to 1873.

This journey has for some been one of many trials and much tribulation, particularly for the pedestrian where paths have been closed - and dare you transgress!

I pondered the sensitivity of the modern day paths of progress; the relationships between site and safety or safe passage. Perhaps a specially commissioned bronze traffic light would be a more sympathetic and contemporary interactive element in this tribute to the author of one of the most significant works of religious literature. Here Bunyan, looking towards The Celestial City, waits to cross with the red man, known as Patience.

Wait patiently and another, more luminous green man, known as Mr Ready to Halt, will come to assist you in your progress; erring on the side of caution of course.

Fear reigns about such enchanted ground - do not idle on the highway - it is no place to dream. With the aid of Mr Ready to Halt's crutch I crossed and found myself on the threshold of a magical sphere for which there is a key or code to grant access. Sorcery?

Alas this humble pilgrim did not have a smart device with which to venture into the realms of the QR Code. Strange though, I believe I did hear via feint echoes from distant Memoryshire, the voice of Anton Rodgers, of Radio4ham, enact The Pilgrims Progress in feverish tones.

The sculptor was, Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834 - 1890)

The monument was made in the foundry of N Young & Co, London.

An inscription beneath this detail reads:

It had eyes lifted up to heaven
The best of books in his hand
The law of truth was written upon his lips
It stood as if it pleaded with men.

Friday, 5 August 2011

a field student of paradise

As Field Study’s Man in E17, I am currently holidaying in paradise. Paradise, I have heard, ‘is exactly where you are right now only much much better’. I am studying how and why e.g. being in Letchworth Garden City is ‘much much better’ (paradisiacal) than being in Walthamstow. Letchworth like Walthamstow* expresses  some of the homogeneity and pressures of the modern day urban and suburban except Letchworth has a cinema. This deficiency (along with some others) on the part of Walthamstow may, for some, represent a sort of distinctiveness however, as recent demonstrations have shown, there is a popular demand for Walthamstow’s EMD Cinema to reopen and not become a place of worship for the UKCG. I believe some cinemas e.g. Stratford Picturehouse are (or have been) places of worship for congregations of various sorts. Of course many cinemas are multiplexes and so are able to host religious services while opening the other auditoria for the viewing of films. The EMD has one screen/auditorium and so there is a conflict of use and interest there.
As Field Study’s Man in E17, I have mused on the pseudo religious purpose of cinemas/cinema in previous posts and so I am again, following a visit to Letchworth Broadway Cinema, to see, Tree of Life - Terence Mallick’s cinematic hymn to the agony and ecstasy of love and the cosmos. Before bathing in the super nova of Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and other computer generated imagery I happened (by chance?) to visit, paradise; a public sculpture by Bettina Furnée, given as a gift from North Hertfordshire District Council to Letchworth Garden City on the occasion of the latter’s 100th anniversary. It was unveiled on 9th October 2003, by Cllr Howard Marshall. Just across the road from the cinema, the sculpture is a complex site or arrangement of elements which includes a set of 4 ubiquitous street signs presenting a fragmented message which, when read together, form an aphorism, ‘paradise is   a promise     as well as   a memory’. The extent or range of this sculpture come installation is open to interpretation; it remained part of my experience of ‘Tree of Life’ which began with a quote from Job 
in the English Standard Version of the bible:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth …….. when the morning stars sang together?”
Job 38, 4-7, in full, reads:

4.        Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
            Tell me if you have understanding
5.        Who determined its measurements - surely you know!
            or who stretched the line upon it?
6.        On what were its bases sunk,
            or who laid its cornerstone,
7.        when the morning stars sang together
            and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Bettina Furnée’s temple like creation, no doubt built in collaboration with many and various agencies, is, in part, a dedication to the origins of Letchworth Garden City as envisioned by Ebenezer Howard. The cylindrical beams making up the temple are inscribed with diagrams representing the concepts of the garden city. The diagrams appear like mandalas, each an engraved circular geometry which proposes, via a constellation of 7 cities to provide homes, farms, reservoirs, asylums, waterfalls and new forests - all these founded in a radical form of social enterprise. In the scheme, ‘No.7 group of slumless smokeless cities’ there are also areas for homes for waifs and for inebriates, epileptic farms and an insane asylum. These schemata come from Ebenezer Howard's, ‘To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’, which was reprinted in 1902 as,Garden Cities of To-morrow’. When studying for a crafts degree I was required to study the ideas of thinkers who informed the Arts and Crafts Movement. Ebenezer Howard was, with the Garden Cities Movement, allied to William Morris in his disaffection with the modern industrial city. The garden is the fulcrum of this utopian movement.

In this Utopian vision the lives of its inhabitants will be in harmony with the omnipotent turmoil of the microcosmic and macroscomic universes in which (the mother, Mrs O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) in Tree of Life narrated) we have a choice of paths to follow, those of ‘grace’ and/or ‘nature'. Urban planning could make this choice of paths clear. Life, in Howard’s grand scheme, could also be represented by magnetic forces of attraction and repellence - via his ‘3 Magnets’ diagram (also indented in the corner posts of Furnée’s temple/house/sculpture).


Where will they go?

Closing out of nature. Social opportunity.
Isolation of crowds. Places of amusement.
Distance from work. High money wages.
High rents & prices. Chances of employment.
Excessive hours. Army of unemployed.
Fogs and droughts. Costly drainage.
Foul air. Murky sky. Well-lit streets.
Slums & gin palaces. Palatial edifices.

Lack of society. Beauty of nature.
Hands out of work. Land lying idle.
Trespassers beware. Wood, meadow, forest.
Long hours, low wages. Fresh air. Low rents.
Lack of drainage. Abundance of water.
Lack of amusement. Bright sunshine.
No public spirit. Need for reform.
Crowded dwellings. Deserted villages.

Beauty of nature. Social opportunity.
Fields and parks of easy access.
Low rents, high wages.
Low rates, plenty to do.
Low prices, no sweating.
Field for enterprise, flow of capital.
Pure air and water, good drainage.
Bright homes & gardens, no smoke, no slums.

Freedom. Co-operation.

(source: Wikipedia)

Where were Mallick’s O’Briens? I witnessed their melodramas and psychodramas in the landscape of a 1950s American Dream. Sometimes the dreamy vision of blissful domesticity, maternity and motherhood seemed overdone and verged on parody and pastiche. All this was projected in a suburbia verging on the bucolic and pastoral - while the patriarch marched through the midst of a humongous steel constructed industrial plant.  The inevitable paternal/patriarchal dysfunction, witnessed during a dinner table scene and through the peeping eyes and trespass of young Jack, came via more subtly rendered contexts. How can this dramatic landscape be understood in terms of the Utopian ‘Town-Country’ magnet? Some of the intricacies and intimacies of their lives were, perhaps, the product of grand plans devised (‘conferenced’) in crystalline uber modernist heaven scraping towers - the contemporary likes of which we witnessed Older Jack (Penn) in, going through an existential (mid-life?) crisis. If this conjecture has some sort of vacuous abhorrence, then there are the interstellar forces of nature to comprehend, if not to reconcile with our (or rather my) insignificance within.     

I stepped out of the Broadway Cinema, inebriated by Mallick’s vision and felt tempted to emulate the playful pretend drunken walks of the film’s brothers. I faltered down the steps and along the pavement towards my bicycle. I looked towards ‘paradise’ and saw an ominously cast shadow towering from it, up a nearby wall. I recalled the bare ground within the space of the ‘temple’ and imagined sacrificial rites performed there, intended to appease the gods of town planning and so made haste lest I, a pilgrim to public art, should acquire sacrificial significance. 

* - this link is included as it touches on the subject of the various causes by which people move or are moved away from London to towns in the Home Counties.