Thursday, 8 September 2011

a field student of definitive maps

As Field Study's Man in E17 I resumed my search for the definitively blank map of Walthamstow; a search for which there has been a protracted hiatus. Today, yesterday, 10 years ago, I wish and I doubt (anticipating the historical relevance of my endeavours) I affixed an E17 Art Trail '148' badge to my cap and proceeded to Sycamore House, home of the London Borough of Waltham Forest's planning department, to peruse, by appointment, the conceptually artful un-spaces of Walthamstow. The badge, I assert, qualifies this action as an art action. As Field Study's Man in E17, I believe E17's footpaths - public rights of way - may be understood as 'unspaces'. I confess I am afflicted by contemporary art's infatuation with the 'un-' an obscure authority that lurks in the labyrinths of art criticism and interpretation.

On the way to Sycamore House I was pointed in the direction of Jorge Luis Borges who, the pointer claims, has mastered the craft of conceptual manipulation. Under the influence of Borges, and his pointing admirer, would I be guided to an ineffable core of a story worth telling? Ineffable indeed if I had stopped writing at the question mark; sadly this is a tale of an effable core. While in 'The Aleph', Borges' mind floundered at the prospect of translating into words the limitless, drawing on an age old mystical bird which is all birds, and 'a sphere whose centre is everywhere and circumference is nowhere' for help, Field Study's Man in E17 waited patiently and less mystically at the temporarily vacant Sycamore House reception.

The promise of a definitively blank map, one by which I might, to paraphrase Borges, at one and the same time move east and west, north and south brought with it some anxieties. I kid you not when I say such angst played a part in the design of the motif for these E17 Art Trail field studies. By what other pretences - false or otherwise was I there? Thankfully a receptionist arrived, confirmed my appointment and put into play the day to day procedures of municipal bureaucracy. 

I imagined being escorted into a private room to view the definitive map and that the map would have about it a variety of ceremonies to confirm a sense of importance - or rather, significance. The truth was far removed from the post modern Gothic fantasies I had rendered, the likes of which might be compared to David Lynch's weird soirees. Hold on a minute, were those people speaking English, backwards and in code? Pull yourself together Field Study's Man in E17. I was handed a lever arch file and directed to a small open consultation space to one side of the reception desk.

The mundaneness and banality of bureaucracy had not yet extinguished or dulled the iridescent promise of a blank map, the map which is all maps, the right of way in which are all rights of way. Before opening the receptacle, I paused, closed my eyes, listened, sensed the fragrance of the space, shifted about in the chair to feel comfortable - poised. I envisaged the contents of the file - a collection of immaculately blank and folded sheets, a definitively blank guide to this town, the former home of Nowhere's greatest author.




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