History lessons revisited.
‘So as historians .............. we are interested in finding out how things have stayed the same and how things are different ........’
That snippet of didacticism might have been lurking at the back of my mind as I began devising an installation for Waltham Forest Arts Club’s residency in one of the shop-units at Wood Street Indoor Market. How has the market changed since Tuesday 13th December 2011 when Jay Gort and others entertained a throng of interested market punters looking for low cost commercial, urban and/or cultural niches?
Let’s fast forward via an array of bespoke Waltham Forest Arts Club manifestations to the end of May and the installation of ‘Carriage’. In ‘Carriage’, the Arts Club pop up gallery (pug) was presented as a locked and blacked out space that murkily reflected the surroundings. For most of the week that was the limited presence or role of the club within the indoor market community. Residents and visitors might have wondered about the substance of the darkness behind the glass. Could it have been solid or hollow? A brief inspection by those interested enough could have discovered the all too apparent limits of the creator’s dark craft in the overlapping planes of porous high intensity black card swelling, warping and separating in the ambience of the inside out retail environment. The papery darkness was not seamless.
Carriage, pug, wafc, oppallery and altham orest rts allery clumsily signified some purpose to the imperfect isolation of the gallery interior. They were intended to elicit a rational conjecture that something could be happening behind the inky fibrous membrane. Doesn’t nature abhor a vacuum? If nothing was happening inside surely would not the gallery have been crushed in on itself by the force of omnipotent abhorrence? Perhaps, in the minds of some passersby, that collapse is precisely what had become of the gallery as a misappropriated retail opportunity. Was the whole installation exterior an excessively daubed sign, so much so the paper/glass was over saturated and so any significance was erased by the technically flawed pitch? I tried to sell darkness that was so obviously not.
While lining the gallery interior with the flimsy sheets I compared myself fancifully to artists who have occupied the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Would and could I even scrape the surface of the apotheosis of installed darkness as conjured by Miroslaw Balka, or caste a box as eloquently, numerously and as numinous as those of Rachel Whiteread? No! Not a pin prick of that hope for darkness and gravitas existed in the brightest most intense reaches of my arch art fantasy.
Carriage was and is an exploration of the nature of collective memory, specifically the history of a retail space. I contrived a ritual by which to venture into the historical material; for the private view, a period of one and a half hours on 31st May 2012, visitors could only enter the interior space alone. From the moment Carriage was accomplished it literally carried only one passenger at any time. What sort of collective coherency could be achieved by that condition? The exploration of Carriage as a performance ended at c. 7.50pm on 31st May 2012, when 3 persons entered the space and closed the gallery door behind them.
As Field Study’s Man in E17, I presented a digital video short of one of the private visits to Carriage; my own and thus I think I have violated the privacy less. It is necessary for artists to try and separate themselves from the knowing of their work and to try and lose or find themselves in the points of views of unknowing others; to maintain unfamiliarity. The creative territory of the art is the space between the what, why and how of knowing and not knowing. A tool for illuminating the threshold can be the question, ‘What if...?’
I know I installed a playback/audio-recording in Carriage, of the meeting held at the market on 13th December 2011. To truly enter the space as an art work requires an effort; some imaginative energy to forget that and ask what if it were something else. What is making it something else and challenging the received notion of it? This may be an imperative for the author of a work however it might equally apply to another entering into it. That 46 minute recording was a historical document predominantly featuring the oratory of Jay Gort as he set out to promote Wood Street Indoor Market’s place in the regeneration of Wood Street via ‘Inside Out’ and the Outer London Fund. By May 2012 how had Wood Street Indoor Market stayed the same and how was it different?
In the course of the ritualised private views the reception of that 46 minute historical continuity can only be assumed. I will tell an untruth by saying the opening and closing of the door acted as a switch turning on and turning off the playback. If the door wasn’t a switch there would be another problem to solve in terms of retrieving some coherent historical consciousness; playback gaps as well as listening gaps.
The digital video excerpt belies the poor quality of darkness achieved within Carriage. The darkness lacked profundity and more so in the case of my ‘unprivate’ viewing which was polluting due to frivolous play with a torch. In between the ‘frivols’, authentic light seeped in via all manner of oversights, underestimations, assumptions and ineptitudes. The result was a more crepuscular than opaque interior. It was as if in the wishfully thought darkness of this ‘spaceshop’ my eyes were black holes drawing in slits and pricks of uninvited light. Ghosts of Wood St Indoor Market past spoke with the orbiting ghosts of Wood St Indoor Market present. It is strange that to ‘overlook’ is not to see/notice, but to ‘overhear’ is to hear/notice even if secretly or accidently. Some of the challenges to the knowing of the installation are the possibilities of in-authenticity and the assumptions implicit in them. How could I discern the voices and other sounds of the visually obscured past and present? Were there murmurs, whispers and shuffles from the present that segued into the past as if that is where they truly belonged and vice (and voice) versa? Could that have been the liminality of Carriage; the past and present being indeterminate within the context of discrete ritualised private views that collectively expressed solidarity, by the artists, the arts club, the market and others less apparent?
Was the principle voice that of a ghost of indoor market futures eternally trying to convince people from the depths of the other darkness’s to come? Was it a muffled voice from a rarely to be opened cupboard or draw, a susurration from a futuristic ventilation duct, a replicant mousey pitter-patter from a crumbled cavity wall, a viral click from an obsolete but still very collectable memory stick? I thought of the voice(s) as signals or transmissions which will never stop travelling so long as there is space of some sort (a dark carriage perhaps) and, in so doing, they will continually make history as they never arrive anywhere and the destinations are always to be confirmed. Are we there yet?
When I emerged from my bunkum and bilge laden ponderosity I found myself in the domain of the Archipelago of Truth, placed between the warsistic and the warsisistic. The possibility of new departures in pursuit of other convincing shades of outer London fun, past and present, presented itself. Of course, if I found a shade I would need a box to put it in, as proof evident, except that there is the paradoxical problem of having to open the box and Field Study's Man in E17 wants to avoid having to be convincing.