Saturday, 26 January 2013

Field Study's Man in E17 rambles in the nether regions of Walthamstow

When not wandering around Walthamstow/E17 studying, if not getting completely lost up his nether orifice, 'Field Study's Man in E17' has been known to take an interest in less insular matters and to look to the experiences and accomplishments of others to broaden his Walthamstow view. So in the last 8 (at the time of writing) days I have looked for the field student, with the guarded hope he has resumed such outward looking activities as attending talks and meetings, with particular relevance to Walthamstow.


Before I list the events attended I feel compelled to say this diligent 'activated spectatorship' (to use contemporary art jargon) is not without considerable risk when it comes to 'Field Study's Man in E17'; his propensity for asking damn awful questions when it comes to the Q&A part of an artist talk is remarkable. 'Remarkable'? That conceit is what he tried to convince me of. 'Nobody asked such a bad question as I did', he told me as we left a discussion between Iain Sinclair and Rachel Whiteread, that was a part of the 'Psycho Buildings' exhibition programme at the Hayward Gallery in 2008.


I recorded the discussion (for personal study/use) and when I played the recording back I had to agree with the field student that the question was indeed diabolical. 'Listen to that', he cried with laughter. 'I am easily the worst 'questioneer' in the world. Call me, 'Thee Crap Questioneer'', he bragged. I was mortified to think that 'Field Study's Man in E17' was sabotaging arts events with deliberately bad questions and decided to refrain from further similar participatory actions in the field. That decision was made before the schism that finds 'Lost and Found in E17' and 'Field Study's Man in E17' in search of each other, or at least the former in search of the latter, and not least because the latter can really be an 'arse'.


Before I list the events attended I feel compelled to say something about the question the field student put to Rachel Whiteread way back in 2008. That encounter has weighed heavily on my mind ever since. Unfortunately, 'Field Study's Man in E17' had been reading, 'Playing and Reality' (D. W. Winnicott) and was particularly taken by Chapter 4, 'Creative Activity and the Search for the Self'. DWW asserts,


'(i)f the artist (in whatever medium) is searching for the self, then it can be said in all probability there is some failure for that artist in the field of general creative living. The finished creation never heals the underlying lack of sense of self.'


The field student waited patiently, with mounting trepidation, well into the audience/panel Q&A session before he grasped the microphone and lobbed a very poorly formed question, (based on Winnicott's assertion) at the eminent artist. The question was edged with a sense of assertion, even an accusation that, in his mind, Rachel Whiteread may have demonstrated failure in the field of general creative living. What did he mean? The question was crass and (some might say euphemistically?) ‘excremental’. There was no genuine reason to suppose and/or assert Rachel Whiteread’s creativity in her public art work did not extend into her field of general living and really, if it did or didn’t it was (and is) none of my business. Playing the question back caused me hot flushes of embarrassment. How could you, Field Study’s Man in E17, how could you? I should really rub your nose in it. 

I tried to excuse the crassness of the question by recalling an interview with John Tusa in which Rachel Whiteread spoke of personal/family experiences and how she expressed them through her sculpture – or understood something of the experiences through the sculptures. The division of public and private was blurred though not sufficiently to make that disparaging assertion about a prominent artist’s creative life as a whole.


Rachel Whiteread’s work has often embodied (paradoxically) relationships between private and public, interior and exterior, material and immaterial; those binary divisions assumed in order to make everyday life less perplexing. Asserting that artists are persons who search; what is/was it that RW searched for in the process of solidifying the nether spaces of household furnishings? During the Psycho Building conversation, Field Study’s Man in E17 thought the lost subject of Whiteread’s search was the reverie she experienced as a child while sitting in cupboards/wardrobes and similar poetic spaces. Why would that search be indicative of a failure of general creative living?


What particular relevance could RW have to Walthamstow? Field Study’s Man in E17 has reported on intrepid archaeological adventures partaken beneath his bed and this leads to 2 examples of RW’s work, Untitled (Amber Double Bed) and Untitled (Amber Bed), which see the nether spaces of 2 beds solidified in rubber and high density foam, and the resulting objects slumped against walls just like abandoned mattresses. Of course, Walthamstow is a prime destination for connoisseurs of sublimely dumped mattresses (once very private and intimate places) thanks to the work of the Walthamstow Tourist Board. The field student is fascinated by the map-like stains – topographies of his sublime perhaps? It may be a cheap reference to make to the high art of RW, however the artist has acknowledged the importance of the phenomenon of urban discard and detritus in her work.


Back in January 2013 and it has become a matter of urgency that I try to reconnect with ‘Field Study’s Man in E17’ not least as a way of trying to contain his potentially rank interrogations. Yesterday I attempted to look for the field student under my bed and quite alarmingly I found myself repelled and projected away by a rubbery mass. It seems the field student has resorted to artistic means to avoid ‘reconnection’.


So after that circuitous ramble the list of the events attended:


On 15th January I picked up a trail, pointed to by the Archipelago of Truth, that lead to Walthamstow Central Library and there I found Clive Bloom (‘an historian of disturbance’) in the company of some Waltham Forest Young Advisors for a panel talk and audience discussion about the 2011 Riots and related issues. The field student asked CB how strained relations between central government, the media and the police might have affected the policing of the riots. I’m trying to locate the report from the errant field student. On Sunday 20th January he left a message he had buried the report in the middle of Walthamstow Marsh. I believed him and went looking for it!


On 21st January I pursued Field Study’s Man in E17 towards Tottenham Marsh and found myself/the field student at the Ferry Boat Inn, in the company of East London Beekeepers. It was a very convivial and informative evening; an occasion when the field student could ask stupid questions about the limits of his beekeeping knowledge, and be advised most sympathetically and expertly. A discussion about dowsing and ley lines in relation to beekeeping certainly animated the field student’s eyebrows and before I knew it he was off with his rods and quickly found one of the reservoirs. How many times have I told you, Field Study’s Man in E17, you must use waterproof ink for your reports?


On 23rd January I squeezed into the Hornbeam Cafe where close on 40 people had gathered to listen to a couple, Naomi and Pip, give an account of their ‘WWOOF-ing’ journey around the southwest country and Wales last year. Their rural bicycle rides took them to a diversity of organic farms, gardens and communities. At each they were provided with food, shelter and a growing awareness of alternatives to large scale industrial horticulture and agriculture – partly in return for their labour, energy, enthusiasm and experience – all of which are worthy of a field report although Field Study’s Man in E17 may not be the reporter for the job for reasons that may be all too apparent.

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