Church Hill, E17 2nd February 2013
Field Study's Man in E17 found me in rather a glum mood yesterday. I explained to the field student how an incident at 'home' involving a door damper had escalated into a full scale psychic conflict of a sort only veterans of housing of multiple occupation would understand or be familiar with. I think you need to get out of this singular preoccupation, he said, and thus insisted we go out for a walk. He might have had a point; was I actually enjoying the psycho-dramas playing out in my thoughts? I followed him grudgingly and after a few moments we stood at the top of Church Hill and were awe struck by the John Martin-esque setting of the sun at the lower end of Walthamstow High Street.
Field Study's Man in E17 started singing 'Walthamstow Sunset' which is/was a rendition of 'Waterloo Sunset' with 'Waterloo' substituted for 'Walthamstow'. While there was no verse in Ray Davies' great London song that could not take Walthamstow instead of Waterloo, I found the well intended effort to cheer me up just a horrid cack-mouthed ear worm of a gesture and so plugged myself in to my electronic gizmo, at which point Field Study's Man in E17 vanished from my sight and/or site. The first song to bore its way into my toxic cranial cavity was Laurie Anderson's, 'Over the River'. What an odd coincidence that was.
I went to the library to see if there was a 'dvd' of Stanley Kubrick's, Paths of Glory. I was told the library did not have the director's (personal) copy of that film, nor, for that matter, any other copy of the aforementioned film. I broke out in a cold sweat at the imminence of an apostrophic nightmare in the retelling of this story and so sought out 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation !', Lynne Truss. Damn! Every copy in the borough was on loan!
I walked back up Church Hill still pestered by the worminess of the field student's sunset song. While walking I also felt I was dragging the domestic difficulties as if they were rendered or materialised as big lumps of plaster of paris or even concrete. Once back in the house and home I reached for my copy of, 'The Art of Rachel Whiteread', published by Thames and Hudson. I had an idea this learned collection of analyses and interpretations would help me better understand the nature and complexities of domestic atmospheres you can cut with a knife or, depending on the possible variety of materials and their densities, other, more appropriate cutting tools.
I turned to Chapter Two, and began reading, 'Matters Immaterial, On the Meaning of Houses and the Things Inside Them', (Shelley Hornstein). I did my best to comprehend the analyses of RW's works but I struggled to get to grips with the elaborate intricacies Hornstein made between sites, substances and sensibilities.
I attempted to explore the essay by using something personally relevant as a sort of critical 'scope'. In this case it was the door damper. A door damper makes the act of pushing a door open heavier, harder, more resistant; it requires more force. What if you didn't know the damper was there? What could explain the unusual or additional force/effort required to open the door? One cause or explanation I thought of was an increase in the 'materiality' of the air/atmosphere within a space/room behind the door. Rachel Whiteread goes the whole way and makes the spaces of the rooms solid and impenetrable or 'repellant'. Of course there could be other explanations or causes; e.g. the door could be very heavy, you/I could be very weak. What if you/I thought of 20 different reasons (fictitious or factual) why a door requires more effort to open? Would this be an example of 'forcing a trajectory of thought' concerning rooms you cannot get into? I thought doors and trajectories was a pertinent connection to make. Field Study's Man in E17 just walked through the door as if it were nothing. Of course, he is not as hard core as Rachel Whiteread and thus does not achieve such monumental, weighty and uncanny results. The field student's 20 different reasons got progressively paranormal and disturbing so I left him alone while I took another look at the damper and reckoned that creating a caste of a room which has a 'dampered-door' would be a very exacting technical feat, so much so that the damper would probably be better removed and all the bodged screw holes realized in uncanny relief instead for posterity.
My favourite sentence in the essay is,
'We could say that virtuality has shaped city life in novel ways that alter the dimensional comprehension of propinquity'. (p.61)
I really enjoyed the way my mouth and lips were stretched and otherwise exercised by the latter part of the statement, and that 'propinquity' found me reaching for a dictionary. The sentence, in my mind, cries out for a 'discuss' - which of course the author goes some way towards doing, before concluding this trajectory of thought with a notion that House 'seems to harness virtual energy'. Well, House was and perhaps the memory of it still is something close to what it was but what is virtual energy?
I very much wanted to visit House during what turned out to be, sadly, a relatively brief residency on Grove Road near Mile End, back in 1993/94. I recall some of the media hoo-ha and one of my first responses (to the art work) was, I wish I'd thought of that. I didn't make it to the much decried installation. House has continued to haunt me over the nearly 20 years since it's weighty manifestation and hysterical removal from that part of the East End. According to the essay cited above, the artist looked for houses in several north and east London neighbourhoods and sometimes I have wondered if Walthamstow/Waltham Forest was among them and if such a work had been created 'here' would the reaction have been any different?
Field Study's Man in E17 found me lost to the peculiarity of a little ornamental intervention featured in the image below. He whispered softly, 'ah, innwendig' to which I replied snarkily, 'unnwendig'.
a piece of barbed wire emanating from the wall
Reference - The Art of Rachel Whiteread, edited by Chris Townsend, published by Thames & Hudson 2004.
- Chapter Two, 'Matters Immaterial, On the Meaning of Houses and the Things Inside Them', - Shelley Hornstein.