‘Quarter’ from Roman cosmological ordering – street crossing axes: cardo (north-south) and decumanus (east-west).
“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream…”
Wordsworth, ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’.
The tree rows align to the cousin meadow, only slightly distant, over the paddock or the concrete apron of the industrial estate with roads leading nowhere. The hedgerows, not high like the heaped haystacks or indeed the mighty hedgerows of the chequer-board midlands, rich in agrarian life, but levelled and boxed so that a pavement-stalker may review the bay window set above the wavering eyeline of hedge tops.
Where are we then? This is not the Agragarian, or the English pastoral of Traherne or Thomas. Where is this ‘tamed’ countryside that is in its turn tamed wilderness?
We call it Suburbia.
Passing the ‘Quadrants’ and fenced geometries of mown grass, unlike the park’s tall palings; these, shin-high picket-irons distance the suburb-walker from the swath, a place without human occupation, but a pleasure garden for dogs. Or perhaps, instead of railings, a wee hedge.
We are permitted only to gaze at a scissored nature, a montage, perhaps of our favourite locus ameonus (a pleasant spot), “a garden of delight”, but not of usefulness…” (Thacker 1979 p.10).
In Berlin the great Prussian forest is duplicated, or should I say preserved, in the street plan, where, every now and then an encompassed sector is marked off from the city’s thoroughfares.
What is the purpose of this cut-and-pasted countryside? A view of nature in our artificial realm to lift our hearts?
I think, more a distancing, for it is “… what people do in a space that make the space into a place” (Mayer Spivak, Architectural Forum 1973, p.44) quoted in Thwaites and Simkins, xxiii)?
And yet nothing goes on here. It is then, perhaps, something to do with reverence. An idea of the sacred.
It is through poetry that we perhaps get close to the truth. As Heidegger says: “…poetry brings us back to the concrete things, uncovering the meanings inherent in the life-world.” (Quoted in Norberg-Schulz, p.10).
So, to uncover my fascination for these spaces here are two quotes from the poet John Burnside:
“A space becomes magical when we realise it cannot be occupied. It is for passing through, and, in being so, it reminds us that to pass through is to become holy in the true sense of the word.”
From Scalpel, by John Burnside, 6th Stanza, p.15.
“Holiness is the opposite of occupation.”
From Scalpel, by John Burnside, 16th stanza p.16.
* * *
Norberg-Schulz, C. (1980) Genius loci : towards a phenomenology of architecture. Rizzoli.
Shaw, G., Bracewell, M., Burnside, J., Ikon Gallery, Newlyn Art Gallery, and Dundee Contemporary Arts (Art Center), (2003). What I did this summer. Dundee Contemporary Arts.
Thacker, C. (1979) The history of gardens. 1st edn. London: Croom Helm.
Thwaites, K. and Simkins, I. (2007) Experiential landscape : an approach to people, place, and space. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
[This text accompanied the installation Match Flags in the Jetty exhibition, 15th February, 2018]
Midweek on the playing field. A boy stands alone on the touchline. Peter Hook’s baseline abounds. Miserable synthesiser. Drizzle.
Welcome to the eighties, not nineties, football depression. Comprehensive greyness. Netball bibs for boys. Markings. Only if available. Otherwise you lot go skins. In the ice rain.
What do they mean? What do they tell? Speak Memory palimpsest!
(c) Edward Bruce, February 2018.