Is this not a wasteland? Zero hours and the zero-gaze

A guest post by Richard Ward, who spoke at the Podium//Zero Hours event (part of Art Sheffield 2013) at Furnace Park yesterday

I’ve had a think, as an ecologist by first qualification, about how I look at the world. In doing so I revisited a piece I wrote for occursus in 2012. That piece explored some tentative thoughts on the interpretation of ideas and realities of wilderness and dereliction.

So often we encounter what I’ll call the ‘zero-gaze’. By this I mean reaching beyond an unseeing in our construction of the world, to consciously explore perspectives and values.

As you approached this space you may have considered the rationale for building a fence around nothing, or the appearance of nothing. A locked gate holding nothing in? Perhaps keeping the wrong something out? A place which might imply the need for explicit permissions in order to be opened to you. Do you, or did you, have preconceptions of the space? Did you embrace the zero hour with the zeroed gaze of an open mind?

Throughout life we encounter anew ‘zero hours’ experiences; undiscovered places. They are territories in the heart and mind that may be full of promise, sometimes bleak and scary. Alternatively, they may simply be new and unexplained, just as light and sound pour into your experiences when you enter the world. We are inquisitive beings and will grow to make our own sense of being even though we live in a world of order, classification and control. We are rarely invited to question, or to interpret. We are invited to accept. To conform. To receive. Notwithstanding, we make and remake the world in ways unique to us as unique individuals experiencing that world. Through art we try to share and to challenge. To open a dialogue. Each dialogue has a starting place. Another zero hour. Perhaps an uncertainty whose resolution we seek. A chance meeting with a stranger who becomes a friend as the dialogical blank slate is gradually filled.

I am deliberately exploring a different kind of zero hours to that of, for example, exploitative employment practices and all the very real ethical and economic uncertainties, that they bring. Tom Morton discusses the echoes of consumption intrinsic to ‘…the odd crisp packet or chocolate bar wrapper blowing among the headstones. These always tell us more than what they once contained’. These then are the windblown husks of consumerism past and passed. In the zero hour you might rehabilitate them as a jetsam collage tangled in a bramble canvass. Through the zero gaze you can embrace disorder, madding jostling and undifferentiated. Perhaps formless rubbish. Nothing? Or something worth talking about from first principles?

So then. Shaping. Re-imagining. Re-birthing spaces and places. The wild. The not wild and the not quite wasteland. We are standing now in a partially tamed and reclaimed space. When the gates opened on Furnace Park we entered into a new dialogue with a space in transition. Coming here today you have a new lens still. There is permission to question.

In Furnace Park the urban landscape yields up transient wilds that challenge us to re-imagine. In these spaces there is a lag-phase between, in human terms, past and future notions of utility. Here we can apply our zero-gaze to help to make sense of places, labels and potential: wasteland; brownfield; contaminated. In societal terms such opened-up spaces might be seen as emblematic loci of decline and decay. They speak of economic failure and the descent into a dereliction, perhaps even non-conformity.

We might seek to rehabilitate the ‘wasteland’, to domesticate the apparent anarchy of less orderly spaces, just as we contest ideological spaces in the construction of rights and the abuse of rights. In clearing and reimagining space we may also unlock potential allowing long buried genetic materials to emerge for its days in the sun. Changing states of being pose questions. Make of them what you will.

Richard Ward, 2013


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