ghosts of buildings past

Today I went for a walk around the top end of Nether Edge, around Brincliffe and Psalter Lane. It has been at least 2 years since I last walked past the site where my campus used to be. Now the site is empty. All that is left is the library building, everything else is gone. The site is fenced and locked, the library boarded up. No signs indicate what was there before.

Whenever you move to a new house, you always leave places behind more or less full of memories, images from the time when you inhabited the space. The same with other buildings where you spent long periods of time: your school, university. I don’t have many images from my kindergarten in Galicia. I have never revisited it, I don’t know if it stills exists. But since I don’t know, the few vague memories I have got still have a physical place where they belong. From seven years old until I went to University, I attended the same school in Santander. And it is very much present every time I go back home to my parents. The building is very near my house and I pass by it every time. So all the memories I built in that institution are still very much, more or less, fresh and they have a concrete home, they still are very much attached to their physical building and location. The same goes for the University in the Basque Country, even though I haven’t visited it or passed by it, I know it is still there, functioning and mainly unchanged.

But Psalter Lane is gone. The building where I studied for two years. The year I graduated from the MA, 2007, was the penultimate year the campus was operative. It moved to the city centre in late 2008. The site was closed but still standing until last year, when it was demolished.

It was strange to see the empty site. The space around the library building somehow didn’t seem big enough to accommodate all of the buildings that there were. It was quiet. It sits understated in the middle of the leafy residential area.

Images from one’s memory are always changing, sometimes subtly or unconsciously, other times, the remaining memories are so incomplete that one has to actively use imagination or logic to fill in the gaps. My images of this building are quite vivid in my memory. What has changed dramatically is the physical place where they originated. It has disappeared. The only way I can describe what this feels like is that the images and memories somehow now feel half orphaned. They have lost the physical link that anchored them to this particular geographical time and place. I cannot revisit or form a dialogue between myself in the building today and what I recall from the past. Or if I do, I will have to establish this dialogue only with its absence, and in the future, with whatever gets build in its position.

I suppose that all places we left behind, with time, become more and more unconnected or irrelevant to our memories of them. But there is always a small sense of comfort, or perhaps of reassurance, when thinking that those memories had once a physical container, no matter how far ago or away, how distant or inaccessible. They took place, literally. I guess I am talking about a sense of truth, what was truth and real to us. Does this mean that now that my container has vanished, – and more importantly, now that I know it has – are my memories any less true? of course there still remains some of the place, but the foundations are not enough, it was the building itself that held the meaning to my memories…

More on this… another time.


The last few days the city seems quieter than usual. And it is strange, because it is not only this city. The sounds seem a little muffled, but they are still there. There seems to be less people, as if there was a big event I haven’t heard of and everyone is attending but me. And I walked into town, into this small white room. And through the open window there is noise of traffic. But I have no perspective on the city. I don’t know if quieter is the right word. The city felt awkwardly dormant. There seemed to be a different silence in the street, maybe it is just in contrast with the silence of my flat. The difference between my silence and the city’s. Almost like the silence before the storm, only that this silence does not precede anything, it is sustained, on hold, constant. It announces or predicts nothing and neither it is a consequence. It is not even a proper silence.
* * *
I am looking back through lot of footage, and looking back was led to look even further back. I found texts I wrote five years ago. Notes of no much importance or value. About nostalgia and memory. About blankness. I like some ideas or sentences (expectations on the past or to create a light bulb that will produce the light of a specific detailed moment from your/my past) but mainly they are just cheesy divagations about not being able to reminiscence.
* * *
I have traced a big doily/map. It is approximately 2 by 2 meters. Now that is done I don’t know what it means. I can’t find some family photos I wanted to work with and I am not happy about it. I will be upset if I’ve lost them. On my way down here I came up with a few good ideas for the dialogue I am writing, but I can’t remember them now either… I think it is time for lunchbreak.
* * *
I need to not look back too far. Some too old material is only disruptive. The footage is more what I am interested in. The words will come, I am sure. I realise that my footage is turning into some sort of archive of fragments. But I am not sure if I am the best person to catalogue it, if all I can do is just keep accumulating because any attempt to classify or order will simply stop me from moving forward. Whatever or wherever forward is.
* * *
A quote and a video…

“The marvel of a house is not that it shelters or warms a man, nor that its walls belong to him. It is that it leaves its trace on the language. Let it remain a sign. Let it form, deep in the heart, that obscure range from which, as waters from a spring, are born our dreams.”
From Wind, Sand and Stars, Saint-Exupery

in translation

One of my main goals for this residency is to look back and reflect about material accumulated. And another is to write. To write for a new video piece but also to simply write more, not about my work but more generally about ideas. It is difficult to face the blank page, so with the writing I am also looking back, at my own texts and others that inspire me. I have come across a translation I did some months ago of some texts by my grandfather. My grandfather passed away when I was young. He had a passion for writing and he always shared with me the texts he wrote. Some are short stories he wrote for his grandchildren, others are about his experiences in the war, about my grandmother or just about his thoughts. This has been a project in the back of my mind for years. I wanted to do a piece about his writings and I finally started to put them into english (not because the work had to be in english, but because this is my adoptive language and I felt it would be interesting to have them translated). I have started this several times but for some reason or another it has never taken a complete form, maybe it is something I have to work on little by little, in fragments.

It is good to have time now to pick this up again. I have finished one of his texts and I would like to share it. I have chosen this one for no particular reason, it happens it was written from my parents house in Santander, and I have just been looking at some footage I took last summer from the same balcony, of a lighting storm at night. The city was very quiet and I couldn’t hear thunder, only lighting flashing every now and then. Maybe I will put the video up sometime. For now, here is the text…(click on ‘read more’ below to see it)

A journey into the coreless night. Continue reading “in translation”

a wondering seagull

Today I have spent the day looking at footage I’ve collected over the last year. Last summer in Santander: planes, clouds, lighting storm, New York last month: more planes, trains, busy streets, and Granada last week: swallows, mountains, wind turbines… and also some tests I did in my studio at Bloc with some family photographs…which I will return to later.

When you look at so much material, it is difficult to make decisions, to stop looking and start selecting, editing, cutting. In a very long take I filmed a seagull standing on a roof opposite my parents house in Santander. It just stayed there, looking over the city, contemplating, not able to decide on which direction to take off.

Today, I feel like that seagull, from this little white room, revising, looking and wondering, hoping for concrete ideas to take flight at any point…

Day One: Plans…

Today I have started my one-month residency at Occursus (in Site Gallery, Sheffield). Here I will be updating a journal with thoughts and images of my progress. I have various plans for my time at Site but I will mainly be working on a new piece of video work.

My recent work revolves around ideas of travel and home and the relationship between the two. I work with footage that I collect from different places I have visited, or with found footage that I re-edit. The new work I will be working on will be written in collaboration with artist Markus Lantto, with whom I have previously collaborated during my residency in Norway. We will be working long-distance and I feel this will become an integral part of the work as this new work will revolve around ideas of distant observation, travel, exploration and maps. I am interested in dysfunctional maps, imaginary or obsolete maps. I have been fascinated by the history of Percival Lowell’s misinterpretations of Martian Canals. Link to article on Percival Lowell

These are some subjects which I will develop during this residency. I am very much looking forward to start working…

Some thoughts on Reading Loop 11/5/11

Hondartza Fraga‘s recent video works – Bearing Elsewhere (2010) and Annorstädes (2010) – explore the journey as an endlessly repeating, perpetually unfinished and non-linear process, a thwarted movement towards an elusive elsewhere (annorstädes in Swedish), within the vast expanse of which we hope (and fail) to beat the bounds of a home. Figments of Home (2011), a black and white video work made from fragments of six films, interrogates the nostalgia which which underpins our constructions of home, staging fictions which speak to our desiring memories.

We discussed home as ‘a dangerous myth that we keep repeating but never resolve’; as ‘a myth-making gesture’ that belies our realisation that ‘we want home to be real, but it never can be’.

Exile, then: ‘both quotidian and profound’.

‘You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermude, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.’ (Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again)

Hondartza is Spanish, Basque, and has lived in England for six years. She explained how she went to Norway and felt at home there, although she does not speak the language… How, then, do we explain the equation of certain feelings with that sense of being at home? Perhaps, paradoxically, it is about being outside and looking in from afar; seeing the city from the window of an aeroplane, neat and bounded beneath you, as though caught in a snowglobe… A miniature…

This idea that in miniature, the city below looks perfect, freed from contradiction and conflict… As Bachelard states, to miniaturise is to resolve contradictions within a space…

‘In looking at a miniature, unflagging attention is required to integrate all the detail’. (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space)

‘Psychologists — and more especially philosophers — pay little attention to the play of miniature frequently introduced into fairy tales. In the eyes of the psychologist, the writer is merely amusing himself when he creates houses that can be set on a pea. But this is a basic absurdity that places the tale on a level with the merest fantasy. And fantasy precludes the writer from entering, really, into the domain of the fantastic. Indeed he himself, when he develops his facile inventions, often quite ponderously, would appear not to believe in a psychological reality that corresponds to these miniature features. He lacks that little particle of dream which could be handed on from writer to reader. To make others believe, we must believe ourselves.’ (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space)

We discussed George Szirtes’ poem, The Looking-Glass Dictionary (from The Budapest File, 2000), exploring the poem’s articulation of the resistance of language to meaning. This idea of Lacan’s of one’s homelessness in language…

‘Words withheld. Words loosed in angry swarms. / An otherness. The whole universe was / other, a sum of indeterminate forms / in motion. Who knows what the neighbour does / behind closed doors?’ (George Szirtes)

For L.P., what the neighbour does behind closed doors resumes the whole problem of language: ‘other people’s imaginative worlds are closed off to Szirtes, just as his is closed off to them’.

M.E. raised the question of exile in time… To be exiled in the time in which one lives. Is this, then, what prompts nostalgia? How – and with whom? – do we construct the home from which we are exiled, in time and in space?

Reading Loop, Wednesday May 11th, 6pm, Site Gallery

We will be reading George Szirtes’ poem, The Looking-Glass Dictionary (from The Budapest File) alongside 3 of Hondartza Fraga‘s video works.

For a copy of the text, please email

And so we escaped arm in arm through the streets, continuing our daytime conversation, roving by chance until the early hours and seeking amongst the chaotic lights and shadows of the thronging city those innumerable excitations of the spirit that peaceful study cannot offer.

(Edgar Allen Poe, Double Assassinat dans la rue Morgue, translated by Adrian Rifkin)

Hondartza Fraga

We are pleased to announce that we’re preparing a new project with Hondartza Fraga, a Sheffield-based Spanish artist.

I am a visual artist, originally from Spain, based in the UK since 2005. I keep my practice active between the cities of Santander (northern Spain) and Sheffield. The common thread running through my work is the individual and collective relation to the world around us; the different ‘distances’ between ourselves and everything else: spatial, temporal, emotional, cultural and imagined. The cultural exchange between home and homeland is implied – more or less unconsciously – in most of my work.

My work explores the relation of dependency between images, objects and the individual. I am interested in different image-making processes to explore the physical and emotional distance between opposites. I use different mediums in my practice, primarily drawing, photography and video.

My latest works revolve around the notion of loss, distance, journey and the meaning of home. In my drawing, I am interested in using souvenirs and domestic objects to force a dialogue between the domestic and the remote, suggesting narrative and contradictions between seemingly unconnected subjects.

Hondartza Fraga, 2011.

Bearing Elsewhere (still), HD video, 2010