Entre Guillemets // Quote Unquote.

On December 4th-5th 2018, artist Joseph Edwardes Evans presented a new series of small sculptures in an exhibition entitled Entre Guillemets // Quote Unquote.

The works, made entirely of found objects and ‘scrap’ or ‘waste’ materials, emerged in response to the conversations Joseph and I had about post-traumatic landscapes.

Joseph writes:

Made of found metal and severed branches, the sculptures’ construction and display is tightly post-traumatic: they perform as citations by re-appropriating and putting forward material extracted from elsewhere, as if plucked from the receding past at the moment of being consigned to it. This extracted material is made to enter (the “entre” of “entre guillemets”) the present as a vase-type object, testifying to, presenting, or pointing towards histories of use and waste. But at the moment of enunciation, the vases are suggestively illegible as to what their specific material past is. Haphazard, contingent and diverse, they are an uncertain record. […] Whilst the vases represent citational space, an ambiguous plane, they can only bring the idea of the past to us. What we do with it then – what we put there – remains to be decided.

During the course of the two days, visitors were invited to create works around, and in response to, the sculptures. We provided watercolours, typewriters, marker pens, ink, glue and pencils on a large table in the rather chilly foyer of Jessop West.  What emerged was a collaborative scrapbook and an agreement that mental health and wellbeing might be significantly improved if we were able, in our cities and public spaces, to create similar spaces of conversation and creativity. 

What were the key insights of the two days? 1) Coffee has become a tax on interactions; 2) we need spaces to make a mess, be directionless, take a risk and not fear being unproductive;  3) art makes space – it isn’t a thing we add to space. This table, then. as ‘ritournelle’ – a space that emerges through the scratching of pencils and the putting of paint on paper; through conversations and encounters, and a shared desire to do this again.

With thanks to Joe, Lucy, Seth, AJ, Emma, Jordan, Neve and Rebekah for all their hard work, creativity and insight.

Post-traumatic vases

Joseph Edwardes-Evans has made a series of extraordinary, tiny vases which respond to the matter of post-traumatic landscapes.  Each of them is made with found materials typically discarded as waste or scrap. Twisted fragments of metal are mounted on slices of carefully sanded wood from plants such as buddleia, which are considered by many as  weeds. The material remains of our past, neither forgotten nor remembered, re-emerge and are re-formed in the present.

What is a post-traumatic art? The telling of an anteriority, which is to the past what the memory is to reality, taking form and placing its truth in the present. The post-traumatic vase is the oblique arrival, and presentation, of this anteriority where it meets the present, in the way that a vase puts forward as spectacle something past, dead or dying, and hovers it between our world, where it can be contemplated, and the non-world, to which it belongs.

Post-Traumatic Vase, by Joseph Edwardes-Evans

Post-traumatic vase

I was so touched to receive a gift from MA student and artist Joseph Edwardes-Evans in the form of a work he made in response to some of my research on post-traumatic landscapes. This is a text he wrote about his piece.

fullsizeoutput_29ae“The object constitutes the straightforward presentation of a section of found copper pipe, mounted in a block of buddleia – straight and forward, as a gestural surface to be met, like a mirror. The copper pipe had been kicked around on the ground and is scarred, polishing it has not effaced these marks. The buddleia has been sanded so that it is very smooth; as the metal has taken on an accidental, arrhythmic texture not unlike bark, so the wood becomes sheer and nearly metallic – the two reach towards each other in what is a becoming-monument, the enunciation of a common project by means of a combination where one component on its own is a sign, and two components a place.

What is a post-traumatic art? The telling of an anteriority, which is to the past what the memory is to reality, taking form and placing its truth in the present. The post-traumatic vase is the oblique arrival, and presentation, of this anteriority where it meets the present, in the way that a vase puts forward as spectacle something past, dead or dying, and hovers it between our world, where it can be contemplated, and the non-world, to which it belongs.

And what is the post-traumatic if not also a site/sight of a certain form of monument to a state of affairs no longer visible but nevertheless producing something today? Copper the conductor, buddleia the hardy non-native, or ‘weed’: in this sense the two together create a tenacious memory, locked into space and surfacing with irresistible autonomy. What that memory might be however is not clear, and on this point the vase remains silent. Looking again at its construction we see that, as both support and surface, ambiguous plane, the vase can only bring the idea of the past to us. What we do with it then – what we put there – remains to be decided.”

Joseph Edwardes-Evans, September 2018

 

Edinburgh (March 2016)

We walked along the river and I don’t remember any of our conversations, just that it was good to walk. My memories of this trip – starbursts: the café where we ate éclairs; the weak morning sun coming through the thin yellow curtains in our rented house in Pilrig; Ocean Terminal – empty, bluntly lit, shops closed; figuring out how the buses worked and travelling over and over between Princes Street and Leith.

I had not remembered that the trees were leafless, their branches thickly crosshatched across a pale grey sky.

2016-04-01 13.31.422016-04-01 13.24.392016-04-01 13.31.242016-04-01 13.38.402016-04-01 13.23.12

Post-Traumatic Landscapes. A talk, as part of 24 Hour Inspire, 16-17 April 2015

My talk on post-traumatic landscapes – part of 24-Hour Inspire at the University of Sheffield

The 2015 24 Hour Inspire starts at 5.00 pm on Thursday 16 April, and ends at 5.00 pm on Friday 17 April – in between, audiences can enjoy lectures on everything from photons to psychogeography, with speakers from across the University and beyond.

This year’s event is dedicated not only to Tim Richardson but to Dr Victoria Henshaw, who was a lecturer in the department of Town & Regional Planning until her death from cancer last autumn. Many of her colleagues are participating in this year’s event, and our opening speaker will be presenting a tribute to her.

Proceeds from the 24 Hour Inspire will go to our partner charities Rotherham Hospice and Impact Young Heroes – funds will be raised via the sale of tickets (£2 for a single lecture, £7 for the full 24), books and refreshments, and from cash donations on the day. You can also donate through our BT MyDonate fundraising page, which is live now, and will be open for some time after the event.

The programme for the event can be found on the charity’s blog and we will keep everyone informed about any updates and changes to the programme through the blog and website as well as through Facebook and Twitter.

Come and join us – for one lecture or several, or even the full 24! Help us to celebrate living, giving and learning.

Inspiration for Life

Catherine Annabel Inspiration for Life Introduction and welcome
17:00:00 Professor John Flint Town & Regional Planning Victoria Henshaw – a tribute
17:30:00 Dr Nate Adams Molecular Biology & Biotechnology Throwing spanners at nanobots
18:00:00 Dr Victoria Williamson Music Music for wellbeing: possibilities and promise
18:30:00 Professor Paul White Geography Global population growth – the good news and the bad news
19:00:00 Professor Rowland Atkinson Town & Regional Planning Ecology of sound: the sonic order of urban space
19:30:00 Morag Rose Town & Regional Planning Loitering with intent: psychogeography the Mancunian Way
20:00:00 Professor Claire McGourlay Law Legal aid – what legal aid?
20:30:00 Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson French Post-traumatic landscapes
21:00:00 Professor Davide Costanzo Physics & Astronomy Anatomy of the ATLAS particle detector
21:30:00 Dr Tim Shephard Music Machiavellian sounds: how to rule a Renaissance state with music
22:00:00 Dr Catherine Fletcher History The insider’s guide to Wolf Hall
22:30:00

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Performing the past at Furnace Park

We’re delighted to announce that Alice Collins, a local resident and writer, is currently preparing a monologue performance that takes as its subject the accident in 1886 that resulted in the deaths of 8 children from the Shalesmoor area of Sheffield.

In 1886, 8 local children were killed by a deluge of iron bars, roofing timbers and slates when one of Doncaster’s stockyard walls collapsed as they played beneath: Martha Armitage (aged ten), John Armitage (two), Henry Crisp (six), William Cullingworth (seven), Clifford Anderson (five), Samuel Oates (five), William Henry Ward (five), Herbert Crookes (five). 

As she prepares the monologue, Alice would welcome any information you might have regarding the accident (or the Shalesmoor/Neepsend area and its industries at the end of the 19th century). If you would like to contact her, please email a.j.jackson@sheffield.ac.uk in the first instance.

We anticipate two performances of the monologue on site at Furnace Park. These will be prefaced by a poster display and a small number of talks by local historians and participants in the 2013 occursus symposium on post-traumatic landscapes.

The event will be free and open to all. More information about the dates and times will be posted here shortly.

(landscapes of avoidance)

In 1824, when Charles Dickens was 12 or 13 years old, his father was arrested for debt and incarcerated in the Marshalsea prison in Southwark. The young Charles was sent out to work in Warren’s Blacking Factory (located in Hungerford Stairs, then Chandos Street) and found himself living alone in lodgings on Little College Street in Camden Town.

In John Forster’s The Life of Charles Dickens (1875), which was based in part on autobiographical fragments given to him by Dickens himself, we read the following description of life at Warren’s:

The blacking-warehouse was the last house on the left-hand side of the way, at old Hungerford Stairs. It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again. The counting-house was on the first floor, looking over the coal-barges and the river. There was a recess in it, in which I was to sit and work. My work was to cover the pots of paste-blacking; first with a piece of oil-paper, and then with a piece of blue paper; to tie them round with a string; and then to clip the paper close and neat, all round, until it looked as smart as a pot of ointment from an apothecary’s shop. When a certain number of grosses of pots had attained this pitch of perfection, I was to paste on each a printed label, and then go on again with more pots. Two or three other boys were kept at similar duty down-stairs on similar wages. One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and tying the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist.

A few pages later, Forster quotes Dickens again, this time describing his adult responses to the site of his childhood trauma:

Until old Hungerford market was pulled down, until old Hungerford Stairs were destroyed, and the very nature of the ground changed, I never had the courage to go back to the place where my servitude began. I never saw it. I could not endure to go near it. For many years, when I came near to Robert Warren’s in the Strand, I crossed over to the opposite side of the way, to avoid a certain smell of the cement they put upon the blacking-corks, which reminded me of what I was once. It was a very long time before I liked to go up Chandos Street. My old way home by the borough made me cry, after my eldest child could speak.

In my walks at night I have walked there often, since then, and by degrees I have come to write this. It does not seem a tithe of what I might have written, or of what I meant to write.

It is not uncommon for post-traumatic landscapes to be structured by strategies of avoidance – of places, people or activities which trigger memories or thoughts of the traumatic event. Let’s say that someone undergoes a traumatic experience in Berlin.   In the first instance, they may simply decide never to return to Berlin and thereby avoid putting themselves in the situation of being confronted with disruptive memories they would rather not have.  They may also, however, decide  to cut all ties with friends who live in Berlin, for they remind them when they speaks to them of what happened there. They may find it difficult to answer the phone or read their emails, in case they bring news from Berlin. They may become uncomfortable or upset when watching the news on TV and an item about Berlin comes up. If Berlin is in the news, they may decide to no longer watch the TV, listen to the radio or read the newspapers. They will look away from the news stands, their heart racing, in case the front page carries an image or a story that reminds them of the traumatic event, or presents any new information about it. They may be forced to make changes to their professional practice and networks in order to avoid attending conferences and meetings in Berlin, or perhaps meeting colleagues from Berlin in conferences and meetings elsewhere. A newsagent’s decision to stock a German-language newspaper means that a whole detour has to be invented, in order that they do not put themselves in a situation where they might accidentally see a headline that perhaps has a resonance with what happened to them before.

As what happened in Berlin – and Berlin itself – present themselves to them in so many ways, and as their strategies of avoiding anything to do with Berlin proliferate and become more complex, so – to others – their behaviours and responses become more oblique. Avoidance (like trauma, perhaps) is perceived only in the constellation of behaviours and responses that coalesce around it. Sometimes, avoidance behaviours seem so far removed from the original trauma – (why are they refusing to go into the newsagents to buy a coffee from the machine? Why are they making us cross the station to buy a coffee somewhere else, when we’re already running late for our train?) – that they defy understanding, causing others to be irritated, impatient, curious or even angry.

The relief that accompanies the avoidance of trauma reminders is fleeting (though gratifying in the immediate present); each new day threatens the subject with a series of mnemonic and associative dangers. The post-traumatic landscape is constantly and vigilantly re-mapped. As more and more experiences and previously neutral stimuli present themselves as potential dangers, the number of ‘safe routes’ through the landscape is diminished. A space experienced as benign may, due to the spiralling, rhizomic association of perceived dangers, be re-cast as off-bounds.  The world becomes significantly smaller.

Dickens felt more able to be near the former site of Warren’s factory only when ‘the very nature of the ground changed’. The transformation to which he refers took place in 1831, following an Act of Parliament that ordered the demolition of the increasingly insalubrious buildings of the Hungerford market area (of which Warren’s was one) and the incorporation of a new company to oversee the site’s redevelopment.

“Old Hungerford Market (from a view published in 1805)”. The bust of Sir Edward Hungerford (d.1711) is visible set into the north wall.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OldHungerfordMarket1805.jpg
“Hungerford Market, from the bridge, in 1850” (1878)
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HungerfordMarket1850.jpg

The new Hungerford market was a dramatic and ornate construction that had little in common architecturally with the site Dickens had known as a twelve year-old child. And yet the site is clearly sticky with its past. The Hungerford name lingered in the area, lending itself to a new hall, a street and a bridge; but perhaps more importantly, the affective resonance of what happened in that place continues to play out. When, as an adult, Dickens finds himself taking the same route he used to take as a child, he experiences involuntary responses that are both embodied and emotional. It is interesting too that the site of trauma bleeds beyond its original spatial containment. Dickens avoids Chandos Street, where Warren’s relocated, because the smells coming from the business’s new premises remind him unbearably of the place where he worked as a child.

Although he mentions the area around Warren’s in his notes to Forster, he barely spoke of this early traumatic experience during his lifetime. His family found it equally difficult to address and articulate what had happened to him: ‘My father and mother had been stricken dumb upon it’ (The National Archives, 2010). Even as the adult Dickens walked those streets, learning, somehow, to absorb the mnemonic shock of the place, he found himself unable to put those place feelings into words. Instead, they play out in a sensory, affective register, the marks of which can be read only obliquely through his scarred spatial practice.

Write here, write now? On the vertigo of you and me

We live and move and are still in a series of interlocking and overlaid spaces, none of which can be abstracted from the other. The temporalities that govern and constitute these spaces are complex and enfolded. What I write now, online, is more or less immediately available all over the world, to unimaginable numbers of interlocuters. Time and space have, in this sense, contracted. And time itself has at once, paradoxically, become more compact and more diffuse. As I write now online, in this present of my writing, I engage the future perfect: this writing will have been. To publish online is to open Pandora’s box. The infinite reproducibility of the text, its proliferation and circulation (in fragments or in its integrity) contribute to the legacy of the text that survives the obliteration of the original. We’re all acutely aware of this. The internet affords us the opportunity to spread our words and images as we have never been able before, but we know that what we make available online is at once insecure (in terms of intellectual property and the integrity of the text or image) and durable (in the sense that once it has been published online, it is virtually impossible to erase – it becomes an obdurate fact, threatening always to leak into the refreshed present). This is not, of course, a new thought. But what I would like to note here is how the technologies we use to communicate and disseminate our thoughts have the effect of temporalising space and of spatialising time. My present is the present of the globe; and yet that present remains multifarious. I encounter in my present presents which are not my own, and which cannot be reduced to my own. The present of communication constellates, rather than homogenizes. In the encounter between my present and that of my interlocuters, new lines of flight are produced, projecting other futures and unpredictable meanings. Also at stake, of course, in this encounter of presents is the (shared and contested) meaning of the past.

We can no longer speak only of a space-time contraction. What we are talking about here is something infinitely more vertiginous, like the effect produced by Hitchock’s signature dolly zoom (in French, le trans-trav). Our perspective dramatically changes (what was here is now there, what was there is now here) while our locational, embodied existence remains the same. We struggle very viscerally (for this does not take place, in the first instance at least, at the level of reflection) to make sense of the conflicting clues that present to us as we write and engage online, with others. Here, we occupy that very space ‘where bodies cannot be fully anchored in the site they occupy’ (Christine Ross, 2012).

Another effect of this spatialisation-temporalisation is to create a sense of openness, of vulnerability. While I am here (in this room, in front of this computer), I do not know where and when you are. I am not talking here about the collapse of Euclidean space, but the disjointed plurality of spaces (national, cultural, juridical, judicial, virtual, topological) that extend beyond and point back towards me, temporally deferred, always possible, never certain. What kind of relations do I develop with others who are more or less relational to me in that space where the physically/corporeally located conflagrates with the virtual? What kinds of assemblage are produced (or constituted already) between technology and the users of technology? Between me (a subject who writes – who will have written) and you?

The internet and social media have produced a commons that is not in itself, but articulates and produces itself continuously.  This commons is un/written and coded into being every day. It is a political space, in that it brings a community into play. It is unequally distributed and it is far from being uniformly shared. But what interests me here is specifically the way in which the online commons configures the relationship between you and me. It is easy to think that in the era of ‘selfies’, blogging, micro-blogging and social media more generally we have become a generation of narcissists, concerned only with promoting ourselves, our image and our views online. And yet, as Jean-Luc Nancy wrote in The Inoperative Community (published in the original French as La Communauté désoeuvrée in1986; English translation by Peter Connor et al, 1991), ‘the mode of existence and appropriation of a “self” (which is not necessarily, nor exclusively, an individual) is the mode of an exposition in common and to the un-common’; ‘“To be exposed” means to be “posed” in exteriority, according to an exteriority, having to do with an outside in the very intimacy of an inside’ (xxxvii). To have access to what is proper to my own existence requires an expropriation, ‘“my” face always exposed to others, always turned toward an other and faced by him or her, never facing myself’ (xxxvii).

So as I write, right here, right now, I expose myself to you. What I write (my face) will be reassembled in the no/w/here. There are many reasons I write this, and these involve no small sense of disciplinary anxiety, a sense of exposure, of being adrift in a sea of transversal spaces. Of not really knowing who I am (for me, for you) anymore.

Bruno Boudjelal, Bentalha (2002) // Post-traumatic landscapes

I am currently working on a project about post-traumatic landscapes – the sites where atrocities have occurred and yet where no visible sign of the event remains.

I am looking in particular at the work of Hrair Sarkissian (Execution Squares, 2008), Bruno Boudjelal (Bentalha, 2002) and Paul Seawright (Sectarian Murder, 1988), whose work forms a contemplative counterpoint to the dramatic spectacle offered up by ruin and aftermath photography.

As part of this broader project, I have just finished a paper on Bruno Boudjelal’s work in Algeria (1993-2003), including images from his visit to Bentalha – a small town just 15km from Algiers, where 400 people were massacred on the night of 22-23 September 2002.

Bruno Boudjelal’s journey to Bentalha is a detour, an unplanned deviation which takes him to a site where – unlike the documentary photographer or photo-journalist – he is unsure what to do, which visual information to look for or capture. He arrives – as is perhaps always the fate of the photographic project – too late, in the aftermath.

http://www.agencevu.com/stories/index.php?id=17&p=10
http://www.agencevu.com/stories/index.php?id=17&p=10

The massacre presents itself obliquely, in the gestures, poses and demeanour of those who remain; in the stubborn residues that are produced by, survive and encircle it and in the inscrutable (though for this no less resonant) reconfiguration of the everyday that attends what we might describe as post-traumatic landscapes. Boudjelal’s photographs show Bentalha as a town much like any of the others that cluster along the length and breadth of Algeria’s poorly maintained roads. Water and mud collect in the streets, which are full of potholes and alternately dilapidated and half-built housing blocks. Pylons and power lines punctuate a landscape dominated by an overwhelming sense of dirt and entropy, as human constructions appear to slide back into the miasma from which they have emerged. The interiors are basic and unadorned. There is little or no furniture and only minimal traces of any human presence (for example an abandoned pair of trainers or a mirror). A simple standpipe set against the wall provides water; televisions are omnipresent.

And yet this apparent banality is punctured by a number of ‘poignant details’ (I draw here on the vocabulary that coheres around Roland Barthes’ punctum [i]) or strange bodies that are at once meaningless and meaningful, and which attest to the presence within the broader landscape of unincorporated residues from the past. In one photograph, two fully clothed men sleep on a rug on a bare floor, using their rucksacks as pillows. They do not stir as Boudjelal enters the room but remain indifferent to his presence. Nothing in the image enables us to understand what their circumstances are, how or why they have come to sleep here or indeed who they might be; and yet they articulate, obliquely, some connection we cannot understand with Bentalha’s past and the ways in which that past continues to contaminate or make itself present in the present. The sleeping men are a kind of ‘fistula’, a term from the biological sciences meaning ‘abnormal passageway’ and which has been appropriated by the historian Eelco Runia to describe ‘holes through which the past discharges into the present’, ‘a kind of “leak” in time through which “presence” wells up from the past into the present’. [ii] Another photograph is filled entirely with an expanse of rough concrete floor, stained with brown patches that may or may not be traces of blood. The photograph evokes Jean Dubuffet’s sols paintings, [iii] both in terms of its textured abstraction and the way in which it draws the gaze into its irreducible detail, while at the same time resisting all totalising spectatorial appropriation. This is a fragment or detail that is at once complete in itself, yet which points also beyond its own frame to an experience that remains outside the cognitive range of the spectator.

The representation of sites like Bentalha and events such as the dirty war must negotiate an impossible path between both a surfeit and absence of meaning. The hermeneutic, semantic and affective networks in which Bentalha is enmeshed and through which it discloses itself to Boudjelal in the aftermath of the massacre – even if he cannot make immediate sense of what presents to him while he is there, in the midst of the (unclaimable) experience – inevitably inflects the way in which the site signs to him and how he makes meaning of the site. The very name – Bentalha – carries a powerfully resonant charge, functioning metonymically as a cipher for the worst atrocities of the dirty war and the state’s (hidden and disavowed) involvement in attacks against its own citizens. And yet when Boudjelal visits Bentalha, what he discovers is an incarnated negative space produced by what happened there and which now structures what remains as a potent presence in absence. Everything in Bentalha points to the event, yet the event itself remains a hole in cognition – a blind spot.


[i] Roland Barthes, La Chambre claire: note sur la photographie (Paris: Gallimard, 1980).

[ii] Eelco Runia, ‘Presence’, History and Theory, vol. 45 (February 2006), pp. 1- 29, p. 16.

[iii] See, for example, Fruits de feu du sol (1959), a photograph of which can be viewed at http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/jean-dubuffet-fruits-de-feu-du-sol-5392548-details.aspx