FIELDWORKING | The Panorama

Posted on 23/01/2013

0


As noted earlier, I’m using panorama photographs as part of the research, mapping and documentation process for Fieldworking. The panoramic image has been made all the more accessible and seamless since the introduction of digital photography. With the enhanced functionality of mobile phone and digital cameras, the panorama is achievable. For Fieldworking, the panorama offers a wider view of public art works in space and place. This contextual approach is about recognising the field in which these works are inserted (and they are always inserted) but also about charting the field of public art itself. It is also, taking some cues from Jane Rendell, Rosi Braidotti and Clair Bishop, about situatedness.

In The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium Stephen Oettermann recognises the panorama as a technological and artistic innovation of the 19th century. The word was coined in the late 18th century from two Greek roots – pan (meaning ‘all’) and horama (meaning ‘view’). While initially referring to the 360° landscape painting, it has come to mean elongated view, survey or overview. On mobile phones, for example, the panorama function takes a view of about 180°, often composed of a sequence of images taken while pivoting. It is assembled or composed in a way that can change the space and the landscape. Using my phone for these photographs has resulted in interesting distortions – panoramas aren’t always ‘picture perfect’ with faulty seams (as if it is a textile) and misshapen features. The view is such that it invites the viewer to explore the field of the image – to discover what is in the scene – rather than rely on the image as a study of an art object or still life. The panorama both does and does not direct the view. Oettermann’s thesis about the 19th century panoramic paintings (as immersive installations and architectures) is that they both limited and liberated the gaze, giving rise to a privileged bourgeois view of the world.

In Design Observer, Rob Walker offers some considerations about Google maps and crowd sourced mapping, particularly that which is intended to guide your movement and direct your looking:

The culture we live in, from streets to screens, is already overloaded with prompts and cajolery designed to direct your gaze, control your attention, and on some deeper level distract you from seeing. Not a few of these prompts are commercially driven. Thus it remains not just instructive but vital to look for, and at, the stuff that no “crowd”-driven system or proprietary algorithm or combination thereof has “rated,” sponsored, or entered into a “database of interesting things.” It is important, that is, to make the effort to look for precisely that which you are not supposed to notice.

To borrow further from Oettermann’s historical account, the panorama was valued for promoting more accurate notion of topography and “became an indispensable ‘tool of geography’” with people more able to read panoramas than maps. They were at times preferred by travellers and tourists as navigational or wayfinding aids. I have collected several concertina tourist guides and postcard books from Italian cities from the mid-20th century. I call them the ‘Ricordo’ series – Ricordo di Napoli, Ricordo del Camposanto di Genova and Ricordo di Pompei – though each is produced by a different publisher and each features a foldout panorama of the city (see below).

naples_panorama_edit

My research methodology is both nomadic and panoramic. It is both broad and mobile, concerned less with fixed points than the scapes which are formed or assembled through those movements and pathways. The point of view is both situated (panorama) and moving (nomadic). That kind of contradiction might be intrinsic to the study of geography itself. However, it bears some relationship to the periplum. What has become pressing for me in this project is the desire to step back and pass through as an assertion of my own subjectivity (or as Paul Virilio might suggest ‘trajectivity’). A cue is also taken from Giuliana Bruno, a writer whose work in cultural history crosses the scholarly and subjective. She also references maps in her books Streetwalking on a Ruined Map and Atlas of Emotion, engaging intimate geographies. To chart within and without territory, shifting my attention from public art as object or from a mark on a map to a more relational geography and open narrative of space, scene and place. Perhaps some of these works are a kind of landscape fiction.

gasp_boardwalk_edit

The relevance of this approach became clear when experiencing Susan Phillipz work The Waters Twine at GASP! Located on a strip of foreshore between Booker Highway and Elwick Bay (pictured above) in Hobart. Standing on the boardwalk, my listening was sifting the auditory environment for the laconic – almost lacey – sound installation. I could hear the rumble of traffic along the highway, the call of birds, the gentle lapping of water and the bubbling of play, talk and movement (audioboo below). The Waters Twine is played in multi-track with speakers suspended from the boardwalk railings. It seems to swing from place to place, like tidal flows. As a littoral zone, its liminality is given. The threshold invites ‘other’ experience, something or somewhere else, which as Jane Rendell proposes can ‘seperate and join critic and work’. Its acoustic qualities generate a kind of neither here nor there experience. Phillipz work rises from that inbetweenness. So there is a need to take a wider view while moving along the threshold, like a faultline or a contour, rather than across it. There is no certainty of safe passage along the to and fro.