field writing | writing field
PROLOGUE: Straight, Forward
Fieldworking is designed as a study of contemporary public art undertaken through a process of walking that involves, as Ingold and Vergunst note, wayfaring and storytelling. It focuses on topography and topology with particular attention to writing the topological. The intention is not to place these two ways of knowing in false opposition, but to consider how shifting ideas of space, landscape and geography might shape our experience of place, space and public art. Public art is recognised as a multitude of projects, imperatives, processes and practices reconfiguring public space and time. This includes nascent, unrealised and emergent possibilities in the lived environment. Theoretical engagement with topology is extensive and diverse. As a departure point, in order to start somewhere, topology refers to, as Christophe Girot explains, “the interrelated cohesiveness of things and people”. He further qualified this idea by suggesting topology is concerned with how a tree meets the ground. There is a distinctly relational dimension here that involves walking and pathmaking as a kind of weaving or mesh. When walking our feet meet the ground in motion, we are ‘in the field’ (physically, symbolically and conceptually) not merely in the landscape. The themes of relations and connections prevail in much of the geographical theory addressing topology and this becomes more instrumental in this writing as it rolls and takes shape.
The image of ‘the field’ is evoked as it relates to the intersecting lines of inquiry in this project. However, fields shift and expand; they shift and expand with walking and writing. These ideas of walking, field, writing are threaded with and through ideas of world and care, entering into an exchange of meaning and experience. Urban planning and design is complicit or entangled in this field, not just as cultural production but also in the construction of space and place. In A Companion to Cultural Geography, Duncan, Johnson and Schein propose that “the ‘field’ is not simply a setting for research, but a network of political, management, and research worlds mutually incorporating diverse types of knowledge”. In this sense the field is not simply given or static – even when named, it is a terrain that attracts some kind of mapping, navigation and negotiation. It is topological. As Yann Calberac proposes “the field is no longer where one extracts data, but almost [always] a place where one produces meaning”. A field is comprised of connections and takes shape through them. Then there’s reflections on the changing nature and fuzzy boundaries of fields – say, an expanding field, as Rosalind Krauss theorises, or a distinction between field and world as Tim Ingold elaborates, or Bordieu’s conception of a field as “a space of positions and position-takings” (p. 30). This is at the heart of the writing and research process in this project: it is an experiment in writing not just in or of the field but, more tentatively, with and for the field. The work arises in the field, through walking, and is broadly interpretive and experiential. It is my work in the field, taking notes, meeting the ground and arranging (myself in relation to) panoramic images or views.
The intent is to address artistic and interdisciplinary work engaging and grounded in public space from a situated yet nomadic perspective, speaking with a global field or commons of practices, publics and connections. It considers the intersections of public art with architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture, urban design, new media technologies and other arenas (or fields). There is never just one field; the field is multiple, multiplying, multitude. A range of public space imperatives have been addressed globally resulting in an apparent blossoming of interest – contestation and celebration – of public space. This contestation and celebration is realised through the work of many artistic and urbanist practices including emergent and grassroots practices. New critiques of public art call for revitalisation of public art and public space; there is a need to explore the relational dimensions of public art, including the inflection of ecological, curatorial, site and social priorities.
The project is founded in a need to engage through an interdisciplinary lens and recognise that public art is embedded in networks of disciplines, practices and meanings, which dynamically reveal a testing ground for modes of working that can be dialogic, participatory, interventionist, collaborative and/or relational. Grounded theory is at play in a methodological sense. The process and analysis is also grounded in phenomenology, subjectivity and critical theory with particular reference to cultural geography and its contestation. This will be revealed through a series of walks which inscribe ‘walkscapes’ as Francesco Careri describes, as case studies or fieldwork in situatedness and nomadism, in different locales so as to shift the inquiry from individual art objects or architectural statements to urban or cultural geographies, spaces, flows or networks. There’s meandering, connecting and side stepping.
Topological thinking and topological space shape his work. Studying the topological, rather than the topographic and typological, makes a specific statement about space and the relationships of things and beings in space. It is attentive to becoming and transformation. Fieldworking is, in many ways, straight forward. Or perhaps straight, forward (referring obliquely to Dante’s first steps into the Inferno). Moving along pathways and lines; equally a kind of connective tissue and a line of flight. Though perhaps not just forward, perhaps folding and unfolding too. The project is not developed out of aimless wandering or dérive, but rather recognises that walking is also a way of thinking, feeling, storying and living (Tim Ingold and Jo Lee Vergunst). The modality, mobility or method is walking, described by Careri as an aesthetic act through which important and symbolic relationships with the land and territory are formed. Walking and writing unfold in tandem, both as inscription and as field notes. And as someone who has always walked purposefully and meaningfully, I explore the kind of storying that might be made from my walking.
This introductory text sets out the loose framework for my project which has, at times, been comprised of both forays and sorties into the field. My thinking has changed through the to and fro between the written word and walked space. Sometimes held in tension, sometimes in embrace. At times I have needed to make maps to define some of the thoughts and thinking – the folding and undulations of ideas from topology to mesh, from panorama to pathway – but have refrained from doing so. The odd blog post (as fragment) has endeavoured to capture some of this on the fly, or on the move. Perhaps this process reflects the kind of wayfaring described by Tim Ingold in Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description: “to move, to know, and to describe are not separate operations that follow one another in series, but rather parallel facets of the same process — that of life itself” (p. xii).
In each of these works, perhaps they are essays, a path unfolds and each path defines “a field of passage”. Careri’s Walkscapes is pungent with statements that recognise the relationship between path, space and field; the relationship between walking, architecture and landscape; the idea of a path as an aesthetic form and walking as an aesthetic act or aesthetic tool. He describes an intention:
to indicate walking as an aesthetic tool capable of describing and modifying those metropolitan spaces that often have a nature still demanding comprehension, to be filled with meanings rather than designed and filled with things. Walking then turns out to be a tool which, precisely does to the simultaneous reading and writing space intrinsic to it, lends itself to attending to and interacting with the mutability of those spaces, so as to intervene in their continuous becoming by acting in the field in the here and now of their transformation, sharing from the inside in the mutations of those spaces that defy the conventional tools of contemporary design.
Like Calberac, Careri describes our engagements with and in the field as meaningful and the field as where meaning is made. A tension between ideas of the object and the thing arise here. As I move towards a deeper understanding of the relational and multitude, writing through ideas of the thing are more encapsulating and alive. For Ingold, to be reduced to an object is to be deadened. He proposes that
To be, I would say, is not to be in place but to be along paths. The path, not the place, is the primary condition of being, or rather of becoming. Places are formed through movement, when a movement along turns into a movement around, precisely as happened in our initial experiment of drawing a circle. Such movement around is place-binding, but it is not place-bound. There could be no places were it not for the comings and goings of human beings and other organisms to and from them, from and to places elsewhere. Places, then, do not so much exist as occur – they are topics rather than objects, stations along ways of life. Instead of saying that living beings exist in places, I would thus prefer to say that places occur along the life paths of beings. Life itself, far from being an interior property of animate objects, is an unfolding of the entire meshwork of paths in which beings are entangled.
In walking, there is desire for a kind of inhabitation and living through and with which knowing, constructing and transforming place and space flows. Ideas like path making and wayfaring enliven my walking and writing with and for this world.
PATHS & FIELDS :: Walks in progress
NOTES :: Writing in progress
To find field notes and other work in progress for Fieldworking on this blog, please search for the ‘fieldworking’ tag.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.