Student Research Seminar

A lot of time has gone into researching 81 Fort Street, its surrounds, and how I’m going to approach this space. So far in Stuido, I’ve presented an analysis of how my readings relate to my site, a formal site analysis, and designed and orchestrated an event at the site. It’s been busy. Last week for our theory paper, Practice in Context 5, I presented a seminar on how my readings have helped me reach my position. Tomorrow is the biggest crit of the year so far. Wish me luck.

Last week’s seminar below …

A lot of my annotative resource kit looks at the meaning of home and homelessness and how the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I looked at Lynda Johnston’s writings about how one’s home is not necessarily a sanctuary. She discusses how many people, specifically young lesbians, cannot be themselves at home. That their true selves are hidden until they are outside the home sets up a double-life. The same is true of those that live within abusive homes – it is outside their home where their sanctuary lies. Unfortunately for both groups, this is never guaranteed as prejudice and abusive family members can follow you wherever you go.

Homelessness can easily follow one when home does not offer the safety and sanctuary it should promise.

Homelessness and the plight of the destitute are common themes within literature. George Orwell and John Steinbeck wrote a great deal about them in the 1930s and 40s. This was an ideal time to be writing about such topics – poverty and migration were common. This was the time of the great depression and the beginning of WWII with thousands of people migrating to find work or to avoid persecution.

100 years earlier, Charles Dickens wrote Hard Times, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations – all stories about the destitute and homeless of London. At the same time, Hans Christian Anderson was relaying similar accounts of poverty and the dispossessed but aimed at children and told through fairytales. Many of his stories included characters that were neglected or excluded by their communities. Some of the more common ones include The Angel, The Little Matchgirl, The Steadfast Soldier, Thumbelina, and The Ugly Duckling.

Both Mieke Bal, in Narratology, and Jane Rendell, in Site Writing, discuss how a site tells a story.

Mieke Bal’s, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, defines a narrative as being made up of three parts: text, story, and fabula.

The fabula is the related events, caused or experienced by actors or characters.

The story is the content – it generates a particular inflection or manifestation – it is how the fabula is presented.

The text is the way the story is conveyed – the way a story is told. The medium may be written or spoken language, imagery, sound, or a building, or any combination of these.

Applying this to my current brief – 81 Fort Street is a narrative text. The building’s changes over the past century is one story, its current use another, how light travels through it during a day another. The fabula is the building’s visitors, builders, demolishers, passersby, voyeurs, lines of shadow, parked cars, scampering rats.

Bal writes that when we hear, read, or see a narrative we automatically analyse it. The same narrative can manifest as different stories to different people. How we receive a story depends on our own socio-cultural background and whether we have seen or heard the narrative before.

Jane Rendell, in Site-Writing, takes this idea of analysis of narrative further. She argues that it is not only the viewer that analyses a piece of art or narrative but that the artwork is the analyst and the viewer the analysand.

In my first week of research on 81 Fort Street I used Rendell’s idea to create a parallel narrative. One side tells my story as analyst – the other side tells my story as analysand. It was a tricky exercise. It was easy enough to take the role of analyst – we all do this as critics but taking the role of analysand was very different. At first I couldn’t come up with anything. It took some sitting and being still with the building to work out how it made ME feel and how it has changed MY life story. Realising that it will change my life a lot more over the coming weeks helped to bring up some feelings of anxiety though – so that helped.

This is what I wrote as analyst, and then, as analysand:

Rendell argues that any given art work provokes the viewer to reach a turning point – a psychoanalytic act where the artwork offers the viewer a different version of themselves.

Whilst this piece of writing did help me understand the analyst/analysand building/viewer relationship better it also made me realise that some pieces of art, work better as analyst than others.

Some artworks change our life stories and some have very little or no effect on how we view ourselves. I have viewed countless pieces of tourist art in Parnell and Devonport art galleries that were forgotten as soon as I walked back into the street.

On the other hand, seeing The Snail by Henri Matisse left me with such a feeling of joy that, even now, I smile when I think of it.

Sitting alone inside the Holocaust Tower within the Berlin Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, forever changed my view of how it must have felt to be a German Jew in 1930’s Berlin and in the death camps.

Some artworks change our life stories and some have very little or no effect on how we view ourselves. I have viewed countless pieces of tourist art in Parnell and Devonport art galleries that were forgotten as soon as I walked back into the street.

On the other hand, seeing The Snail by Henri Matisse left me with such a feeling of joy that, even now, I smile when I think of it. Sitting alone inside the Holocaust Tower within the Berlin Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, forever changed my view of how it must have felt to be a German Jew in 1930’s Berlin and in the death camps.

Maybe I could refine Rendell’s argument to include only good art – whatever that may mean.

In a letter to Oskar Pollak, in 1904, Franz Kafka wrote, “What we need are books that hit us like a painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

And whilst I don’t believe even Kafka would suggest that all pieces of art should act this way, it is specifically these kinds of work that we most like to analyse and are most likely to analyse us – to change our life stories.

Memorial architecture, like that created by Daniel Libeskind and Maya Lin is also called psychological architecture. I think Kafka would appreciate their designs. They affect our psyche. They reach inside us, and like an axe, break the frozen seas within us.

In my first year I researched Libeskind and Kandinsky and designed an installation within one of Building One’s corridors that accentuated its wounds. Walking into the dark illustrated one’s path into depression, counterbalanced with a walk out of darkness, illustrating one’s path to mental wellness.

This is design that is not meant to bring comfort to the viewer – it is supposed to reach inside us and touch our hearts – it is supposed to create a new narrative for the viewer.

Fort Street’s narrative and my own narrative have been linked since I was 15 and the inner-city provided my home when I had none. The streets were my sanctuary and provided the safety that had been missing in my life before then. One space, in this case 81 Fort Street, offers different narratives to different people – depending on their own story. Where one sees a dark and dangerous corner site another sees warmth and safety from those around them.

Fort Street and I have never been too far apart. Through illustrating our shared stories I’d like to provide an axe for the frozen seas within the people that now share its space.

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