Curio

In one passage from How Are Things? Droit recounts his response when encountering a life-sized statue of an angel. He is taken up short, frozen to the floor and unable to move, short of breath, panicked. He has no ready explanation for his response, excepting that in the last analysis, he states that

… there exists a nation of things which are not to be confused with other things. Things which are possessed of a certain power, whether works of art or sacred objects; things invested with fantasy, with desires; things charged with messages; things so full of meaning that they are constantly overflowing their banks. (p 180-181)

curio

It strikes me that this little curio is the antithesis of Droit’s angel in some respects, but not in others. Certainly in terms of scale and presence, this little piece of cheap cast resin cannot compete in any way with the life-size, hand carved wooden angel Droit encounters.  But, for the person that kept it, that it was invested with desire and that it held meaning  and a message goes without question.

Mary, in an attitude of prayer. A figure invested with tremendous strength and power in the Christian tradition: the Mother of the Christ, and every mother, all at once. The religious-cultural narrative attached to this little curio is that of a woman who endures profound loss, who presents an ideal of humility and faith and quiet resolve in the face of hardship and struggle.

Not surprising we found her in the York, along with a number of other things tied to faith and hope. Not surprising that she could be held in one hand: anything but monumental.

– sydney

Work Cited:  Droit, Roger-Pol. How Are Things? A Philosophical Experiment. Trans. Theo Cuffe. London: Faber & Faber, 2005.

Black and White vs Colour

The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter, and we are nearly finished all of the work we set out to do for this project.  After a meeting with Sydney last weekend, and going over the work we had made and the amount of space we have for our exhibition at Latitude 53 in July, we discovered we made enough work to fill the gallery three times over.  We made A LOT of work!

One thing we did discuss was the reason why we had both black and white and colour photos.  I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to get back in the darkroom; it had been almost 10 years since I was last in one, and was anxious to get back in there.  At the end of it all though, I had to have a better defense then, “I really wanted to work in the darkroom and I think they look pretty freaking good”.

One of the obvious distinctions between the black and white series I did, and the colour photos was the fact that the BW photos were of the management office on the ground floor, and all the other colour photos were taken in the upper floors where the living space was.  This separation of the two spaces, one being a public space and the other one being more private.  The office being an area where only a certain number of people were allowed access, and the living area being a space that had a more liberal access.  Friends and family could visit, certain spaces were shared.  

The meeting with Sydney got me thinking about the difference between colour and black and white photography.  There are some pretty straightforward reasons why the two are different.  In black and white photography you don’t have the “distraction” of colour.  People, places, objects, and spaces are reduced to shape, texture, light, and shadow.  You are not swayed by the colour.  You get, in my own honest opinion, an incisive look at the balance between the decisive moment and the geometry of the composition.  Colour often overpowers content.  In almost every image, color catches our eyes first.  The following two photos are good examples of this.  

toilet with used needle bucket toilet with used needle bucket bw

In the colour photo, the green becomes the star of the photo.  In the black and white image you notice the way the light is hitting the toilet bowl, and the reflections in the tiled surface.

Don’t get me wrong, I love colour photos.  Photographers like David LaChapelle make colour an essential part of their photography.  It is the candy quality that makes the absurdity of his scenes believable.

That all being said and done, do I think BW and colour photographs can hang side by side?  Hell yeah!   The medium is the servant of the message, and I do think that the office being shot in black and white was a happy mistake.  The grain of the wood, the texture of the walls, the items on the desk, the beautiful lines in the fan and the barred window, are all the more obvious because of the absence of colour.

Clock and Watch

So much of what struck me about the York when I first saw the hotel’s interior was the dislocated, polyvalent nature of the place’s relationship to what Roger-Pol Droit describes as ‘clock-time.’

I have commented elsewhere that the place seemed, in many respects, in a state of suspended animation. On the one hand, it seemed as though life as it was known there would somehow resume in the blink of an eye; there was enough evidence of individuals personalizing space, and personal belongings left in place in many of the rooms, that they still felt occupied by their last tenants. By contrast, some of the rooms had taken on an almost shrine-like quality, as they had been left in a ‘ready for the next tenant’ state, and deliberately unused by the people who squatted in the hotel in the year between when it closed and when we photographed it. And there was the damage done to other parts of the building, that clearly marked the shift between the time the hotel was open and when it was closed and boarded up.

All different threads of time, each with its own narrative structure or rhythm; overlapping and continuous in some ways, and discrete in others. And none of them attached to the precise regularity of time’s passage we take for granted in clock-time-life.

clock

Droit notes that the “history of modern societies – their birth, their evolution – is the progressive ascendency of clock-time over human lives. ” He goes on to ask:

How many centuries of knocking into shape were required, how many slowly domesticated generations, to arrive at this result, with every back bowed to the discipline of the clock? Slowly but surely, things for telling the time attached themselves to us physically. At first we saw from afar the great clock in the market square. Then at home we watched the clock on the mantlepiece, the clock in the kitchen, followed by the clock on the bedside table. … And finally the watch latched itself on to all our wrists the world over, in every latitude, on every continent. (p 39-40)

watch

This ‘world’ is quite obviously for Droit,  the strident, stringent timekeeping of economics and the public sphere – of school and/or work, of enacting a social rôle, and money-getting:

It marks each instant of the day – travel, work, play – strapped to us and strapping us down. The watch holds body and soul entirely in bondage to the observance of a temporality that is cramped and demarcated. To put on your watch in the morning is to don the cape of carefully woven obligations. (p.40)

These assessments are true in many ways, and there were most certainly people who lived at the York when it was open and who bunked there overnight when it was closed that had exactly this relationship to clock-time.

Likewise, there were people there specifically because they had few (or were avoiding) such commitments. Time – its passage and keeping – are different in those scenarios.

That being said – the presence of clocks and watches in a place, in a person’s life – also speaks to the potential for positive connection between individuals, and between a person and the larger community: meeting up with a friend at a pre-arranged time, for example. Those connections, that potential for clock-time to help establish and maintain a framework in which so “many diverse individuals, so many distinct peoples, with their disparate rhythms” (p.39) could come together is as much a gift as a curse – perhaps more so.

Work Cited:  Droit, Roger-Pol. How Are Things? A Philosophical Experiment. Trans. Theo Cuffe. London: Faber & Faber, 2005.

-sydney

Keys

There were so very many keys in the York Hotel; there were keys scattered everywhere in the abandoned office; more were contained in a wall-mounted cabinet, open, which also had a once-useful lock on it. It seemed (from the sheer proliferation of keys) that almost every nook and cranny of the place was at one time locked up.backrmkey

Roger-Pol Droit says about keys that they are

… bits of metal, notches, grooves, milled edges, like a graph, or a mountain range against the horizon. A thing that jangles; fairly ugly, graceless. Yet so vital despite everything, so imbued with power, so indispensable … for entering and leaving, for inhabiting, for driving, working, travelling. (p.28)

Keys activate barriers – permitting or denying a flexibility of movement, access, control. No small wonder then, that dignitaries are given a ceremonial ‘Key to the City’ as an honour, or that a sign of a child’s growing maturity is the possession of a house key, granting access to home when parents cannot be there to supervise their actions.

key-downstairswine-WEB

Keys are also about secrets – I remember as a teenager being given a personal journal that had a lock with tiny keys, and I knew many kids my age who had them as well – another rite of passage related to keys and privilege and privacy. What we don’t know might hurt us; what we know might hurt others.

key-nextothephone-WEB

Droit goes on:

Of uncommon hardness, and uncommon solitude. A notched and obstinate silence, turned in upon itself. The key possesses all the principle attributes of power: enigmatic, solitary, indifferent to its own isolation. Devoid of sense, and likewise of any intrinsic purpose: look at an abandoned key, a key no longer in use. It is a pitiful sight, like a dead fish. A superfluous piece of metal, its weight a mere burden. For a key to live, it has to open and shut things. To afford entry, to deny entry. (p.28-29, emphasis mine)

key-ring-WEB keys-numbered-WEB

The ‘key to power’ – a common phrase, used without much thought to the actual object upon which it depends. An in-built recognition in the expression: that some hold power, some aspire to it, most are disenfranchised to one degree or another.

The ‘key to one’s heart’ – another common (although certainly less current) phrase, which to me seems laden with the scent of musty sentimentality, belonging to another era. But it does ring true, nonetheless – we guard our hearts, keep them locked away, more often than we may be willing to admit. And sometimes, for very good reason.

Keys are about trust, and the truths we reveal and hide: information, space, commodities, feelings … what we guard and what we value. Virginia Woolf’s ‘room of one’s own,’ the door to which can be closed and locked for privacy and safety.  And they implicitly reveal, through their very existence, how tenuous is our capacity to hold or maintain what what we need for survival, let alone what we value beyond that.

No wonder there were so many keys at the York, and that, despite their ‘superfluous’ nature, they held a weight and a burden beyond the few grams of metal of which they were comprised.

Work Cited:  Droit, Roger-Pol. How Are Things? A Philosophical Experiment. Trans. Theo Cuffe. London: Faber & Faber, 2005.

– sydney

Things, and what they Mean

Final work and preparations for the exhibition of YORK are going really well; Marian picked up a big print order the other day, and we were both tremendously pleased with how everything looks! I also picked up some shelves and brackets we had fabricated – and they look great!

Thanks to Elite Lithographers and Allwest Plastics for coming through!

I am just about finished the last details on some casting I’ve been doing for the exhibition, and I find myself becoming quite attached to these objects I have been working with. There’s something of a mental and emotional shift that has taken place … I have begun to associate the things with the place, to give them a meaning far beyond their utility (or lack thereof) as objects. These things have become synonymous with all my memories of the times I was there between August 2010 and September 2011. In them I see what changed over time, and what stayed strangely the same … .

Some rooms were untouched by the people who squatted in that boarded-up hotel for a night (or more, I have no way of knowing), as if they were being kept waiting for a new renter to move in.

grnbed table

Others had holes punched in the walls, furniture ruined, bedding strewn about.

trashedrmredlamp trashedhall

Evidence of a process of selection over time.

Likewise, there were a few things Marian and I were drawn to, objects that somehow became important to bring with us when we left. Selected evidence of other lives, other hands that chose and cared for and kept these things. Evidence of desire in a way; theirs and ours.

I’ve been rolling these ideas around in my mind for some time, as I’ve repeatedly handled the objects, and then the moulds made from them, and then the casts made from those moulds. A sequence of actions that has simultaneously placed distance between the things and their viewer, but also closed that gap in a way simply living with the objects could not. In mulling all of this over, I was also reminded of one of my favorite writers – the philosopher Roger-Pol Droit – and his book How Are Things? I have often turned to this book when I’ve been looking but not seeing … when I’ve needed a fresh look at the world and how each of us fixes our sense of being and understanding in relationship with the physical facts of things around us. And so, of I went to the bookshelf to see if I could sort this all out a little further … much to my delight, there were several passages that pertained directly to the things to which I have become so oddly close.

So, over the next little while, I’ll be posting some things, and writing about things.

And maybe, I will discover a little more about them and what they mean.

-sydney