Wednesday, February 23, 2011


It seems trivial to be thinking of this project in light of the terrible tragedy in Christchurch, but I’ll continue anyway.

After a few days in which not much has happened within the residency, I thought I’d return to the book I was reading at the beginning of my time here. It’s a book that Lisa Kelly gave me when we swapped cities a year or so ago. It didn’t engage me so much then, but something compelled me to pull it off the shelf when deciding what reading matter to bring with me. Titled Fieldwork, and put together by ART/SPACE/NATURE (an interdisciplinary course run through the Edinburgh College of Art), it comprises a series of interviews and discussions with artists, educators, architects, archaeologists and anthropologists about their thoughts on ‘fieldwork’.
Viewing this project in terms of a process of ‘fieldwork’ seems more and more apt. A residency, after all, is really about the investigation of a new field - an unfamiliar site and the experiences, encounters and events which may take place within it. The idea of a field is also a way of thinking about a framework or boundary; Eelco Hooftman describes it as “a boundary around a set of operations.”[1] It is a boundary not just in a physical sense, relating to a site or landscape, but also relating to a field of thought, a field of investigation, a field of vision, etc. A fieldworker, then, is someone operating within the boundaries of a particular field, whether it’s material or conceptual. 

As artists, the fields that we work in are less defined than the field of the archaeologist, for example. One could say that artists produce their own fields. Perhaps in this case the boundaries are more flexible, stretching or contracting to encompass a particular area of interest, without the restrictions demanded by disciplines dependant upon scientifically verifiable outcomes. In fact one could argue that there is not necessarily a need for any specific outcome at all, aside from the activity itself. 

The chapter that has been resonating particularly with me, “The Slowness of Fieldwork”, takes the form of an interview with anthropologist Tim Ingold. He talks about the different approaches to fieldwork that specific disciplines have. Archaeologists, anthropologists, architects and artists all have varying degrees of responsibility to the field within which they are working, depending on whether their job is to describe or to create; arguably that of the artist being the most ambiguous. However, talking from his own experience as an anthropologist, Ingold makes an observation that rings true no matter the discipline: that engaging in fieldwork “influences quite fundamentally the way you move, the way you think, the way you talk to people, the way you interact, the things you observe, the things you notice and the things you don’t notice.”[2] Moreover, while “the fieldworker affects the field by their presence ... it tends to be that the impact of the field on the life of the fieldworker is greater than that of the fieldworker on the life in the field.”[3]  

This seems to align with my experiences of being in residence here. Going somewhere unfamiliar naturally shifts one’s established mode of being. Being here with a specific project, yet still undefined goal, creates a heightened awareness of the surrounds without the limitations of looking for a particular thing. Yet, I’m not sure how much of this has translated to a public or become visible in any way. Hooftman comments that “In some ways fieldwork is an activity that remains nameless or invisible.”[4] Perhaps this suggests that if the activity of fieldwork becomes the content of the project, it is ok for it to exist in this inconspicuous way...  

In practical terms, I’m conscious of the fact that time is running out, and that we are now supposed to be considering ideas for how to re-present (re-contextualise) what has happened in the previous weeks. Taking the idea of being a fieldworker at Alterations, and having conducted a (quite superficial) investigation into the surrounding area, one idea is to gather the material I’ve collected into the form of a ‘field guide’. A kind of tour of the area, the observations, plants, events, etc. in the form of a diagram or map to be followed. Perhaps I’ll conduct some personal walking tours as well. To be discussed and considered: a film screening and/or some other kind of projection. Updates to come.

[1] Eelco Hooftman, ‘The Collective Memory of a Programme’ in A/S/N (eds.), Fieldwork, Edinburgh, A/S/N Mutual Press, 2009, p. 20
[2] Tim Ingold, ‘The Slowness of Fieldwork” in A/S/N (eds.), Fieldwork, Edinburgh, A/S/N Mutual Press, 2009, p. 37.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Hooftman, p. 20

1 comment:

  1. More of a personal response than anything, but I just wanted to comment that I have really enjoyed following your posts remotely Thea. I regret that the last few weeks were so mad at work that I've barely had time to respond. It's as if prior to Tuesday everything was happening in fast forward, but now everything is in slow motion. It's a little eerie reading over words in my last email to you sent less than two hours before the ground shook in Christchurch:

    "I will upload a couple of images of the spray painted grass marking underground services – there is something about not knowing what lurks underground that makes me think of your planting activity, and thinking about the spectrum of the visible – whether our vision is clouded by fog, darkness of light or dirt!"

    There certainly is something about no knowing what lurks underground.

    I remember we discussed the influence of the moon's cycle on earthquakes too. Don't get me started on the conspiracy theories!


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