Monday, January 29, 2007

Wittgenstein's cottage

There is an excellent new 'exhibition in a book' on the theme of Place put together by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar, published by Thames & Hudson. Their introduction doesn't try to place 'place' precisely, but among other things they remark that 'one might say that 'place' is to landscape as 'identity' is to portraiture'. For example, they mention Guy Moreton's photograph, Wittgenstein's Cottage (2002-4), taken as part of Alec Finlay's Wittgenstein project. Both the photograph and the site itself might be seen as beautiful landscapes, but the ruins of Wittgenstein's cottage give the landscape a particular identity.

The book discusses place under the headings 'urban', 'nature', 'fantastic', 'myth / history', 'politics / control', 'territories', 'itinerancy' and 'heterotopias and non-places.' There is also a postcript which gives a four way conversation on place and its relationship with space and landscape, involving the two authors and two art historians: Joseph L. Koerner and Simon Schama. Here are some points they make:
  • That we now tend to reject the framed view (even though it is hard to escape - the painting having been replaced by the TV screen), in favour of a wider sense of experience and possibility.
  • That limitless space, as in the ocean, remains frightening, but that grids of latitude and longitude have made this kind of abstract space knowable (Deleuze and Guattari).
  • That obviously historical change means that places mutate, and that people can value both the monumental and the transient, e.g. landscapes seen through the car window like the frames of a film (Walter Benjamin).
  • That society only has a sense of place when it is no longer rooted. Urban dwellers looking at rural society and feeling their own rootlessness start to value 'place'.
  • That in the modern world place can be fixed with linear perspective and abstract thinking, and yet do we really know that their was a different sense of place in the pre-modern world?
  • That places can be experienced and recalled through all the senses (e.g. smells and sounds), but space may be something that can only be imagined.
  • That the forces of globalisation may be destroying the specificity of places, and yet those forces may themselves result from the 'staggering boredom' of life in the countryside and the possibilities of the modern city.
  • That we understand place emotionally, through memory, and ultimately find it much more difficult to explain than space.

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