Thursday, 22 May 2008

the perils of pessimism: or how to alienate friends and never influence anything...

iceland - soaring mountains, rugged terrain, study villages and of course the endless snow...

returning from iceland and the edifying jolt of the geography and terrain, the pragmatic hardiness of the people and the inspiring diy yet sophisticated cultural life they have made in that surreal physical and metaphorical landscape has resulted in what might be regarded by some as an epiphany.

descending from the mountains into seydisfjordur...magical!

apartment, the nerve centre of my residency and spiritual haven, the ideas lab and backdrop to my ramblings and ruminating these past few months, is where my theories are tested and my assumptions challenged.

meeting today to catch up with paul and hilary for the first time since the reykjavik artfest was notable for another in an increasing series of disturbing revelations about the deep core of my pessimism and somewhat jaundiced eye. the resultant stifling effect is a far cry from the 'curious eye' of irit rogoff or the 'archaeological imagination' of michael shanks, my cross disciplinary gurus...a troubling impediment to any really effective investigations of the city or contemporary cultural landscape!

its a constant and uphill battle to overcome this knee jerk 'glass half empty' attitude. whilst not wishing to become a pollyanna figure (sorry paul!) with galloping enthusiasm for anything and everything (that would be both ridiculous and ungainly at my great age!!), my natural inclination to pour scorn on the new or inability to consider recurrent quandaries with an open mind is the greatest enemy of the radical thinker, situationist or flaneur.

to illustrate - my journey home was marked with an excitable inner dialogue filled with the wonders and charms of iceland and the lovely friends made there, reams of illegible scribblings in my notebook, followed by increasingly unflattering comparisons to my home town, its rampant consumerism and cultural redundancy. and by the time i had downloaded images on to my facebook page my slump into lazy invective against the metropolis was complete.

my favourite boat in iceland...

by contrast, for paul the journey back was a smooth dreamy glow of triumphant exhaustion, followed by an unexpected tour of the city from unfamiliar perspectives afforded by a wrong bus or two and the idle imagining of what our icelandic friends might make of a visit to manchester. from these new vantagepoints he rediscovered his city remembering much that is exciting and endearing about it and determined to engage more with the bits he neglects to explore or simply takes for granted.

looking with a curious eye or unusual gaze must be at the very heart of the urbanist or cultural critic and i have, as always, much to learn from the energy, enthusiasm and playfulness that is central to apartment's artistic and curatorial practice.

practical vernacular architecture - survival huts at regular intervals are a life saver in the long frozen winters

over the summer months i shall be busy preparing for 'killing castlefield', my emerging response to artranspennine08, and an evening at apartment, celebrating the completion of my residency with the launch of the feral flaneur pamphlet or 'radical ramblings from the edge of the city', and pigeon house press, publisher of 'the bluestocking guides...' to life, art and everything in between.

the motto and esprit de corps for these humble outpourings will be the cheeky, ubiquitous feral pigeon, perhaps the ultimate symbol of modern life and how to survive it – the much maligned rat with wings, loathed and demonised by city strategists but cherished and appreciated by an eccentric and motley crew of potting sheds potterers, allotment dwellers, bird racers and fanciers; a ragged assortment of humanity, the ultimate practitioners of the everyday, the epitome of the curious eye and de certeau's resistance to the impositions laid down by the planners...

the feral pigeon symbol of the city...

with this little emblem as my guide i shall endeavour to focus my gaze in the true spirit of the flaneuse and bluestocking with open mindedness and optimism, with an eye out for unearthing the unusual, the off-the-beaten-track, the audacious networks of people busy creating something out of their world and giving the city its depth and vigour, its real heart and beauty. as de certeau pointed out, it is always people that make the city, people and their activities that give the city its soul and character.

if my visit to iceland has taught me anything it is about the richness of experience forged out of isolation, frequent solitude and necessity. there is always something going on. my task in this busy metropolis must be to delve deep, both into the streets and into myself, leave my world-weary prejudices and lazy assumptions behind to discover, delight and document the city in all its situationist glory….imagine and reimagine the city as others see it, as others live and experience it .

they start their careers early in iceland!

....well they do say travel broadens the mind!

1 comment:

kristin said...

ahhh it is really nice reading this - great to meet you and coming from my point of view - having lived in Manchester 6 years before coming here - exhausted by the shallowness of a big city struggling of being noticed in the big world - a mini place like Egilsstadir was refreshing and so healthy for me as an artist - although after 3 years I´m starting to miss A big city again - it won´t be Manchester again but another one - but Manchester lives within me as well :) xxxxx We are going to Montreal in 2 weeks me & Max + M├íni --- I might just stay there ... :)