My practice explores contemporary subjectivity through the relationship between everyday and other space, specifically drawing on Foucault’s notion of heterotopia . I’m compelled by places with uncertain borders, sites on the edge, fleeting and precarious, hovering between different histories, uses and meanings. I’m often drawn to places slightly apart from mainstream society or society as we know it to be. These spaces allow for certain things to happen, or acts to be carried out, that somehow ‘mirror’ or invert society.
My interest in spaces is specifically sparked when places are in transition; moving from one identity and purpose to another, or at the point of coexisting. In two recent projects, I studied and documented this process with a prison, hospital and factory space. Often within public, controlled and formal spaces such as hospitals, I am interested in the transgressive elements that reveal themselves on the fabric, architecture or landscape of the site.
In conformative spaces such as hospitals, I am drawn to the leakages in those spaces; where fissures or details in the infrastructure or aesthetic reveal hidden thresholds or desires. Another example, is that of the prison space that is replicated in order to confuse the escaping prisoner. This controlled measure or act, turns to transgression, in a camouflaging and disorientating effect of space. By observing the empty waiting room areas, the prison rooms, long corridors and the spaces where activities have recently taken place, or are passing, one might begin to understand the transcendental in a metaphorical passing through of space, time and context. It is this exploration of the psychology and experience of space, that I seek to examine.
My project work always begins with a period of extensive research. In the case of this project: Perceptual [Apparatus] II, the sites of LIMBO and Dreamland are my subjects in the main, and my primary focus is the idea of transition and semi-status of place. Beyond the two sites, I am very interested in the idea of issues of universality and contemporaneity being conveyed through the work in terms of the fabric and makeup of society, the individual and the collective: it’s interwoven relationship and the elements of order and chaos, or anomaly therein.
As society is a complex phenomenon, it is often conveyed as ‘the matrix’. This sculpture adopts a sort of matrix approach in terms of its complexity of form and space, yet there are moments of clarity and distinctness that emerge. It is my intention that it represent a monument of our times; our dreams and aspirations (and choices) set against reality. It is a monument that equally draws from the past, the present and the future.
For me, both sites represent an heterotopia in different ways: Dreamland (renamed this in 1920), the very name points to the place of the ‘other’, a fantasy, a place of escape and play; representing multiple places in one. LIMBO, formally functional and presently as a space for showcasing art, an heterotopic space in and of itself. The latter having historically powered the former. Both sites have a distinct past and a collective consciousness association, where their identity still resides, albeit partially. The physical operational transformers outside LIMBO also mimic this.
Dreamland is considered the oldest-surviving amusement park in Great Britain and dates back to the British railway boom of 1860s with its operator ‘Lord’ George Sanger, the famous circus impresario. The site of Dreamland having been left derelict for years, with its identity and infrastructure dissolving, is currently being transformed into a site of play ‘reimagined’ once more. It’s purpose in the main remains the same but its identity has shifted, and it is this subtle shift that I wanted to link to in the work.
I was interested in understanding the history, and identity of both sites; their evolution to present day status. I was intrigued by the idea of a functional, utilitarian space juxtaposed against one of play and imaginative elements. There is both harmonious and disruptive aspects in both spaces.
For my primary research, I spent time looking at visual archives of Dreamland and Margate. Understanding its rich history was further heightened by the local’s recollections of Dreamland. The elements of sound and
lighting were things that kept coming up in conversation and this consolidated my idea of using lights in the work itself, which linked so well to electricity and the substation. It was also important to me to subtly link the relationship between the two sites using materials that pointed to the ideology of Dreamland and the functional element of the substation.
The second thing that came up in research and development was the reference to gaming and arcades in interacting with a game with glass or perspex as a means of separating one from the toy, game, or technology. When we are in these types of spaces, it can be disorientating with the sounds, reflections and re-reflections. Time spent in arcades can make ones’ identity assimilate into the space, there is a sort of ‘psychasthenia’ that occurs (see Callois, 1935) with a loss of self and ‘coordinates’. Our desires are often reflected back at us, at the same time, we see ourselves on the products of our consumption. With the idea of arcade referencing, I also liked the notion of what is real and what is not as an analogy between a site of play (imagination) and one of pure function.
Using clear perspex as a material in the work was important as it pointed both to the similarity between both sites and their semi-status, yet something you cannot pass through: the difference between the sites. With the Dreamland site currently in flux, I used coloured perspex segments within the clear perspex sculpture to break up the space and point to both the deconstruction and reconstruction of the site, which also links to the transformative space of the former substation. The transparency film prints, coloured glass neons and perspex segments represent the more playful and transgressive elements of Dreamland. The clear, minimal sculpture is set against the old school transformers with various electrical circuits to the neons. Here, a similarity with both sites is drawn again with the obvious electrical leads bound up in the perspex and neons in an almost haphazard way. This is juxtaposed with the reality of a controlled, rational and functionalist former substation, and in mimicking the actual transformers outside the LIMBO building.
I was fortunate in that I had access to the original glass neons from the Dreamland site, this was important as they directly referenced Dreamland on the site of LIMBO. The fact that old school mixed gas neons (for me, they are the analogue of the lighting world!) are slowly being phased out and replaced by LED lights, also represents the historical element of Dreamland (literally fragile, brittle with age yet burn brightly) which when configured with coloured perspex and film of everyday spaces, points to an end of an era in a sense, but simultaneously an optimism for the future.
The clear perspex sculpture as a container (former substation) is set against the colourful chaotic neons that bounce and burst reflections and re-reflections off the sculpture. These in turn, are contained and fold back in on each other by the curves of the sculpture and its materiality, in conjunction with the muting of the film prints in subduing the glow of the neons at various junctures. The result is a complex configuration of space, form and light that is created. There is a notable pink glow that emerges from the piece, and for me this conjures a palpable ideology of Dreamland. The shape of the sculpture subtly nods to modernism and Britain as never really embracing modernism; where it was often relegated to the periphery of land mass. At the same time, the sculpture nods to post modernism and ‘post post’ modernism in the celebration of seaside towns once again taking up their former glory.
Without anything contained on it or in it, the clear sculpture is invisible, akin to ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933). Content, surroundings, the individual and the collective make it ‘become’ and in turn, it represents ‘place’ or a series of spaces, or places. To me, it feels a bit like Tarkovsky’s planet in Solaris (1972), as an analogy in reflecting ‘whatever lies in our subconscious’.