Reading: ‘PLACE’ by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar
This is a book well worth reading.
The concept of ‘place’ has always been of interest to me – I recall many years ago reading Laurence Durrell’s ‘Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on travel.” Recently I’ve read ‘Place’ which is a fascinating collection of the work of Kurt Jackson in which he responds to the text of 32 writers and thinkers, describing their connection to their chosen place. Kurt Jackson is a painter whose work is closely connected to his environment, and in this collection he has moved away from his personal response to places and the environment, to landscapes which are of significance to others.
‘Place’ by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar, however, is a book which questions and stimulates the reader to think deeply about what place means. I found the introductory chapter extremely thought-provoking, in particular the author’s analysis of space and place, quoting the geographer Yi-Fu’s remark in 1976: “When space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place.” This is making the link between time and place, suggesting a sense of belonging. Memory also is present in our sense of place, emphasising the element of time. ‘Time has become embedded within place…”
One of the most fascinating paragraphs to me was on page 14 quoting Aristotle as saying that ‘everything is somewhere and in place’. The authors suggest that “there is nothing outside of place. Place is all there is, the limit of all things and in this it might be considered as a divine being. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the Hebrew for God, Makom, means place; or that the first important thinker to attempt to reconcile Christianity with Greek philosophy, Philo of Alexandria, could write: God Himself is called place, for He encompasses all things, but is not encompassed by anything.” Much to think about here! This unboundedness has become limited over the centuries – “Now defined as nothing more than a position, place is unable to preserve any of the properties that were seen as inherent to it from the ancient philosophers onwards.” So place is seen as something which is bounded compared to the endlessness of space.
However within this bounded sense of place, the authors suggest that there are innumerable thresholds, extending beyond the physical limits and across time as well. See page 20. Proust wrote, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
The chapter ends with considering the ‘profound limitations of the visual’. Page 25. “Just as we may derive visual pleasure from looking at a particular picture, or a particular landscape, a more profound engagement depends upon more than the visual, upon those things that remain invisible.” For me this was a perfect point to end on as it summed up the element of place which fascinates me as an artist.
The book then goes on to describe a wide range of work of contemporary artists investigating ‘place’.
The book did not seek to provide answers and indeed for me, it raised so many questions that are ongoing as I consider this subject in terms of my own practice. I’ve been challenged by the element of ‘space’ in terms of composition in my work and this book has stimulated me to think about space in a much larger context. In particular the final thoughts focusing on ‘innumerable threshholds’ suggest to me that space in a painting is actually the containment of these unseen thresholds and so there cannot be just empty space. I’ll be continuing to develop these ideas.