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From 15th October I will be starting work on DRAW DUKE STREET a residency at Market Gallery. The caps are purely because this is possibly the craziest thing I have ever done: I am going to set up shop in one of the gallery’s space for about six weeks, and attempt to draw all of the shops and places of interest on a particular stretch of this Glasgow suburban high street (between Duke Street and Bellgrove Train stations). I will draw stretches of the street on the usual A0 board and piece these together in a strip along the walls of the gallery, representing the street. I will be working in the same space, day in, day out, and will be running an open workshop policy where anyone can come on in, say hello, ask what’s going on and, if they feel so inclined, contribute.

I am however, going to need to put together a team of volunteers to help with two broad areas of the background research, of, broadly speaking ‘local’ guides (I am local myself, but I know there is stuff I don’t know). These are people with particular stories to tell about the street, a long association with it, and a good knowledge of the ins and outs of Dennistoun.

And I also need to assemble a team of fellow field-researchers to assist with the process of contacting places on Duke Street, interacting with shopkeepets and helping to gather the information that goes into creating the dialectogram. This would be particularly suited to students in anthropology, geography, architecture or environmental art, but I’d be interested in talking to anyone who think they might be able to give a few hours here and there to help me pull all the info together.

For your time and trouble you would be acknowledged as a co-creator of the final piece.

So, if you think you can help – – very much looking forward to hearing from you.



It’s been April – I’ll say that again – APRIL, since my last post, so I thought it was loooong past time I made an update.

Looking back on my last post I realise with some embarrassment that I was supposed to give full commentaries and background on the past two dialectograms. I’m not going to do that today, but do promise to get these up as soon as I can.

Instead, I’m going to get up to speed on what’s actually been happening these past few months. I think it is fair to say I have not been idle! As well as keeping things ticking over on the PhD, I’ve been looking into potential sites to draw, was a guest of the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in Edinburgh to talk about Red Road, and giving a paper at the Drawing Research Network Conference 2012 in Loughborough, where I met other researchers who like to draw, and talk about it at length. Sometimes great length.

Occasionally, I  got around to actually drawing something. So, the first major event of the last five months was in May when I joined with others to Go Tell it On The Green at the People’s Palace. I collaborated with a distinguished line-up of Peter McCaughey, Ross Sinclair, Roddy Buchanan, Johnny Rodger, Michael Mersinis, Gordy Munro and Raymond Burke. Go Tell it on the Green marked the demolition of Douglas Gordon’s 1990 artwork Proof, a hidden monument that marked, rather gnomically, Glasgow’s scurrilous and largely occluded radical history, encompassing the Weaver’s strike of 1787, the ‘Radical War’ or Scottish insurrection of 1820, female political activists during the first world war and anarchist Guy Aldred’s campaigns against the prohibition of political meetings and public use of the Green. In the same year as the artwork’s creation, widespread public anger and a sustained campaign led by Workers City defeated plans to privatise whole swathes of Britain’s oldest public space. A surfeit of symbolism, I’m sure you’ll agree – especially as its demolition (by Network Rail for Health and Safety, before a campaign could even be mounted) occurred in the same year that the Council tried to impose entertainment licences on small exhibitions and events, while simultaneously buying into the increasingly odious PR guff around the ‘Glasgow miracle’.

I’ll de-rant for now, but full details, including film of the talks by Emma Lennox can be found here. The event was also about trying to stimulate further interest and discussion in the hidden history the mural represented. My own thoughts in this direction led me to consider the surface of the Green as a giant, but somewhat impenetrable, recording device for these movements (in both senses) on the ’m not very pleased with this drawing -really just a germ infecting the germ of an idea –  but I see it as the first iteration of something  I intend to pursue much further and will hopefully, open up new possibilities for drawing in tandem with site specific work, using sound and geographical positioning, Expect to hear more, soon.

Speaking of public outcries, it’s also worth mentioning the right stramash that took place overCreative Scotland. The ‘more-than-just-a’ funding body has been in the spotlight of late, as serious critical debate and conversation around how the arts are funded moved from Variant – where it has been consistently criticised and investigated – to centre-stage. Pun intended here – the catalyst has been from among the theatre sector and the removal of flexible funding from these organisations.  Variant has been told it will no longer receive funding from Creative Scotland – check here to get their take on it and if you feel so inclined, assist their efforts to resume publication. For in-depth, accessible, intelligent and ecumenical analysis of the situation check out Stramash Arts for a blow by blow account of this year’s events.

Of course, it’s not all been politicking this year. There was also The Wedding Game, a collaboration with fellow One Night Standee Minka Stoyanova. Glasgow Green and the People’s Palace have a magnetic attraction for me, I think. Our collaboration was  Minka’s brainchild as a contribution to Shotgun Wedding, a show by the Effort Collective. This involved drawing a dialectogram-style game environment and characters for Minka to set the events of an adventure/puzzle game premised around trying to spirit a bride, groom (and yourself) from the mother of all Glasgow weddings.  Minka is now working on the finished version, so I’ll pop up the link once it is finished.

Then there’s SeRTES, an Information and Communication Technology Research Project involving 7 universities and a range of different disciplines. My attitude to ICT is fairly straightforward; if it works, and does the job I want it to do, I’m happy. This attitude is however, having to change with a new piece of work I’m doing with the SeRTES group to investigate how technology is used in the everyday environment – where we access it, how it blends into our current surroundings, and so forth. It is really interesting stuff, and nice to get back into drawing fully domestic situations (it’s been a while).  You can see the first of a series of sketches I’m producing to help the group with its research here, based on the ‘measurable unit’ of a weekend. The involvement has given me some excellent ideas for how I might work on a series of domestic dialectograms sometime in the future.

One of the most exciting things to happen, work-wise, this summer was my visit to The Seminary at Cardross, courtesy of The Invisible College. I am going to be quick on this one simply because this demands a post all of its own. Geographer Hayden Lorimer kindly invited me to come along on The Invisible College’s daytrip and evening workshop to Kilmahew park, location of the ruined Cardross Seminary.

The next update will be along very soon, as I have a rather important announcement to make, but before closing, I want to point you in the direction of VAROOM!LAB and Swansea Metropolitan University’s Spatialising Illustration Symposium in Swansea, on the 24th and 25th of January 2013. I am headed to this event run by Derek Bainton, a good friend of this Blog, and Varoom! magazine.. All the information for the event is included below– the call for papers is closed (sorry Derek for not distributing this sooner!) but worth going to, to hear about recent work and research in this area.

Just a very quick post today…firstly, to announce that another two dialectograms have rolled out of the dialectofactory – the first is a redrawing of the very first dialectogram, which had to be withdrawn for issues of privacy. It depicts a showman’s yard in Glasgow’s East End –

I will post a full update and commentary on this sometime next week – for now, feel free to take a look!

The other dialectogram is based on James Kelman’s novel Kieron Smith Boy, and shows the bedroom the title character shares with his older brother, very much from his perspective –

Again, I’ll put up some commentary next week to go further into what the picture shows – and why.

Lastly, I am VERY chuffed to announce that I have been accepted for membership of Reportager, a network of those involved in documentary and journalistic illustration run out of the University of the West of England. They have a very exciting line up of projects and the talents involved are impressive – I am humbled and amazed to be included in the roster. Some wonderful stuff there, so do please check it out.

Sorry for the quick update – more verbiage per pound next time, I promise!












As regular followers will know, the Red Road Underground Exhibition was made possible largely through very generous donations from friends and supporters, but also because spaces such as the New Glasgow Society came virtually free (we are giving a donation to the NGS for all their support and help, but the space itself, was free). Like many artists in Glasgow Chris Leslie and I are able to put on shows for very little money, and with no entrance fee, because the city has bred a cooperative, no-low budget art scene. It’s proved fruitful, given how the arts are booming. And in the austerities of a recession, free art and music is an important compensation for artists and audiences alike.

The new Glasgow City Council Entertainment licensing rules, which come into force on 1st April, are an interpretation by GCC of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act of 2010. It could mean that small exhibitions such as ours would need a license costing anywhere between £124 to £7,500. Worse, the level of bureaucracy, and time needed to go through all of the different stages of securing the license would in turn, incur additional expenses, potentially fatal errors and huge delays. What has been a dynamic cultural scene (that GCC is frequently very happy to reap kudos for, mark you) could grind to a halt overnight. And that’s not to mention the effect on community groups, small fairs and the like.

The Scottish Government guidelines make it clear that the extent to which the legislation is implemented is at the council’s discretion. GCC’s justified war against dodgy tanning salons and the gangsters who own them has led, apparently, to the universal application of the licence. It’s akin to one of those cartoons where a character tries to kill a pesky fly by blowing up the entire village.

Some reading for you:

The council’s briefing note on the changes

A Herald Article in which Phil Miller (no relation) shakes his head in disbelief…

…and Culture Squawk’s inimitable, er, squawk on the matter…

The GOOD NEWS is that far from being all fey and ineffectual, us arty types in the city have mobilised. At least 1,000 artists and musicians have signed up on the Facebook group to attend the public meeting this Saturday (I’m going to try and pop in before our artists talks at RRU that day), press has already been scathing and MPs/MSPs/Councillors will have had a fair raft of letters the last few days. There is a also a petition I hope you will consider signing.

Let’s try and nip this latest exercise of pointless bureaucracy in the bud!

A couple of years ago, artist, Polymash and genius at large Chris Dooks gave me a huge leg up into exhibiting my visual efforts with a joint show at Market Gallery.

(He is not, incidentally, to be confused with equally estimable Chris Leslie. I just seem to have a tendency to work with people called Chris or Jo(h)nny. Really don’t know why, but if I ever write an autobiography I might call it Chrises I have met and Johnnies I have known (although looking at that in black and white, it would probably give a lot of people the entirely wrong idea)).

Getting back to business (as quickly as humanly possible), while this hardly repays the favour, I’d like to point you to Chris’ (Dooks’) brilliant psychogeographical web-pilgrimage around Edinburgh based on that very Scottish subject of religion.

In fact, I order you to look at it. That’s all – on you go…

Last week I met Stuart MacMillan, keen student of Glasgow’s pubs (not in the sense that usually implies, mind you…). I’ll tell you more about my meeting with him, and what that portends soon, but for now, I shall reveal that Stuart is a dab hand with digital software and digital imaging and has, very kindly, provided me with this zoomable version of the Niven’s drawing. It’s dead simple and intuitive, and will hopefully be applied to other Dialectograms soon. Just click on the drawing to be taken to the new version.


Well, it’s been a while. Hopefully I will be more regular from now on, but I think I always say that every time I resume posting after yet another hiatus.

So what’s been happening? The first –major – bit of news is that I have the means and support to continue dialectograms for at least three years. This is thanks to the Glasgow School of Art who have accepted me for a practice-based PhD at the Art School, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for giving me a grant to do so. That is, I get to spend the best part of three years mooching round the city drawing, and ‘all’ I have to do is write a thesis at the end!

Well, of course, it’s more complex than this, but it is a golden opportunity to expand the range and reach of dialectograms into other parts of the city, and really experiment with the style and method. I am therefore, very much in the market for ideas and suggestions for places to draw. Do you know somewhere, some people, who would make a good drawing? As with the Red Road drawings, the finished drawings will be offered to Glasgow Museums to become part of their collection. As one of the hardest parts of the process is gaining access to sites, I would also appreciate any thoughts on useful contacts and groups that I could introduce myself to. Please contact me if you have some ideas.

In other news, I have posted for your delectation, a recent dialectogram, of sorts, based on James Kelman’s novel The Busconductor Hines. It is included in the book The Red Cockatoo: James Kelman and the art of commitment which looks at the writer’s political background and activities, which I co-authored with Johnny Rodger. We’ll be launching it at the Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair on the 29th October at 1pm, so if you’re that end of the M8, come along.

Lastly, check out the work of London-based artist Helen Scalway. We recently met at Central Station to discuss the similarities in our work and found we had plenty in common. Helen uses type and computer generated imagery to create drawings very similar to dialectograms. Now, you’d think I’d be wary of an apparent rival but Helen’s work offers a different enough take on what you could call mythogeography. It is also nice to know there is someone else out there who is tackling similar problems. Helen is apparently starting a blog soon, so I will let you know when she gets that started. Speaking of blogs, Stuart Murray continues to do some great work over at his gaff.

Speaking of mythogeography, check this place out for some thought provoking articles and perspectives – it has certainly given me plenty to think about.

One of the most important aspects of dialectograms are their annotations that document particularly strong personal resonances and meanings within a place, according to the people who inhabit them (for however long). This summer I revisited a place that has always had a particular importance to my own family. Dumfries has featured long and large in my family history, and a few weeks ago, I had the chance to introduce Emma to its various sights (all photographs taken by, and courtesy of her…); my family were providing the funfair at a somewhat lacklustre truck rally, and as business was slow and staff oversupplied, I took Emma into town. When I got there, I was interested to see how the raw stuff of dialectograms was found everywhere in the landscape. Not only that, but that in some respects, the townsfolk had beaten me to it. Look close enough, and psychogeographic – or if you like, ‘dialectographic’ features can be seen to have spilled out and shaped the landscape itself…more on that later.

First, some context. The Dumfries Rood fair was a major event in the travelling calendar of my parents, grandparents, Great Grandparents, Great Great Grandparents (etc…); it was one of the largest fairs in south Scotland stretching along the banks of the Nith, or Whitesands promenade. Both sides of the family came here; in fact my dad told me a story about how he courted my mam here. After the fair closed, he would go to my granny and ask to take mam for a walk. He was allows to walk her the length of the shows, then back again before bedtime. There must have been a lot to pack into those short walks. My folks still remember exactly where they and their relatives and ancestors ‘stood’ during the fair, and pointed it out to us. They have done this for my benefit many times before but this time, perhaps because I was in a dialectographical state of mind (feel free to use that as a tongue twister)  I paid particular attention. To many these places they pointed out are what they seem; a car park, a stretch of promenade, a grass verge, but to my parents these were home for a period of time, places where they courted, worked, and slept. These specific places resonate with them (Bachelard, the philosopher would describe it as ‘reverberate’ perhaps) , conjure up images and powerful memories and recollections, none of which is readily apparent when looking at the place itself There are a lot of other reasons that Dumfries  is important to us. My grandparents, and various other relatives are buried in the graveyard here – we visit the gravesite every time we can. For my dad, visiting his mother’s plot seems to be a particularly important pilgrimage. Were I to draw a dialectogram of the town, these would be particularly important annotations on the drawing.

And then there is ‘Biddall’s Bridge’, as it is apocryphally known. Built in 1875 to make it easier for the workers of the town to cross the Nith, the construction of this iron suspension bridge was largely bankrolled by a generous donation from my Great Great Grandparents George and Selina Biddall, who had brought their sideshow to Dumfries for many years and in gratitude, wanted to give a little back to the people who faithfully flocked into the show every year. It’s still a handsome looking thing, and there used to be a plaque that noted the Biddall’s intervention. This was removed for the millennium celebrations and for some reason, the council have refused to put it back up. Still, there is a wrought iron label on the bridge telling you something about when it was built and out of what.

A wander into town on the way to Robert Burns’ cottage threw up a couple of other surprises, such as this stone relief map, set into the side of the town hall-

Given my interest in 3D dialectograms (see forthcoming post) this was an interesting find – not the first relief map I had seen, but it was interesting how it was ‘drawn’ into the fabric of such a public building, on the high street, encouraging, it seems, a ready familiarity among the locals of the shape and form of their town as it was in its heyday as a major burgh. But even better was something I had seen before, but not really noticed until now. As we turned into the street for Burns’ cottage we saw this;

Note this white house is not the actual cottage, but one next to it. Rather than one of those commonplace brown signs, some giant-sized Dialectographer has meanwhile, saw fit to write an explanatory note on the urban fabric itself.

We took the hint, and visited the cottage, but seeing dialectograms spill out into the wider world was worth it in itself.

The cottage is well worth visiting – not least because it offers up a much more complex picture of the ‘ploughman’ poet. But being in a certain frame of mind, I couldn’t help but notice that the poet himself saw fit to annotate his surroundings – though I’d bet this portion of window pane is worth more than every dialectogram put together…

I aim to make each Dialectogram as widely accessible as possible, whether people want to appreciate the odd shapes and textures of line created from the arrangement of the information, or to scrutinise and take in every scrap of information. If all people take away is some interesting information, or pleasure at the look of it, I am happy. But reading and thinking does go into the creation of these drawings, from a range of different sources. For those who are interested, ‘Behind the Dialectogram’ will be an occasional series of posts that give some insight into the ideas I have been experimenting with. It starts with Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.

Readings from Bachelard: The Introduction (Part one)

The French Philosopher Gaston Bachelard gave considerable thought – more than arguably anyone before, or since – to how people conceive of and imagine the spaces they inhabit. His masterwork, The Poetics of Space is a dense, closely argued work of philosophy that sets out to show how space is conceived as images that hold particular significance and meaning for us, and in so doing, he draws on the work of poets such as Baudelaire to state his case . The book is almost stereotypically ‘French’ in the way it complicates and exhaustively explores the everyday, apparently straightforward and unremarkable, but I think – beyond ruminating on how certain corners of nineteenth century French living rooms inspired Baudelaire – his work retains real relevance and power. The scope of Dialectograms is by circumstance and inclination, more proletarian, but I would maintain that is not just 19th century French poetasters who turn their domestic surroundings into a mesh of symbols and meanings. I have found Bachelard’s understanding of how the imaginative process is shaped by our immediate surroundings present in both the spaces I am currently trying to draw, and in subtext to the many interviews I have been conducting.

This is why, while I have dipped in and out of Bachelard in the past, I am at present reading The Poetics of Space right through, page-by-page, beginning to end. So, as an aid to thought and intellectual digestion, I am going to post up my ‘readings’ of his book on an ongoing basis. These readings will, inevitably, be heavily influenced by my own interests and purposes, aided and abetted by – what else – some drawings that have helped me to understand and apply the ideas better. Not everyone knows, or cares about theory, some are even hostile to it so, you may choose to skip these posts in favour of those more directly related to the subjects I am drawing. That’s fine; if this whole project works as it’s meant to, it should be accessible on a number of levels. Liking them because it reminds you of something, teaches you something, or just looks strange and gnarly are perfectly fine, valid responses. But if you do want to get into the workings of the ‘brain’ behind the scribblings, then these posts should give some indication as to how I relate those ideas that percolate in my head, to the actual practice. So, let’s keep it linear and begin at the beginning.

The Introduction

Bachelard begins his Introduction to the book with a long discussion of the nature of ‘poetic imagination’ or a ‘philosophy of poetry’ and its relationship to how we inhabit our ‘vital space.

We should therefore have to say how we inhabit our vital space, in accord with all the dialectics of lide, how we take root, day after day, in a “corner of the world”.

To Bachelard, poetry is a process of creating/evoking images in the mind from this ‘vital space’ (put more simply, where we live, grow and develop) and to appreciate it, we must be ‘receptive to the image the moment it appears’ and, more importantly, not seek to distance ourself too much from this process – the ‘ecstasy’ of the ‘newness’ of the image. Poetry, he seems to say, makes us see familiar things and aspects of our life differently; they become new again. Whatever they were to us before that is gone – ‘they have no past’.

This is why Bachelard does not believe the philosophy of science, in its rationalising, dissecting fervour really cuts it as a means of understanding poetry and the effect it has upon us. He also criticises philosophers who fail to develop their ideas in ignorance of the position most people develop their own understanding of the world around them, saying that too many ‘know the universe before they know the house’.

He does suggest an alternative system, but not before he makes us run ahead of this train of thought by trying to break down the processes that take place during the ‘onset of the image’ – the moment when a human being sees or hears something and makes a poetic or imaginative association with it. I have tried to draw it for you, below.

Ok, so what does this show? For Bachelard a human being can be anatomised into a heart, a soul and a sense of being. All three of these are called into play when this human being sees a ‘poetic image’ – they affect and are affected by the process of this image suddenly coming into the human being’s consciousness.

None of this is too hard to understand, I think – you see an object, or phenomenon that is meaningful to you, and you, as a thinking, feeling and complex human being respond to it, infuse it with a meaning and significance that changes it from being just a simple place, or object, to something much more powerful. That something, Bachelard would suggest, is nothing less than the defining point of our humanity. To Bachelard, the soul exists, at least in operational terms – there is something in us that innately orders and remembers our experiences, feelings and perceptions, and is acted on by these. This soul underpins our humanity and experiencing the poetic image is part of what makes us human.

Now, this may already be going a little far for some of you – does this mean that to be human is to be a poet? That depends on whether you define the poet as a narrow professional term. Dialectograms give us some clues here as to what Bachelard means. At their simplest, the drawings give particular attention to the idea that everyday spaces are important, are significant and have meaning to the people who inhabit them. An example would be a small part of a flat I am currently working out how to reconstruct the Niven family’s flat at 7/4 Red Road, and in particular a box room that I would say had a poetic significance to them, so much that their memory of it remains very vivid a few years after they left the scheme. This room was the repository for objects from their past that defined their history as a family; a sideboard they took from their old tenement, the last Robert Niven snr used when he worked as a cobbler, or the children’s toys. They called it the ‘lumber room’ and it seemed to encompass and accommodate almost all of the family’s keepsakes and large valuables in a jumbled up, tightly packed space. The memory of this seemingly impossibly sized room was clearly still very strong, given how many of their stories and accounts inevitably led us back to the box room, and in particular, an image of their mind of how concentrated all of the items in it were – almost a museum of their life in Red Road. Put simply, the clutter of the room has come to symbolise for them, the length of time they spent in the scheme (40 years) and the richness of their own family history.

To go back to my drawing above, you will notice there is more happening here than just a process of identification and imagination – there is also the reference to an archetype that fully renders the poetic image. As any fule know, archetypes are ideas and images that others have already formed and are part of our culture (and if you believe the Greek philosopher Plato even exist in another, perfect dimension of which everything in this world is a feeble copy). Bachelard points out that the images we create often refer to, or attach themselves to some kind of archetype – a rose, for example, will almost inevitably conjure up archetypes of what the rose is meant to be, and what it represents – the perfect rose, with its fanned out petals, its associations with love (thanks to Burns), its sweet smell, its luxury (check out interflora for the going rate on a bunch of roses and you’ll see what I mean), feminity, a feeling of transcendent beauty, of nature at work, balance, harmony or even War (thanks to the houses of York and Lancaster). While some of these are corny and each person will attach different weights to them, we almost can’t help interpret the rose, and do so in reference to past interpretations stored up in our cultural memory. Bachelard calls this reverberation or ‘retentir’ – the moment when a human being intervenes in the world to give meaning to it and detects in it, some sort of sign or symbol. In forming these poetic images we inevitably ‘reverberate’ to a store of archetypes and prior understandings we have been exposed to or somehow know– in that instant we compare, contrast and evaluate. And yet, this image feels very new and unique to us.

It may be simpler to go back to the example of the Nivens and their lumber-room; in searching for a way to characterise the lumber-room and its qualities the family almost inevitably alighted upon a recent, but powerful archetype of a small space that unaccountably contains more inside it than the outside would suggest (much like your average human being…) and of course, called it ‘The TARDIS’. Naming it in this way, a special way, immediately tells us this place has more meaning and associations to the family than almost anywhere else in the flat; that they named it intimates they have a fixed image of the place that stays with them, even when it is not in front of them – we can imagine the jumble of probably very different objects crammed in next to each other, and the confusion of the uninitiated as to exactly how all this stuff fits in here. I already know that a couple of the objects – a big table and a sideboard, came from their old tenement flat in Maryhill and thus, has a further symbolic continuity that connects Mr and Mrs Niven to their old life, through objects that they could feel and touch – a hook for their memory and understanding.

For their children though, who were young, or not even born before moving to the Red Road scheme, these objects from the tenement are probably historical, museum pieces – much more abstract than other objects that were found in the living room, veranda or kitchen. This was shown in the way Bob, who was born in Red Road, throughout showed the greatest attachment, and sense of significance to their flat, while their father seemed to have a much less visceral connection to this place. By attaching their lumber room to The Doctor’s time travel machine, the archetypal ‘big thing in a small package’ that travels in time, they expand that meaning even more. It achieves a deeper resonance as one set of images – the furniture, toys, etc., crammed into a few square feet merges with those we have of the interior of the Tardis and its impossible blue painted exterior. It makes it larger – and almost instantly, at least in the Anglophone world, more universally understood and recognised. People can thus come at the poetic image from two directions; the Nivens, from the grounded, experience-based knowledge of the lumber-room, and the rest of us, through the archetype of the TARDIS, and ‘get’ the poetry of the moment. This is because, somewhere in the meeting between the two, the authentic image, the poetic association itself, is formed and appreciated. The central concern of Burns’ poem about the Red Red Rose is the moment where his feelings suddenly find a resonance, or association in the flower; from the other side, his readers (or listeners – it is actually a song of course) recall and remember the shape, form and exquisite complexity of roses and can come to understand how this might relate to the feelings the poet is experiencing. They are drawn in and, in the meeting point, acknowledge that what Burns is telling us about love is that it is, in this case, seemingly perfect, harmonious, complex, delicate blossoming etc etc ad infinitum. We don’t and can’t share exactly the same feelings and notions Burns has about his direct experience, but can come to an authentic understanding of it, if we are willing to look deeply into the poetic image he offers up to us. By referring to their lumber room as the TARDIS, the Nivens were doing exactly the same thing to me, except generations of schoolchildren are highly unlikely to study their particular poetic image in school. This is why Bachelard’s book is important – it argues that poetry is an essential, active branch of human communication.

It is for this reason that I would disagree, slightly, with the filmmaker Humphrey Jennings whose book, Pandaemonium and the coming of the machine collaged a huge range of written documentary material as part of his ongoing project to critique culture through artistic expression;

Unless we are prepared to claim special attributes for the poet – the attribute of vision – and unless we are prepared to admit the work of the artist (that is to say, the function of the imagination) as an essential part of the modern world there is no real reason for our continuing to bother with any of the arts any more, or with any imaginary activity.

But according to Bachelard, vision is not a special attribute of the poet – it is the poet’s feel for it, his or her craft that is their ‘special attribute’. What makes the poet important is that they have the means to not just form the visions we all see, in some way, but communicate these, that makes their work important. It resonates, because this vision is a widespread, common experience in trying to make sense of the world.

I should perhaps clarify what is meant by ‘poetry’ here – I don’t just mean lines of verse – though it is Bachelard’s starting point – but the ‘poetry’ found in paintings, films, photographs and other associative, representative materials. I’m therefore fully with Jennings when he argues that;

…to the real poet the front of the Bank of England may be as excellent a site for the appearance of poetry as the depths of the sea.

I would humbly submit that Concierge stations are market stalls are just as excellent. Jennings goes on to explain why he thinks this process of envisioning and poetising is so important;

The Imagination is a function of man whose traces are more delicate to handle than the facts and events and ideas of which history is usually constructed…they contain in little a whole world – they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space – the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear…

But is evident that these delicate traces nevertheless, interact with facts, events, ideas and, I would, submit, places. The imagination can float far and wide, but it is impressed from concrete beginnings. One of Jennings’ great influences was Mass Observation (more about it). In a frequently quoted episode, a researcher noted a moment in a working class pub when a patron suddenly pulled a tortoise out of his pocket and puts it on the bar. The report is cut and dried, but the effect is immediately surreal. Why? Because even though we don’t know it, tortoises have a string of associations attached to them that do not slot in neatly with a working class milieu. The ‘out of placeness’ of the incident immediately makes it an image in our minds – we can imagine this odd scene, rebel against it and cannot help but wonder and reflect as to how this situation came about – what does it mean? And Bachelard – and I – would argue that looking deeply at the everyday in a search for its greater meaning is a poetic undertaking. For his part, Jennings sees this imaginative process as fundamental to the human condition, and any hope of its improvement.

Let’s relate it again, to matters dialectographical and my work in the showman’s yards of Dalmarnock; when you see a fibreglass reindeer sitting amid the greys and sandstone pinks of industrial Glasgow, you are immediately struck by its dissonance; your brain immediately commences on a train of thought and feeling that takes you, like it or not, into poetic territory. If, says Bachelard, that sounds like daydreaming then it’s largely because that is precisely what it is. In such ‘idle’ moments we see the poetry in the oddly placed object, the withered carnation or the tear in the wallpaper, almost despite yourself.

If you think that’s daft, fine; but consider that the most accepted building block of poetry – words – are arguably, the most commonplace aspect of our waking lives, yet we have no trouble in accepting that we can take them, turn them inside out and wrest a string of meanings from them.

As a phenomenologist, Bachelard sees the poetic process as a system in its own right. This sets apart from the main thrust of literary theory at the time which was heavily influenced by psychoanalysis. For Bachelard, poetry was not just a by-product of anxieties, neuroses and sexual desires (although they all play their part) but are an end to themselves – an autonomous system of thought and feeling that is integral to our humanity. In Bachelard’s scheme Vases, ornaments or items of clothing become associated with a person, or a time, a feeling, or a series of conclusions about our common situation. Bachelard frequently refers us to Baudelaire to make his point, and I shall be no different –

The clock! a sinister, impassive god

Whose threatening finger says to us, ‘Remember!

Soon in your anguished heart, as in a target

Quivering shafts of grief will plant themselves

Note the interplay of new images – the clock, its ‘threatening finger’ and old archetypes – the anguished heart, the idea of pagan gods, graven images and the ‘quivering shafts of grief’ (arrows) that are marshalled in to support, enhance and expand this new imaginative turn. But it is not just symbolist poets, or hoary metaphors that can be used this way. In the novel The Busconductor Hines, James Kelman gives us the titular working class character who is prone to protracted, deep, tangential reflections on his surroundings. This segment comes from a moment where Hines contemplates the shapes formed by the backcourt of his Glasgow tenement, and uses apparently abstract geometry as a means of universalising his experience;

The rectangle is formed by the backsides of the buildings – in fact it’s maybe even a square. A square: 4 sides of equal length and each 2 lines being angled into each other at 90˚. Okay now: this backcourt a square and for each unit of dwellers up each tenement there exists the 1/3 midden containing six dustbins. For every 3 closes you have the 1 midden containing 6 dustbins. But then you’ve got the prowlers coming around when every cunt’s asleep. They go exchanging holey dustbins for nice new yins. Holey dustbins: the bottom only portionally there so the rubbish remains on the ground when said dustbins are being uplifted. What a bastard.

From a simple observation, Hines’ thoughts drift into ever more complex situations, associations and understandings of where he lives, including some that seem very fanciful, such as the archetype of the sneaky and underhanded ‘prowler’, as well as the play on words in the ‘Holey Dustbin’. Hines conceives of his surroundings in more than just prosaic, physical terms; there is meaning, significance, history and narrative all at play. Although Hines knows this back court very well, letting his mind work upon the place almost renders it as something exotic, murky, even sinister. Similar things start to happen when I draw dialectograms.

Working at Red Road gave me lots of examples of this, and my primary task as I continue my work here, and elsewhere, will be to honour the complexity of the imaginations that inhabit such places. Bachelard describes the process Hines goes through as reverie, which I shall go into in more detail in the next part, as it crucial to his ideas as to how we form our own ideas of what ‘home’ is.

Via the miracle of Facebook I was alerted to this amazing site by Parisien artist Vincent J. Stoker. Wonderfully rendered images, making symmetry out of decay and chaos.



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June 2019
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