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Archive for April, 2019

Letter 2: Projects

1.  Take a photo each day at 6am and 6pm GMT of the same river view from my window. A twice-daily juxtaposition of the solar and the lunar, both clocks and calendars. See what – Ideas? Actions? – comes from this.

2. Photograph each of Lancaster’s five cinemas. All now closed, photograph what is there now. Perhaps with a figure standing outside in typical cinema pose – with handbag in front of her, looking down the street, waiting for someone to arrive: will he come?; will he pay for her ticket?; will he steer her towards the back row? Or a lonely-looking man, self-erasing, waiting patiently in the queue. Or a child looking up at the six stills from the film each side of the cinema entrance, hoping he can escape into what he sees as the real world that exists somewhere, that is depicted in the film. (The film is real; ‘reality’ doesn’t make sense.) Films were only shown for one week, and then were gone forever. When there was an ‘A’ category film (“children must be accompanied by an adult”), we’d wait outside and ask single men, ‘will you take us in, Mister?’ ‘Aye, as long as you pay for yourselves and don’t sit near me.’

3. Photograph the eleven Lancaster and Skerton Cooperative Society shops. All now closed. The society was founded in 1860, a depressed time in Lancaster, before its late-century expansion with new industries. The Co-op thrived, built fine shops in the new residential areas of terraced houses, respectful of their solid working-class customers, with a carved beehive over the door to symbolise the strength of working together. They were still busy in my childhood. My mother, a working-class Tory, would never shop there, or allow us in them. T. D. Smith, a local grocer entrepreneur, who despised them, aimed at class-aspiration, often opened shops close to co-op branches. Hoteling’s Principle: in a competitive economy, businesses cluster together to maximise their market; in a cooperative economy, they are spread evenly, to minimise the customers’ travel. There is a story, perhaps a play (think Harold Brighouse, Walter Greenwood, J B Priestley …), in T.D. Smith versus the Co-op. Both foundered in the 1960s.

4. Describe an urban walk which, when traced on a street map of the town, spells ‘Lancaster’. Is it possible?

5. Cycle along the length of the Lancaster Canal, from Preston to Kendal, photographing every bridge. The canal is 57 miles long, there are around 200 bridges. Do the ride in one day – Midsummer? –  it will be a tough day, as the tow-path is often rough and uneven. There are no locks on the first 43 miles, the canal following the 72 feet contour along the western edge of the Pennines. The canal is a sinuous lake, 43 miles long, twenty feet wide, lying like a snake along the contour line. The bridges, one pattern, one size, do not change.

6. Walk the length of the River Lune, from source to mouth, 54 miles, photographing every bridge. The river, beginning as a barely-perceptible spring that bubbles, overflows, trickles, erodes a channel, draws other streams into it, captures them, creates its own fan-shaped catchment area, until it is big enough to be given a name, is all action. Its energy derives from gravity, the 800 feet fall from source to mouth, and from falling rain and snow. The canal exists in stasis, all the energy that made it expended in the few years of its construction 200 years ago. The river is kinetic, expressing and embodying energy. The river gets bigger, downstream. At what point is it the same ‘size’ (ie in cross-section containing the same amount of water) as the canal? And of course the bridges get bigger, become more distinctive. If not necessarily more distinguished. Do over several days: drive to the end point of each day’s walk, cycle to the start point, walk the section, drive to pick up the bike.

7. Photograph 24 clocks in Lancaster, one at each hour of the 24. Remembering how many public clocks there used to be, how I would run to school, my progress – lateness! – marked by accusing clock faces. Remembering the factory sirens to get the workers to work, the clocking-in clocks – five minutes late and you’d be ‘quartered’, ie have 15 minutes’ pay docked. I was after the time of ‘knockers-up’, by my childhood everyone had a cheap, noisy, tin alarm-clock. And a loud-ticking living-room clock, that on Sundays stretched the boredom to screaming point. I’ve hated ticking clocks ever since.

None of these ideas is original, referencing, eg, Paul Auster, Richard Long, Ed Ruscha, Christian Marclay. The intention is three-fold: to apply a practice from elsewhere to Lancaster; as an exercise in actually doing something, in going from intention to action, idea to practice; as a connection from ‘now’ to ‘then’. See what, if anything, develops from each Project. Can they be described as Art Works? If someone chooses to treat them as such. I should, at some point, find out if there is someone who will. Until then, they are Art Works in potentia.

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Letter 1

I thought I would have written my first letter long ago. Instead I’ve been living as if in a nutrient-rich medium, steeping in it, moving around in it, soaking it in. Experiencing, remembering. Fifty-six years since I lived here. The place has changed, I have changed. And even my ‘fixed’ memories of then are subject to inaccurate remembering, and treacherous re-membering.

Yet still I want to map ‘now’ onto ‘then’, as if that is a place if not to end, then to begin.

Except, no, begin now. The river. I live by the river. The river is ever present, a few yards away, beyond a narrow patch of grass. It is a wide river. To the left is the bridge. To the right, the river sweeps in a wide curve round to The Customs House, The Quay, the tall stone warehouses, the source of Lancaster’s first wealth, the slave trade. And it is a big river. Because it is tidal, estuarine. A big tide range. In six hours and a few minutes the sea at the mouth of the river rises thirty feet. Five feet an hour. No wonder the cockle-pickers in the Bay got caught, stage coaches crossing the Sands were sometimes overwhelmed. A big river. It rises and falls less here, three miles from the sea. But still, having let down my plumb line, spinning slowly, from quayside to touch the oozy mud of low tide and measured its length, I find it is twenty feet from low water to the quayside that the highest tides overtop.

At night, when I wake between dreams, the first thing I do is go to the window and look out at the river. My one certainty. The bridge lights are shimmering fragments on its surface. Sometimes the river is low, running out in rippling ribbons fast between shining mudbanks and muddied stones. Sometimes it is around midpoint, surging tidally in. Once I caught it, full to the brim, placid as a pond, in the silence of deepest night, at the moment of its arrival at its highest point, a moment of suspension, like the catch in a breath, before, moon bidden, it began its long letting go, down to its low, the null point, the moment before the return. Immense forces. Huge masses of water moving. Being moved. Tides. The river is the Lune. Moon in French.

When I lived on Shaftesbury’s green hilltop, where often the skies were clear, the moon was visual. I would track its nightly progress across the sky, its fattening from spring-steel curve to silver shield disc, as each night it moved further from the sun, growing from thin cradle of the old moon each night brighter, fuller, until, its perfect self, it faced the sun in equipoise, face to face across the chasm of the sky. Here, in cloudy Lancaster, ‘the wettest city in England’, I hardly ever see the moon. Not enough, anyway, to register any pattern in its changes. It is in the river that I register it, in the effect of its power.

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