In our Anne West seminar, we were asked to create a work based on a text that has helped to form our thesis direction. I, of course, chose Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and did an exercise combining his use of a poetic lens turned upon our daily lives and Uta Barth’s idea of non-spaces to look at what I turn a blind eye to in my own surroundings.
below is a rough draft of a description of my exercise & the visual resulting (with computer generated text in lieu of handwriting):
In the poetics of space, Gaston Bachelard speaks of a different type of looking at our most intimate surroundings by bringing a poetic sensitivity to the spaces that we inhabit. A house is no longer a house but a collection of memories, metaphors, longings and daydreams. The reader begins to think about their environment in terms of possibilities of discovery instead of assumptions of knowing.
“Even if the ‘form’ was already well-known, previously discovered, carved from ‘commonplaces,’ before the interior poetic light was turned upon it, it was a mere object for the mind. But the soul comes and inaugurates the form, dwells in it, takes pleasure in it.”
Through the lens of poetic metaphor, Bachelard enables for spaces, the ones that we have become so accustomed to barely notice, to open up before our eyes. Aided by the information revealed through the alternate perspective of poetry, we discover deeper meanings and therefore more fully realize what it is that we are actually looking at. It becomes quite clear that we have not been conscious of the actual potential of our objects and spaces: everything bears reason to be examined more thoroughly.
This idea has been integral to my thesis topic and development as I am, in the simplest terms, aiming to make the unseen seen, the ordinary extraordinary and invite to the viewer to slow down in their practice of looking and truly commit to seeing what they are looking at; allowing them to meditate on the wonder of their world. Bachelard uses a poetic lens to guide his reader’s sight and imagination as an alternate perspective that allows for new observations to be made. In his chapter on miniatures, he writes: “Here we have an inversion of perspective, which is either fleeting or captivating, according to the talent of the narrator, or the reader’s capacity for dream.”
Photographer Uta Barth speaks of “non spaces”. In her ground series, she investigates what she calls “non spaces” which in this case is the background that is so often visually disregarded in portraiture. With the camera lens, as with our eyes but it’s often too subtle to note, when we choose to focus on one thing all else slips out of focus. Barth set up her shots with the focus on the person in foreground and then simply removed the person so that all that is left in her images is the blurred background; a non space becoming the subject of the piece. She creates an inversion of perspective by showing us what we neglect to notice.
I am a collector of treasure and like to think that I take no thing for granted as trash. I hunt flea markets for unloved objects, Salvation Army for discarded possession and receive countless packages of seemingly useless technology from Ebay. When these packages arrive, I rip them open greedily and relish my new find, yet, that is not all that the boxes contain but that is all that I see. What I do not focus my attention on is the “stuff” surrounding the object: cardboard, cheesecloth, burlap, bubble wrap and paper. These objects have been carefully swaddled into my package as well but they do not engage my attention as the object of my focus: they become nothing more than a “non-object”.
Perhaps through the use of an alternate perspective, I could allow these hastily decided non-objects to reveal an ulterior potential. Bachelard uses the language of words to create poetic phenomenology whereas I work with visual language. In this way, in order to truly view these objects anew, I chose to re-present them in another media, dimensionality and visual language. Although I discard the potential of these packing materials, I am an avid recycler (read: pack rat) and retain a box of them in a closet. I blindly grabbed three of them: burlap, cheesecloth and corrugated cardboard and set off to see them with greater sensitivity. I pressed their physical form into the soft ground of copper plates, etched this representation into the metal and re-presented their identity onto paper; manifesting themselves in a new light to reveal a different way of looking at their visual qualities. Isolated as form, line, texture and rhythm and presented as artwork, these non-objects shed their familiar existence to reveal an auxiliary integrity. We are able to more fully see the possibility of their “interior poetic light” through this shift of perspective.