Hi. While I'm out hiking on the PCT (search for me on instagram) an article I wrote about walking The Shikoku Island Buddhist Pilgrimage has been published by Cordite. Check it out here: http://cordite.org.au/essays/concrete-a-shikoku-pilgrimage/
Thought I’d upload my dissertation. Please download A Tour of Ashfield Flats here
5am we watch the sun rise at Mooro Katta.
Nowhere to sit but cold marble steps
Where we have placed hundreds of fake candles
Which hundreds of people carry hundreds
Of metres across the dewy grass
Where ducks are asleep and the plants
Are from thousands of kilometres away
With common and Latin labels.
And because there has been rain they look healthy.
Happy even. Orchids amongst banksias
Kangaroo paw amongst marri. The light
Changes so rapidly, we walk amongst strangers
And those of us who have not cried feel the change too.
At the hilltop we come to a boab;
That travelling circus elephant, rotten and cracking
A beached whale whose blubber leached
Back to the ocean, staining the sand.
Up north they use these trees as prisons.
Down below we see the estuary
That once was a river and further and further
Past the smoke stacks, purple hills.
Others are already at the memorial
Stretching their legs, straightening their backs.
A wattle bird’s silhouette on the metal railing.
Someone blows their nose and uses the same tissue
To wipe their eyes. For all the stories
We choose life and die, or choose death
And die. And after the poem is read
And we disperse, we meet a pregnant woman
Due any day, a cook from the country
Whose only wish is to see her toes again.
In John Dixon Hunts’ book Greater Perfections in the chapter ‘Word and Image in the Garden’ he discusses the role of the word and narrative and experience in landscape architecture. In context of narrative, he argues:
“[N]arratives that recount times past do so in the present, which with landscape architecture is intimately linked to the configurations of the site that functions both as setting and presumably as prompt for the narrative to be recounted. Further, the “reader” is thrust into prominence; the narrative of a place relies on the verbal skills of its visitor, who has to infer or “translate” from the given materials, which can never (qua narrative) be as complete as they would be, for instance, on the pages of a novel.”
Thus, the verbal skills of a viewer, reader or visitor in a didactic, narrative designed landscape can never as complete as the reader of a novel. This is because of the “translation” from the abstraction of the inscriptions on the materials of the site, and the site itself. Therefore, for example, a plaque by the ocean may describe the anchorage of a ship in a port two hundred years earlier. The visitor reads the plaque, looks over to the position of anchorage, and is imagines a ship there. The argument put forward by Hunt is that this scenario is not as complete a narrative on the pages of a novel. However, I think there are grounds for a contrary argument. A visitor with verbal skills may have their experienced enhanced by looking out to where the boats set anchor. A purely fictionalised novel has no landscape equivalent to compare the given materials.
Unless of course, Hunt means that a plaque can never be as long or as big as a novel. In which case he is correct. He concludes: “in short, the site qua site may play a greater or lesser role.” When, I think what he means to say is: the abstract site (narrative) within a real landscape may play a greater or lesser role.
Sites within sites, narratives within narratives; the way our minds work and our body moves through a site is immensely complex. There are an infinite amount of impressions, senses, ideas and events that coalesce to complete our understanding of a landscape or site. While historical narratives within sites seek to represent a true interpretation of a sites past, what of the fictional impressions we gain from a site? How does a shift in scale, an imagined people of the past, an animated artefact, the re evaluation of the ugly change the way we read landscapes? Can, or do we reach neutrality by championing the fake and the ugly when best practise seeks to promote the good and feel good?