Monday, April 28, 2008

From black - yellow

Fiona Gillmore
Newcall Gallery 29 April - 20 May


Oftentimes at twilight I find myself seated at a bus-stop awaiting carriage home. I generally frequent the same stop, where the seats are placed generously to afford a view of the city, though not from any great distance. Across the broad street from my position buildings rise – teeth, battlements or monoliths – thirty flights against the vaster reach of sky.

I have no pressing matters I can attend to whilst sitting there – no goals to achieve nor expectations to meet. Accomplishing little but witnessing the passage of time, I often get to wondering about the value of things, the way we think. For example there is a point where day becomes night, where a switch occurs between opposites. And yet as I sit there I find it difficult to tell with any conviction whether what I am experiencing is part of the period called day, or the period called night. If there is a switch that takes place between two opposing forces, say when black becomes white – one could be forgiven for expecting a violence to evidence itself, some moment of trauma to signal the inversion which turns one concrete existence into its opposite.

This moment somehow never arrives to announce itself, so I have to read the herald of night into inconspicuous details. My current system is somewhat clinical. There in the office buildings facing me, there are invariably rooms or whole floors left fully lit, projecting their own approximation of daylight for the benefit of those working inside, the better to pursue daytime goals. This provides me with a standard measurement upon which to base my calculation. During actual daylight hours the light from the windows – being still an imperfect approximation – pales in comparison to the natural radiance of the sky, but as nighttime steadily approaches the artificially lit rooms acquire more impact. As the sky darkens I have come to believe that the transition between night and day happens at that point when the light from the windows seems to become more luminous than that from the sky.


And yet that point is infinitely reducible and infinitely escapable. To make use of such a definition is hardly possible within the fluid structure of language, where words are replaceable and their meaning alters according to their context. Because we have developed this flexible system of abstraction we are no longer required to make experiential judgements. By your definition we can only know when day turns to night by seeing it happen, by some system we devise and in relation to a given constant. But the only reason those buildings and that channelled electricity can exist is because of language, because we can reduce physical things down to concepts and vagaries, so we can use the knowledge of their existence without ever coming in contact with the thing itself.

The language we use is a system with an inbuilt schizophrenia, where the meanings of words overlap, so that the word ‘twilight’ includes both ‘night’ and ‘day’. In this way we make easier for ourselves our interaction with the world. By interacting with porous concepts, rather than concrete realities we can make these periods of transition less traumatic and be free to pursue activities that would otherwise be forbidden by our subservience to natural cycles.


Perhaps then let me offer another definition of change.
I was sitting on a pier facing the city one night recently, the harbour between us. The lights of the buildings and of the streets and the dock machinery glimmered over the horizon, a thin band made up of individual points. The night was overcast so the lights seemed to emerge in the distance from black depth. As I sat there a huge tanker entered the harbour, a slow and silent leviathan. The tanker carried few lights of its own, so appeared mainly as a giant moving shadow, a silhouette against the city. From left to right the tanker past by, it’s presence causing an insidious eclipse swallowing the city lights in front, and depositing them behind.

I think this is perhaps a better way of understanding change. Where once a light can be said to exist in front of the ship, after the ship has past the light can be said to be behind. This is like the difference between night and day. Because things exist inside of a continuum the only thing that changes drastically is our way of classifying them. Behind the silhouette of the ship is the point that one thing changes to another. When looking, we can never see this happen, because for one thing to become another, at some point it has to be invisible, it has to be neither one nor the other.

What Fiona is offering to us is a chance to slow down our expectations for gratification, to relish time spent during periods of transition. What we encounter is not a transaction, we do not enter the gallery and leave having made a cultural purchase, an intellectual product akin to “I came, I saw, I conquered”, but the opportunity to witness a series of infinitely different scenarios, played out inside of a continuum that purposefully eludes classification. Like finding ourselves in the shadow of a passing ship.

Essay by John Ward Knox

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

At a point overlooking the city.

At a point overlooking the city, a car park at 9pm. Looking upwards, through the open sunroof of a parked car, the clouds lit from beneath by the glow of the city.



Thank heavens, else they recede with the sky and we lose them til tomorrow, as if they were history. Only in the city do we capture the clouds – we hold them in an immobile and insidious spotlight, lest they slip beyond our recognition into darkness. In the age of reason we have to be sure at all times that the clouds exist. It is reassuring but saddening too. An affirmation of sentience that somehow forbids sleep?


There are no silver linings to be found with clouds above a city at night, instead the city provides something akin, a mirror perhaps. The horizon lit by a thousand points of light providing a golden lining between the earth and the sky – a delineation that is most obvious at the edges, where humanity hugs the ground, an insidious urban sprawl. Aspiration breaks this artificial lining though, where humans have struck upwards with sky-rises that create a lattice of lights like the facets of a crystal – refracting our perception of form as something that belongs to the earth. Human aspiration is like the atmosphere turning into a cloud to announce its presence. In one moment it is a wandering mass of individuals – carefree and restless – the next a union of effort, a confluence of wills and a cloud – the city – is produced.


It seems to me that people climb a hill – right to the top – to seek distance. This then, is the real point. When you achieve distance you achieve momentary independence. What then? What does one seek in isolation?


Beneath us our compatriots, our families, our enemies and lovers. Above us the compassion and benevolence of a world apart. People seek the point because reaching any point is to see the intention of humanity. To see that as a tool humanity is a blade gliding through thin air – in contact with nothing – swung by a species fighting shadows.

The drunks and the druggies see this, see the millions of blinking lights and perceive of them hostile in their ability to remain distinct from one another. The drunks see that they are receiving a thousand individual bullet points in a lecture in manners from a superior they do not respect. They can never conceive of all the conflicting rules as being something they can understand so they seek to blur the boundaries – to turn the city into the heavens – until they become a single celestial cloud in which it is safe to sleep.

The lovers see this - they are in contact with nothing, and as such, even in company are alone. So the lovers turn to one another and seek solace not in each other’s words but in one another’s breathing.

The lonely see the harbour, the boats moving slowly to sea, the trees moving barely. The lonely hear the wind and the motorway and think of them sisters. They hear the chirping of thousands of crickets; see the blinking of thousands of lights and think of them brothers. At the point the lonely find thoughts like fireflies, incandescent sparks swimming through black depth. They grow entranced at the beauty of these glowing spectres, adrift and disembodied hopes. At the point of the world the lonely find siblings in nature, unusual comfort in strangers.

At the point everybody finds solace in nothingness, see in the distance the ancestors of their thoughts, hear in the wind the sermons of some estranged teacher they once respected, but had long since forgotten.


At the point I think people become a body apart, whether in the interior euphoria of teens marching side by side or of lovers momentarily staring at the same point in the distance, or as a drunk who becomes a cloud – less presence but more impact – or even the lonely who are already apart, but who find in themselves a million potential relationships.

Grace and Estella depart the point.


At the very tip it becomes pointless to ignore others – one feels perhaps a renewed drive to engage with others in ways that convey some of the meaning gleaned from seeing the stars and the city mimic one another. Descending though the lights all change – the city no longer twinkles but it glares – the heavens retreat behind looming constructions of brick and concrete and glass. The beautiful separation seems somehow less applicable, and the lack of recognition on the faces of those whom you meet makes you pine again for existence on the point.


John Ward Knox. Curriculum Vitae