The following section contains quotes from works that I have found very influential. These should give further insight into my work. I would like to thank four teachers who inspired confidence and whose work still inspires me – John Dee, Raf Fulcher, Liz Tate and Chris Welsby. The work of Martin Naylor, Carl Plackman and Ron Haselden has been very important, particularly Haselden’s Acme boat piece. The work of Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns and Samuel Beckett is continually enriching. I would also like to acknowledge the influence of a fellow Slade student, Jayne Parker who made haunting and poetic films.
I have always sought inspiration from sources outside art, in prehistory, technology and philosophy. My travel scholarship in 1978 to European science museums still produces images and ideas for my work. More recently installation artists such as Cornelia Parker, Anya Gallaccio and Christian Boltanski have confirmed my views about conceptual complexity and aesthetic pleasure being comfortable bedfellows, contrary to some recent naive reductionism.
“…to landsmen in general, the native inhabitants of the seas have ever been regarded with emotions unspeakably unsocial and repelling; though we know the sea to be an everlasting terra incognita, so that Columbus sailed over numberless unknown worlds to discover his one superficial western one; though, by vast odds, the most terrific of all mortal disasters have immemorially and indiscriminately befallen tens and hundreds of thousands of those who have gone upon the waters; though but a moment’s consideration will teach, and that however baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom , the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the continual repetition of these very impressions, man has lost that sense of the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it.
The first boat we read of floated on an ocean,that with Portuguese vengeance had whelmed a whole world without leaving so much as a widow. That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year. Yea, foolish mortals, Noah’s flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.
Wherein differ the sea and the land……..
Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of that half known life, God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”
From Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills?
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
From A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Houseman
‘That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,’ said Mein Herr, ‘map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?’
‘About six inches to the mile.’
‘Only six inches!’ exclaimed Mein Herr. ‘We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!’
‘Have you used it much?’ I enquired.
‘It has never been spread out, yet.’ said Mein Herr: ‘ the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.’
A passage from Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, 1893
GUIL: A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until –
“My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.”
At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience….
“Look, look!” recites the crowd: “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”
From Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
The real ideas of a poem are not those that occur to the poet before he writes his poem, but rather those that appear in his work afterward, whether by design or by accident. Content stems from form, and not vice versa. Every form produces its own idea, its own vision of the world. Form has meaning; and, what is more, in the realm of art only form possesses meaning. The meaning of a poem does not lie in what the poet wanted to say, but in what the poem actually says. What we think we are saying and what we are really saying are two quite different things.
Octavio Paz-Alternating Currents
The Nautilus and the Drunken Boat
The work of Jules Verne (whose centenary was recently celebrated) would be a good subject for a structural study: it is highly thematic. Verne has built a kind of self-sufficient cosmogony, which has its own categories, its own time, space, fulfilment and even existential principle.
This principle, it seems to me, is the ceaseless action of secluding oneself. Imagination about travel corresponds in Verne to an exploration of closure, and the compatibility between Verne and childhood does not stem from a banal mystique of adventure, but on the contrary from a common delight in the finite, which one also finds in children’s passion for huts and tents: to enclose oneself and to settle, such is the existential dream of childhood and of Verne. The archetype of this dream is this almost perfect novel: L’Ile mysterieuse, in which the man-child re-invents the world, fills it, closes it, shuts himself up in it, and crowns this encyclopaedic effort with the bourgeois posture of appropriation: slippers, pipe and fireside, while outside the storm, that is, the infinite, rages in vain.
Verne had an obsession for plenitude: he never stopped putting a last touch to the world and furnishing it, making it full with an egg-like fullness. His tendency is exactly that of an eighteenth-century encyclopaedist or of a Dutch painter: the world is finite; the world is full of numerable and contiguous objects. The artist can have no other task that to make catalogues, inventories, and to watch out for small unfilled corners in order to conjure up there, in close ranks, the creations and the instruments of man. Verne belongs to the progressive lineage of the bourgeoisie: his work proclaims that nothing can escape man,that the world, even its most distant part, is like an object in his hand, and that, all told, property is but a dialectical moment in the general enslavement on Nature. Verne in no way sought to enlarge the world by romantic ways of escape or mystical plans to reach the infinite: he constantly sought to shrink it, to populate it, to reduce it to a known and enclosed space, where man could subsequently live in comfort: the world can draw everything from itself; it needs, in order to exist, no one else but man.
Beyond the innumerable resources of science, Verne invented an excellent novelistic device in order to make more vivid this appropriation of the world: to pledge space by means of time, constantly to unite these two categories, to stake them on a single throw of the dice or a single impulse, which always come off. Even vicissitudes have the function of conferring on the world a sort of elastic state, making its limits more distant, then closer, blithely playing with cosmic distances, and mischievously testing the power of man over space and schedules. And on this planet which is triumphantly eaten by the Vernian hero, like a sort of bourgeois Antaeus whose nights are innocent and ‘restoring’, there often loiters some desperado, a prey to remorse and spleen, a relic from an extinct Romantic age, who strikingly shows up by contrast the health of the true owners of the world, who have no other concern but to adapt as perfectly as possible to situations whose complexity, in no way metaphysical nor even ethical, quite simply springs from some provocative whim of geography.
The basic activity in Jules Verne, then, is unquestionably that of appropriation. The image of the ship, so important in his mythology, in no way contradicts this. Quite the contrary: the ship may well be a symbol for departure; it is, at a deeper level, the emblem of closure. An inclination for ships always means the joy of perfectly enclosing oneself, of having at hand the greatest possible number of objects, and having at one’s disposal an absolutely finite space. To like ships is first and foremost to like a house, a superlative one since it is unremittingly closed, and not at all vague sailings into the unknown: a ship is a habitat before being a means of transport. And sure enough, all the ships in Jules Verne are perfect cubby-holes, and the vastness of their circumnavigation further increases the bliss of their closure, the perfection of their inner humanity. The Nautilus, in this regard, is the most desirable of all caves: the enjoyment of being enclosed reaches its paroxysm when, from the bosom of this unbroken inwardness, it is possible to watch, through a large window-pane, the outside vagueness of the waters, and thus define, in a single act, the inside by means of its opposite.
Most ships in legend or fiction are, from this point of view, like the Nautilus, the theme of a cherished seclusion, for it is enough to present the ship as the habitat of man, for man immediately to organise there the enjoyment of a round, smooth universe, of which, in addition, a whole nautical morality makes him at once the god, the master and the owner (sole master on board, etc.). In this mythology of seafaring, there is only one means to exorcise the possessive nature of the man on a ship; it is to eliminate the man and to leave the ship on its own. The ship then is no longer a box, a habitat, an object that is owned; it becomes a travelling eye, which comes close to the infinite; it constantly begets departures. The object that is the true opposite of Verne’s Nautilus is Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat, the boat which says ‘I’ and, freed from its concavity, can make man proceed from a psycho-analysis of the cave to a genuine poetics of exploration.
Roland Barthes- Mythologies
My way is in the sand flowing
Between the shingle and the dune
The summer rain rains on my life
On me my life harrying fleeing
To its beginning to its end
My peace is there in the receding mist
When I may cease from treading these long shifting thresholds
And live the space of a door
That opens and shuts
Samuel Beckett-Collected Poems
A geographic “landscapism” – “in the manner” of geographic maps – but
The landscapist from the height of an aeroplane – Then the field trip (400km.) Notes taken i.e. for example number of houses in each village, or then again number of Louis XV chairs in each house – The geographic landscape (with perspective, or without perspective, seen from above like maps) could record all kinds of things, have a caption, take on a statistical look.-
There is also “geological landscapism”: Different formations, different colours – A mine of information!
Meteorological landscapism (Barometry, thermometry, etc.)
Marcel Duchamp-notes for the Green Box