A sense of place. The rift, the removal, to re-stitch.
Essay for the catalogue of David Krippendorff – with essays from Kathrin Becker, David Elliott, Mark Gisbourne, Andrea Scrima and Matthias Reichelt, Distanz Verlag, November 2023
Note: the text here is an excerpt : the poetic and syntactic licences of the author can be understood only in reference to the images and documentation of the works in the catalogue.
A SENSE OF PLACE
-“There is no place like home” – Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz ,1939 –
When thinking about a place one has a bond with, a sense of place drips in.
The meaning of the place, the attachment to it*, exhales at one’s thought of this location, and at the thought of where or what one feels home is.
A sense of place is about longing for a place, for a landscape, for its features. It can be a memory, a sensation, a perception, a response. It is an emotion, a feeling. It is attachment, it is somewhere, where one longs to be, remembers to have been content and knows, feels a belonging to.
If, then, a sense of place refers to the emotive bonds and attachments developed or experienced in particular locations**, then it can also be a perception, generated by a human connection, a memory held within. A sense of place can be stirred up by an anecdote, an image or daydreaming. It can loom out from one’s own social imaginary***. A sense of place can, too, surface as a result of the separation from home, a region, a district, a city, a crossroad in life. A sense of place is both subjective and real. It is physical and ephemeral, fleeting in one’s own recollection. It is sharp when heeded, often almost graspable, difficult to be left unnoticed.
If there is no place like home, then home is where one feels belonging. Home can be a construction, an apartment, a street, a city, a country, a system of references, beliefs or memories. Home is a sense of recognition, affinity and acceptance. Home becomes not an unsentient matter****, but rather exists as a place which senses. Home can have the shape of a wooden house, uprooted, flying, caught in a storm and it can be where people one loves are, or were. Home can be a house burning in Atlanta, the image and omen of past and present injustices.
Home is, too, the departure from it. It is not about the destination that will be reached, it is about leaving there to be, possibly, nowhere, at the risk of feeling displaced. So home is also to run away from home: what one leaves is, often enough, what one longs for, afterwards.
If there is no place like home, then a sense of place is yearning. It is longing and hunger. When one belongs, this means comfort, safety and proximity – a sweet and pungent smell. It feels like the reassuring sounds of the parents’ muffled voices, music and laughter in the other room, when falling asleep as a child.
And if, on the other hand, there is no place like home, then placelessness occurs. It stings, dwells within. It is cruel, always possible. It can occur everywhere, to anyone, at any time. Then a sense of place becomes longing for something that doesn’t really exist. However this does not mean that – like the atavistic need to belong – a sense of place is not perceived, doesn’t ail, doesn’t drive theindividual quest, the journey.
To belong means to pertain, to suit, and that is not a given everywhere, at all times.
Collective memories are a strong form of belonging, a shared pool of knowledge, information, images, references, narratives. Collective memories can materialise into new forms, to be better discerned as flashbacks, and they can happen to shapeshift into the form of a loop. Collective memories stem from narratives which are digested by replaying a sequence of a Hollywood movie, set in a world on the brink of a war.
When everything else but the loop is removed, when a frame repeats and flickers, then the motion is slowed, words drop on the screen and the music speaks deeply. Narratives and common beliefs, memories and tales, are laid bare. That is when a sense of place can be perceived at the same time as a sense of placelessness, and they can both be touchable: the first because home and homeland exist, and the latter because a sort of rift, born from social and political turmoils, separates, spawning a sense of impotence, loss of meaning, purpose, loss of place.
Collective memories and references, cut-outs and glimpses of narratives punctuate scenes of old and modern movies and found footage. Once those are re-edited, something new happens. There’s no escape once one follows the narrations of a story, there’s no frame to look away and beyond, only denuded reality.
Gilda lays on the bed, the bed is made, it looks quiet.
However, bombs are falling all around. There’s home, the room, and there’s the outside. There’s a rift, a split, a crack in the suggested, fictitious, glamourization of war and display of power. There is conflict and separation in the world, among places and among people, among countries, changing everything, always and essentially. It is no longer a storm, nor a tornado, and it is not about separation and journeys back. It is at the brink of something else. It is struggle, it is war, it is loss.
Now Gilda cries up there on the billboard.
She is breaking up in little pieces.
She knows, now, that all bad things end up lonely.
She should have been more careful.
Turns out that there’s no weakness in pain, only advertisement, tapping into shared references, devised to use propaganda and push an agenda. And propaganda punctuates crossroads and streets of places we once belonged to or still do, where we wander around or stray from.
Frames, stills and parts of found footage are sagaciously re-stitched in a new sequence. Much like the narratives composed by countries’ governments’ politics as symptoms of the socio-political entanglements. The slow motion of a Hollywood movie can turn a fight into a dance, while starry skyscapes tell stories about expectations, reality, naivety and ambition. How small is man, how high are expectations, how pricey the disenchantment. How cruel is placelessness, displacement, the need to conform, disillusionment.
Collective consciousness, shared memories and personal, subjective, dreamscapes narrate the tales of the individual, who, more often than not, endures the sensation of being lost or trapped, deceived, displaced, bewildered, longing to come home. To return, to be a star, to be remembered after death, to remember after the loss, not to vanish, not to wander off one’s own track made of dreams and wishes. Not for too long, anyway.
Footage’s frames and stills repeat and are newly sewn together. Metaphors travelling via cinema, sticking onto collective aesthetics, reverberate death and life at the threshold between irony, disenchantment and glamorisation of societal rituals. And – at the brink between the romanticisation of death and the gesture of tearing it apart from the hyper-aestheticism death and loss can be the subjects of – death feels like a rift, a fracture as many others changes that occur in life, in a place, in a country, at a time, once upon a time.
To understand a turmoil, to navigate a crack, a rift, the change, means to comprehend human flaws and injustice, hate, self absorption, vanity and ambition. Narratives, aesthetics and references, shared through films and broadly known movies are re-edited, parts from them are removed, undone, torn apart and stitched back together. Re-mounted in sequences, they are undone to fathom. They are torn and looped, constructed into moving collages in order to understand, to use the rift to re-sew together and ultimately comprehend the world around us.
To remove all the elements which makes something what it is, and rearrange the visual, narrative, aesthetic and syntactic components is an audacious and fearless gesture to discover what can really be said, addressed, laid bare. By removing what is there, one can look at the parts or components of it. One can analyse the symptoms, dissect the reality as it appears, the common beliefs to better observe, unmask and comprehend. To take apart and create a sequence of moving stills, to re-collage movies and found footage is the bold gesture which is to shape and carve, to make visible what was before ungraspable as vapour and only perceived as ephemeral: is to make seeable what happens at the axes between collective and personal events, rituals and emotions, turmoils and socio-political shifts and upheavals.
Undo also means to loosen something: to open or untie a knot. To separate and to better observe. To stitch it back to ultimately grasp the meaning of what was before. To undo and remove, seems like what one is not prone to do in the process of understanding, or simply while making sense of the world around oneself. But there is discovery in the act of undoing, a different perspective – a memento mori. In the possibility to discern and seek further, is also contained the cruel reality of human nature. When not only frames and scenes but sentences too, are isolated and re-sequenced to form a new dialogue, one finds that tolerating ignorance, segregation and racism come at a very high price to be paid.
3 DOORS AJAR
A first door ajar permits one to look inside. To look at the quiet disorder of human intimacy, at the inner turmoil and at the symptoms and gestures generated from it. This door allows one to look at a woman and her reflection in the mirror. The reflection of herself or a version of her. The space one observes is enclosed between walls, walls of a building that was something and it is not anymore. A place of passage now, a place of stories, passions and tales in the past. Scattered among those spaces and corners are past moments and stories. The woman sits at a dresser. Thus a door ajar opens on the scene when she removes her make-up, undressing a costume and her identity. A door ajar allows one to peek in this space, where and when changing clothes and removing the makeup is the gesture which means to conform and let go, to stop longing to try to belong. To mourn one’s own identity while also attempting to conform.
A door is normally ajar on the threshold between a space and another or between what once was and now is: a theatre once, now a parking garage. A woman’s identity, a woman’s loss. Her desire to belong and conform to have, earn, find, a place.
Like Aida, the woman in the mirror might fear for herself, for her country. She struggles, she hears the dreadful cry of war raging*****.
Every space, in every place, emanates poetics according to Bachelard. The space that once was and now is, its objects and stories all bring the reader, the viewer, the other, to feel like the poet – the artist. The imaginary resounds within the spectator, and resounds with one’s own past******. It resounds with the perceptions, impressions and senses of the viewer who peaks through the door.
And a door neither closed nor open******* but ajar leaves space for interpretation, for the particular and the universal, and for new meanings given to possibilities, to objects in the spaces, and to the space itself. A door ajar allows to look into, inside, inwards, within and to the poetics of space, of the objects, it permits to give other meanings, and permits atmospheres to echo.
A second door ajar opens onto a dark room, a light bulb is switched on and there’s a chair and a bucket, some mops. It is a second woman and there’s no dresser. There’s her cigarette, there’s her rage and her bursting out a sense of exploitation, injustice. The surveillance camera is a kind of door onto someplace, onto human passion, resentment and vengeance. It is about a dark ghost ship which will bring retaliation, it is about seeing how an anti-hero can still be a hero, scrubbing floors. It is a monologue about inequality, oppression and the dream to break free, to rectify, the dream of consistency.
The third door ajar opens onto a woman singing; red curtains surrounding her. There’s nothing else in the room. All around, death is yet again a human conditio sine qua non for existence. A Palestinian woman chanting Jewish prayer opens the door to the notion of appropriation and assimilation, conformity, subversion, culture of domination. The chant initiates the discussion about the topics at the poles, the act of choosing the Jewish prayer for the dead, performed by a Palestinian character is a subversive action which aims once again to lay bare the contradictions and discrepancies underlying conflict and separation. By removing everything but red curtains, notes and words, one can discern, ponder, by being exposed to the matter of facts. And to the differences and similarities, too. By removing the musical score only black ink drops remain and the chant can’t be sung. Maybe only by removing everything that makes sense and makes possible to have a grip on the narrative or on the (musical) score, a crude sense of loss and despair can resonate, can burn into the viewer’s awareness, for deeper meanings of the discrepancies of the world’s conflicts to be recognised.
Red curtains are, this time, moving and closing onto absence. They do not close at the end of the act while singers and actors cheer on the stage. They close only onto a record player. The public is absent. The curtains, by closing one on the other, muffle the voice coming from the player. One can’t look at anyone. On the stage in 1939, Marian Anderson wasn’t allowed to perform. She had a dream too, but she couldn’t speak, nor sing in Washington. The voice from the record player is lower and lower now, barely audible. What remains is the absence of her own sense of belonging, the consequences of inequalities, racism and conflict.
If home is where one feels to belong, then home can be the destination and what once was. Home can be nostalgia for the status quo, for the things how they once were, for the old American south: even when that means to deny history, racism and slavery. As they’d be gone with the wind.
Once again a gesture is key: the gesture that creates the absence. The removal of figures from the landscapes of Atlanta, of home in Kansas far away from Oz, from the theatre stage. Once again by removing, by undoing, through absence, new scenarios are brought to light, and the viewer can’t help but think about the implications of human brutality and hatred. Human nature can be double-faced. Like carbon in diamonds and coal, it is about life and desire but also about annihilation, consumption and loss.
To remove elements, to cut out and collage, to re-narrate in order to comprehend, is a gesture and a quest, that is brave and entails risks. Sometimes music can bruise, and images can scratch, absence can hurt, and belonging can be both to the homeland or nowhere.
When social memory, based on the context in which one shapes one’s own identity, juxtaposes the individual memory, then the subjective one – often related to place – flows through images and music, narrations and landscapes in front of one’s eyes.
It is impossible not to recognise the immense value of the work of David Krippendorff: sewing narrations with reality, exposing hidden creeds and beliefs, estrangement, enmity, malice, regret and the very dark, very human forces that move within and around us.
Chiara Valci Mazzara
Proofreading Andrew Cannon
* “Sense of place is defined as the meanings of and the attachment to a place held by an individual or a community”; Semken, 2005. – Semken, Steven & Freeman, Carol. (2008). Sense of place in the practice and assessment of place‐based science teaching. Science Education. 92. 1042 – 1057. 10.1002/sce.20279.
**Sense of Place, K.E. Foote, M. Azaryahu, International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography, 2009, p.96-110
***Taylor, Charles. “2 What Is a ‘‘Social Imaginary’’?” In Modern Social Imaginaries edited by Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, Jane Kramer, Benjamin Lee and Michael Warner, New York, USA: Duke University Press, 2004, p. 23-30.
****The Letters of Mark Twain and Joseph Hopkins Twichell, ed. by Harold K. Bush, Steve Courtney and Peter Messent, University of Georgia Press, 2017
*****Giuseppe Verdi, Aida, Prelude, Act 1.
******Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Penguin Books,2014, p.8