Kinesthetic Experience of a Hermetic Narrative

“Every landscape is a hermetic narrative,” says Lucy Lippard in her book The Lure of the Local, ” finding a fitting place for oneself in the world is finding a place for oneself in a story” (33) This story is always complex; it is composed of histories, ideologies, beliefs, and mythologies. We never mean only the landforms, but “the flavour of the society, the beliefs and the activities of the people who make up a given place”.  

Ungoogled Earth, 11/2011, synthetic polymer and oil on stretched canvas, 60″x92″, (work in progress)

This story is never just your own, add I. The term ‘displacement’ which I (out of being anaware or simply ignorant) have used so often in my thesis proposal last summer, raised doubts in Lucy Lippard’s mind even back in 1997, when this book was written. The author warns that “the sense of place” is simbiotically related to a sense of displacement; she is “ambivalent” about the phrase “sense of place” – she feels it became not just a cliché but a kind of “intellectual property” (33) or a “way for nonbelongers to belong, momentarily”. As a true nonbelonger I immediately feel ashamed; for grabbing the term “displacement” (which was kindly offered to my consideration by Chris Jones last year) greedily, oblivious of the cliché flavour of it if abused, of my predatory skills sharpened by this ever nagging need to find this “intellectual property” – this miniscular piece of global real estate I could finally rest my eyes on and call it ’home’. And I feel even more ashamed because I feel that Lucy Lippard is right: there must be some test (or contest) before you are pronounced by whatever voice a nonbelonger. It should be self-imposed or self-inflicted. One should be challenged and put through trials. Hey, nonbelonger, you have fled before – can we trust you again?

In the article “All Over the Place” – a review on Lippard’s book, Thomas Hine definesThe Lure of the Local “an exploration of Lippard’s sense of multicenteredness… and an embodiment of the concept… To ‘know your place’ is an acquiescence to limits that Lippard is emphatically unwilling to recognize” (2) Hine reprimands Lippard gently on possibly not being too selective (or overly focused) on one aspect of place or belonging, dividing her attention between issues like landscape photography, mapping, archaeology, historic preservation, cultural differences, pollution, and public art. The author of the article also mentions that Lippard includes “dozens of other voices, quoted in long paragraphs throughout the text” (3). As long as she follows the proper citation rules, say I - of course she needs all the issues and all the voices. The notorious “sense of place” is like an ancient disintegrating quilt that needs thousands of stories to be woven back into it and re-surrected for its mending. The article was written a decade ago when human mind was probably, less multi-tasking than today. Thomas Hine is sure that “this strategy of thinking globally, locally and esthetically at once is a formidable obstacle for the reader”. He insists that Lippard tries to “distract us” on every page, with the possible aim of not letting the reader to understand “the lure of the local too quickly”.

I on my part enjoyed the book thouroughly. So many of Lippard’s statements struck accord with me and many more summarised my modest findings. “…memory is  stratified”, says Lippard, “If we have seen a place through many years, each view, no matter how banal, is a palimpsest.” In our imagination we can unpave the roads of our childhood ecquipped just with stories of our older relatives or neighbours. Lucy Lippard calls the experience of building this sense of place over the years a “kinetic or kinesthetic” experience. “Even if one’s story there is short, a place can still be felt as an extension of the body especially the walking body, passing through and becoming part of the landscape.

All places exist somewhere between the inside and the outside views of them, the ways in which they compare to, and contrast with, other places. Lippard says that “A sense of place is a virtual immersion that depends on lived experience and a topographical intimacy”. This topographical intimacy to me can only spread that far for any human being - the ability being measured not by technology but by intrinsically human means like seeing up to the horizon line, or the capability to walk a distance on foot in a day, knowing the names of all small towns and acreages in their geographical sequence to the south or to the north along that higway.  Even the sense of horror at the deer roadkill at a certain point of that road. And seeing the deep red of its blood to be washed away gradually by the autumn rains.  As if measuring with your own body, restricted by natural limits to just how much of space we can call our own, our place, our home. Lucy Lippard gives the reader an example of Michael Steiner’s measure of a ‘region’: ” the largest unit of territory about which a person can grasp ‘the concrete realities of the land’, or which can be contained in a person’s jenuine sense of place” (34).

My own thoughts on the subject, of course, have been evoked by frequent travel to Calgary. I thought of this reverse kinesthetic experience for most of city dwellers: you ‘google’ the map, the Earth before you travel – and the map stays neutral and impersonal till you live through it, till you ungoogle it – carrying your body through it, learning its truths and its faults, and also its codes in your way. My latest painting – still in progress – is titled Ungoogled Earth. It is all about that kinesthetic experience of carrying your registering body through a landscape. Adding to it your own experiential interpretations and visions.

 

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