Artists and Place Studies

Loss of place

Loss of place 

Sue Michael,  Eudunda Storage Shed for the Holden,  2015, digital photograph

Sue Michael, Eudunda Storage Shed for the Holden, 2015, digital photograph

It is a far easier task to document the loss of place, for the patterns of settlement are ever-moving, made worse by disasters of all varieties, and of all scales. Art photographers and photojournalists, such as those who worked for Magnum Photos, are particularly rewarding to carefully study. In this time of climate change it is of particular importance to document what we are losing, in the hope that enviornmental awareness may be potentially transmuted into a call for action. I have purposely stepped away from this form of politically activated art into more modest circumstances… to help shape, refine and sharpen the skills needed when approaching personal, place attachments. It has been the deeper considerations of the meanings imbued in ‘my places’, those that ‘call me back,’ that has been refined. I began by listing places I am attached to and then listed keywords associate with those places. Examples of my meaningful places include making mud pies in the country town’s dusty backyard, caravan travels across Australia as a child, the kitchen tables of my lifetime, teenage adventures at the beach at midnight, assisting in eight hour operations as a nurse, and the digging tasks with our family dog who loved gardening.

The senior citizen’s shed (Eudunda Storage Shed for the Holden) will not remain for much longer. The property could easily be sold, and goods dispersed and this, generally, is the natural of existence, unless you are worthy of a roped off museum display. No presumed sequence of events secures our places. A thunderbolt may, literally, change everything in a moment, and then we are left with fragments of our place making, that may not even be clear to us in the immediate aftermath. Aspects of that place may not have a lot to do with our current lives and yet it will be sorely missed.

As children we visited every possible museum, grave of Australia’s bushrangers and explorer’s cairn on the family holidays, or so it seemed. How has this oriented me, and how does it connect to my current life? It is perhaps true that we may not spend a protracted length of time in a place, but it may join with other places and have an accumulative meaning that we may miss later in life. Chance encounters with a place may have the strength to be a prompt for our reverie. Present day events can, of course, prompt associations with our past; setting the cutlery on the Christmas table, with the special silverware, often returns me to the neat trays of surgical instruments I, long ago, had to arrange When we can no longer visit a place there may be its difficult persistence in our awareness, yet still be not clearly and comprehensively grasped. Geographer Yi-fu Tuan suggests that:

people tend to suppress that which they cannot express.

Tuan, Space and Place, p6.

This is then a potential doorway for artists to enter… to bring to the surface, to churn the lived experience and sift for what is valuable within the meanings imbued in place. Artist can find investigative pathways to follow back to places, and the emotional ‘strings’ that connect to those we have not heard from. Jessica Dubrow suggests the artist can move beyond the ‘pretty’ or aesthetically pleasing appearances, to wander to the difficult to reach aspects of place, the events that can be so hard to know, to repel past indifference, and to reinstate what has been lost. This does not mean the artist should only concern themselves with sentimentality, but instead be selective and wary of merely repatriating the past.

There is a drawing exercise that may help: draw a family shed from your childhood. Keep a perspective where you have no particular concerns, but instead note the shapes, promotions actualities rather than careful measurements. I used crayon and newsprint to mirror the early school years. There are further notions to consider once the initial drawing has been made. Are there areas of the remembered shed where your thoughts can become lost in? Do more drawings of the same scene. What is your way out from this lost place? Is the making of a map a way to provide a clearer orientation to this past? How can you as an artist convey the difficulties in returning to that shed? What is the most meaning full information you can convey?

Look again at your drawings and consider what you are sharing that others do not know. It is like looking at a favourite film for the seventh time; there is more to glean.

Sue Michael,  Family Shed, left panel, 2014, acrylic on canvas,  60 x 90 cm

Sue Michael, Family Shed, left panel, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 90 cm

Sue Michael,  Family Shed, mid panel,  2014, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 126 cm

Sue Michael, Family Shed, mid panel, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 126 cm

Sue Michael,  family Shed, right panel,  2014, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 144 cm

Sue Michael, family Shed, right panel, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 144 cm

Suggested reading:

Jessica Dubow, Chapter Four: Place and Loss, in The Intelligence of Place, ed. Jeff Malpas, Bloomsbury, 2015.