Thick Description






I am travelling through a foreign landscape, yet navigating familiar pathways. There is a silence and stillness around me. The flat plane beneath my feet is uninterrupted and stretches out towards the horizon. The only thing punctuating the space are marks in the earth apparently leading to more marks, and what appears to be detritus: fragments of material indexing past events without further explanation. Although it is obvious that I am alone, I gain a sense of previous occupation.

The forms and marks populating the environment appear to overlay one another composing a palimpsest in the earth, but unlike posters that are pasted over one another on advertising boards forming a kind of stratification, here there is no indication of the order in which the marks were made. Lack of sequence makes it difficult to establish a sense of time or chronology in the space, making understanding how they may relate to one another a challenging task. Are they discrete or part of the same event? Just as double-exposed film where it is difficult to separate the contents of one image from the other. This superposition of marks, as if they had been made simultaneously, forces alternative and more creative cognitive processes of interpretation. I am able to treat the deep past as if it were yesterday. As we flick through our lives online, we are presented with collages of events in a similar manner. Although the material was originally created chronologically, digital media shows it as timeless. The density of potential this produces causes the space to feel intoxicating.

The foreign marks are not linguistic. Instead, they are basic lines and shapes that seem to indicate direction and the notion of movement. The static landscape remains still but my body passes across it like a counter on a board. As I travel along some of these ley lines I witness new marks appearing. The space has been activated by another body, but one that remains concealed or invisible to me. Nevertheless, the marks of their activity become part of the surroundings that I am trying to interpret.

I wonder, are these marks and objects completed things or a cumulative blueprint for something yet to be made. Circumambulating my surroundings I find meaning beginning to emerge through repeated encounters with certain marks, and establishing relationships between them. The space is like an infinite diagram being continuously and cumulatively constructed by visiting bodies.

My engagement with this domain is not logical or rational, but instinctive, like an animal released from captivity immersed in a new environment. Lack of any chronological indicators or indication of a history, as well as symbols or linguistic cues, forces a mindset focussed on the present moment looking forward to how the future may possibly unfold. There is nothing to reflect upon apart from the history of my own actions. Due to a lack of looking backwards, I am forced to behave reactively without the influence or distraction of history.

After a while voices begin to sound, highlighting parts of the landscape and causing flat marks to rise up suddenly from the ground, presenting themselves as three- dimensional markers in the space. As the space becomes animated, certain emphasis is placed on particular marks and artefacts, causing it to become more specific and comprehensible.

Oxymoronically, increased clarity decreases opportunities for creative interpretation previously available. The space seems to have presented itself to me in a specific way but I realise it is actually me who has imposed my own interpretation onto the space based on my particular perception and personal investigation of the landscape. My venturing through it formulated my learning process and comprehension of the space. In truth, this is a kingdom of multiplicity that has been organically constructed and shared by its visitors over time; every country is the sum of its occupants. Although it is a singular space, for every visitor it becomes their own unique place. I am aware that I am blinded by my own individual perception of this place. Although I know it is still the same space as when I arrived, I cannot tell that it is, the playful naivety I once had has been lost. As the landscape becomes more sharpened populated with discrete forms, I yearn for the moment I arrived.

The marks and objects across this land cannot be repatriated. They are ancient, primitive form constants belonging to past, present and future occupants. I reflect on my own experience in this space and consider others who have passed through. How does it activate for them and how can I relate to the collective memory of this place if it has presented itself to me in such an individual way? This is an intelligent environment, not generated by an individual, but through successive decision-making. Groups remember more than individuals, for they are able to draw on the knowledge and experience (memories) of all individuals present. Groups are also able to acquire more information than individuals. As individuals often have widely differing experiences, personalities and other characteristics, each can acquire a unique set of information that can be contributed to a group discussion.

Over time, we (including groups and other collections of people) become twisted individuals, our lived experiences set us into a multitude of forms. Under times of stress, when we are charged or under extreme atmospheric conditions, our original form can be revealed, we revert to things we knew in the past. Just like a muscle wire, we are alloys, mixtures of materials. It is important to recognise how our surroundings set us into forms, and that these forms influence present and future behaviour. They establish tacit, embodied, active memories that are not explicitly concerned with looking backwards. These memories become catalysts in a creative process, one that is forward-thinking, where we learn from one another and act collectively.

A commissioned response to MUSCLE WIRE by Amy Ash and Emma Finn.
Mark