Exercise 2.6: ‘Edgelands’
Read ‘Wire’ and ‘Power’ from Edgelands (see ‘Online learning materials and student-led research’ at the start of this course guide). These short chapters will help prepare you for some of the themes in Part Three. Record your responses in your learning log.
Part Two concludes with a brief investigation into Psychogeography. This brief exercise immediately changed the path of Assignment Two. I bought the book Psychogeography earlier in the unit and have been reading it and using it to approach my assignment especially in regards to Plan B of Assignment Six.
What I’m learning is that psychogeography is the social identity of a place, yet it is more than that, it’s said that that is merely the beginning of what it represents. When I first investigated the topic it seemed no-one had a definite answer as of its purpose, indeed it seems a mirror of the sublime, a concept that is felt yet not understood dwelling in a place of the unknown, whilst not as mystical as the sublime, it is an abstract thought, or idea. Psychogeography seems to be determined by two things, Derive and Flaneur.
Derive – It’s spontaneity, heading out into the wild with no plan, no idea of what you are seeking or wish to explore. Your surroundings and mind collaborate to guide your feet. The geography of the area, architecture, even the ambience. It seems almost an act of mindfulness, allowing your emotions to guide you, being in the present moment and feeling the world around you. Coupled with the flaneur, the character of the journey, the main protagonist, the psyche. I have the book on Edgelands and at first scrolled through it, waiting for deep insights on photography or photo graphical theory, I was confused as the book was devoid of such things. But it was not devoid of knowledge, the wonders and minutiae of life beautifully observed and translated through prose, the writing takes you to a place beyond the present moment. For myself, it was especially beautiful reading as I do notice all the precious things that go unnoticed in life, I always have. The bloom of colour across a dark moor, the delicate raindrops on a leaf, the little sparrows chittering in a twisted bramble on a road side, the tangled limbs surrounding it yet at the same time protecting it. Reading Edgelands I felt like home, sharing my experiences like a minded person.
From thoughts on the psychogeography, next in turn is the Edgelands. The definition seems to be areas on the edge, places of industry, where barbed wire snakes around abandoned military builds as in the series the Hush House by Frank Watson. His work was mentioned briefly in this unit and I explored his website. Watson captured images of abandoned buildings left over from the Cold war; the buildings squat, filling a void somewhere between man and nature, clashing with the environment yet somehow fitting in in a strange mix of worlds. It’s a place where mythology and legends breathe out of the walls into the mind, whipping it up into a raging sea of imagination. They remind me of prehistoric or alien beasts left over after an invasion. To come across one would be to envision the shadows in Plato’s cave, you would put your own imagination and stories to it, you wouldn’t see them as military bases but as alien tech from another world (as a note to self from the beginning of this course since I came across Plato’s cave theory in a book of philosophy I was intrigued, soon after I read it in Susan Sontag’s book in regards to photography; I will discuss this later as it’s quite easy to become diverted and whilst I have written of Plato’s cave in my learning log I haven’t yet posted a study here.
The Edgelands; they are not merely physically but also metaphysically, the place where there is a feeling of danger, a feeling of being a stranger in a distant world. Perhaps you could go as far to say they are uncanny, they are known, these places you pass in the car, our of the corner of your eye you see the pylons holding up snake like wires across the countryside, the overgrown verges, the wild brambles, dark ponds, things that both capture the imagination and deter bravery. They seem to be a place disconnected from the world of safety (to a degree) that we know, off the beaten path. In that respect it brings me back to my investigations of the Suicide Forest, the images I saw and the passages I read were so dark I keep coming back to them, like a one-way path that eventually makes you pass under the dark branches once more. There, you can visit the forest and stay on the path, but if you wander off the path then you will meet some grisly sights. Could the Edgelands, whilst appealing to the brave, or curious, also be a place for the lost to find some comfort.
In the passage, Wire, the authors write of the tiny details all linked to a place surrounded in wire on the Edgelands. They are the stories that are a part of our lives, the stories overlooked and the stories lost. The wire is a barrier yet at the same time it is a draw to those who want to close to it’s barrier for the thrill of danger. The Edgelands are a place of imagination and danger, fear and excitement. Brought up on horror stories of the past these stories and the wire become a part of people’s lives who live near there, beating each other to tell the worst stories, a cocktail of anxiety and bravado, each trying to outscare the other.
When the buildings were shut down and their insides left empty and devoid of life the wire remained. Left by history they are now anintriguingg echo of the past with the same feeling of fear, now they can get closer without a police car monitoring their movements but there is still that unrivalled sense of adreneline and fear, like going through a door marked no entry.
Journalist Frances Spalding wrote when reviewing Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, “We may drive past such places, or through them, in the security and warmth of an airtight car, but they get to us; they have “edge” and seem to challenge the way we live. This book’s authors astutely observe that “Beneath all our worldly dealing, all our getting and spending, run deep, unspoken channels, drumlins of guilt.”
I understand that feeling of guilt and I think it’s poignantly said, we all see these places with the abandoned shopping trolley and the dark pools clogged with litter, the hulking forms of pylons in an idyllic countryside but we pass by, feeling that guilt, yet not allowing it to the surface. It takes me back to Plato’s cave, when the prisoner finds their way out of the cave, sees reality as it is, their whole perception is changed and they can not go back to that life anymore.
As this point I’m seeing Edgelands as a place on the edge of life itself, it’s a place that we perhaps are aware is there but are quite happy to pass by, thought we feel the guilt in ourselves, we overlay it with positivity or distraction. We know this place is the back door to our reality. I didn’t coin the term back door, I came across in in a series of the Edgelands by the photographer, Tom Owens, he wrote, “every designated area of outstanding natural beauty has a back door to it.” For me, and my thoughts on the Edgeland, this sums it up perfectly, it is the back door to our lives, to go through it is to find a new pathway, something different. It could also be described as standing in a muddy puddle in a wasteland feeling miserable as rain pours into your shoes. But I’ve a feeling it’s a lot more special than that.
I feel motivated by my studies into the Edgelands, I feel that I haven’t done Assignment Two justice, capturing images of a beautiful river is aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t tie in with the dark themes of Assignment One, I look at it and like it but I feel like it stands alone as a project. I want to discover an Edgeland near where I live and I know just the place.