Spareparts Puppet Teatre; the now-ornamental crane at ‘E’ Shed; a line of billboards hiding much; and the corner of the railway station — these form the horizon of my view from here. There’s Norfolk Pines, this café’s umbrellas, and the awning above filling in most of the rest of the scene, and all framed by a big concertina window and lit with the most fierce summer sun. But were this a painting and myself an idle visitor to the gallery in which it hung, I’d think little of its subjects or composition and be more keen to investigate the trade origins of the canvas on which it was painted, or even the bricks in the wall behind it. Why? Because the puppet theatre is boring, and unknown to me; the crane, though once embodying pure utility, now is more like a beautiful tapestry chopped up and used to pack potatoes (if you follow the analogy); of the billboards nothing need be said (they were built expressly to spew simplified coarseness in to this place); and the railway station has been so much looked at that its fundamental rightness (like that of the crane) is covered with a sort of ‘observatory grime’, and little can be got from it.
These things are all just the big, dumb, human objects that we’re ‘supposed’ to look at, and that’s all it takes for them to become insignificant to a study of this place’s truth or beauty (or whatever it is that I’m looking for here). I don’t mean that these objects should be ignored. Of course they shouldn’t, they are here â€” and massively defining of what ‘here’ is. They must be acknowledged, and examined, and praised or defiled (as their spirit suggests), and then ignored. Look at them, and then look past them, or into them, or anywhere into a smaller field of inquest. The great sweeping vistas can be only shallowly know, and I’m here in the business of looking (and maybe knowing, though I’ll not be too presumptive) deeply.
I could look closer at any element of this scene and find in it inspiration for days of writing. It wouldn’t matter what it was: the theatre downpipe, the leaves that break up my view of the crane, one advertisment or the light fitting above it — each of these is a passkey to a whole universe of real people, far off places and strange things, if we but look hard enough. Some of these worlds stretch through time from centuries past, and all must continue into the strangely mottled future. Others occupy space barely more than what I see from here; some, the whole globe. They certainly intertwine and have, no doubt, many more points of intersection than just this place. That’s what I like to think about.
Which passkey we choose to begin our journey is almost irrelevant, and is in anycase thrust upon us if we’re only open enough (read: have time enough) to see it. Sit in one spot, let your mind and eyes drift aimlessly, and before long something will suggest itself. You need to be aware that you’re looking, but not force the thing, not have any idea of what you’re looking for.
So today I’m thinking about the steel frame of the awning above me, its shapes and bolts, history and function, the people who have looked at it, the people who never have but who have walked beneath it daily. Who tightened the last bolt in it? What is the name of the colour of the paint? What shopfronts have been beneath it, here where I’m sitting, over the years? These are all ‘facts’, and they do interest me, but there’s more: the structure, design — it’s ugly. An inelegant, clumsy, grumpy bull-nose of a thing, it’s exterior and profile of aesthetic value to the facade but giving nothing to the coffee-sippers who sit below it. This needs to be looked into also.
Another time, perhaps I will…