Having been tied up with end of term paperwork over the last week I’ve only just had an opportunity to catch my breath and reflect on the Spaces of (dis)location conference at Glasgow University that Simon and I presented at last week. Herewith are some stray thoughts on the same.
First, Glasgow itself is a beautiful city! Having only known it in my formative years via (the original) Taggart I’d expected something more grimy than the beautiful examples of Victorian Gothic redbrick architecture that were dotted throughout the centre – a veritable City of Culture. In fact it seems like something of a psychogeographer’s dream – certainly one to revisit in my leisure time. An evening meal at the Black Sheep Bistro went down particularly well: haggis and whisky sauce, beef olives and mash. Excellent!
On to the conference itself. After running through our presentation at the apartment we realised that – of course – we had easily an hour or more. So, anticipating that the sessions themselves would be fairly theory heavy… out went the theory. It was a shame to say goodbye to Toby Butler, Janet Cardiff, the Levs (Vygostky and Manovich), James Joyce, Martin Heidegger, Steven High, Greame Miller, Michael Frisch, Dennis Tedlock, Jeff Noone and the ubiquitous spectre of Deleuze… but in 20 minutes Almias, Displacement Activities, their immediate contexts and influences, along with our current work was more than enough to occupy our slot.
As an interdisciplinary conference, the sessions and papers were exceptionally varied. The keynote was by historian Teresa Zackodnik (University of Alberta) on the circulation (or re-circulation) of news items by two black feminists Jessie Fauset and Amy Jacques Garvey. Although far from my own interests it did provoke some deep thinking about the power and ethics of unofficial syndication not only in the United States (for example in folkloric popular literature such as the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses), but in early modern England and Cyberspace. Personally I wouldn’t say that re-circulation was unique to the cases cited in the paper, as I’m sure Dr. Zackodnik knows full well, but is part of what one might call an “orality of text” (which itself evokes some interesting points of speculation around the question of readers as speakers and sharers of knowledge with the less literate in society).
The first session I attended was Imaginary Spaces. I particularly enjoyed the presentation by Vanja Malloy on avant-garde sculpture and the fourth dimension. This introduced me to Charles Sirato’s Dimensionist Manifesto, a document that seems to have been overlooked in the history of modern art, despite being signed by Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandisnky, and Ben Nicholson (it was partly the work of Nicholson’s wife, Winifred, that induced my obsession with prisms a few years ago). Vanja’s session mainly foccused on the kinetic sculptures of Alexander Calder, of whom I was largely ignorant. A fascinating area for study!
Maryam Mirsepassi’s presentation on imaginary spaces in Persian gardens also made an impression on me. One of the slides was of Bagh e Shahzadeh mirage-like amidst miles of inhospitable desert:
Maryam mentioned that one of the purposes of the gardens was a spiritual one, which I found fascinating as something of an outsider to the culture. I wanted to know more about the relationship is between the garden and the heavenly paradise (- the word paradise itself means ‘walled garden’, as was the Garden of Eden) and whether concepts like the great French Islamic scholar Henry Corbin’s Mundus Imaginalis might be of any relevance to the study of gardens as imaginary, mythic and spiritual locii.
Our presentation during the Public Spaces session in afternoon seemed well received and there were some thought-provoking questions afterwards as well as some nice expressions of interest in what we are doing in our current work. Prior to the conference we shot a quick video of me stumbling around Almscliffe Crag testing the prototype Almias app:
Also in the Public Spaces session was a paper by Sara Roger on Locating the Library: Libraries as Physical and Conceptual Space, which was fascinating. Broadly on the theme that ‘books abhor a vacuum’ Sara started with a discussion Borges’ classic story The Library of Babel. From the (possibly ordered) chaos of Babel her talk moved on to the essays of Alberto Manguel in The Library at Night, and then to the heroic, maddening attempts of Aby M. Warburg to organise his own library by a series of contextual classifications. As a bibliophile it was a brilliant and thought-provoking end to the session.
Unfortunately for those stuck in cinemas, lecture theatres and classrooms for the day Glasgow was the hottest place in the UK on this particular day. Therefore there was no hurry to return to the final session when cooling on the steps outside was an option. It was here that I got talking to the incredibly talented Dipna Horra, who was scheduled to present the next day. Although we started talking about public space, architecture and sound art somehow we quickly found an obscure common ground in Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgria Universalis, particularly the engraving of amplifiers and prophetic heads in the second book:
(Soon I hope to have a nice Kircher and Gaspar Schott post to share!)
The final session of the day was Identity with Annouchka Bayley and Tatiana Ivleva. I’d been looking forward to Tatiana’s paper since arriving being about Britons and the Roman Empire. Very interesting material since the events she discussed laid the foundation for the concept of Britishness which haunts us to this day. Tatiana explained that idea of Britishness was a method by which the Romans culturally homogenised the tribes of the British Isles, and also discussed the emigration of British soldiers across mainland Europe and the archaeological evidence they had left behind. A historical understanding of our land has come a long way since Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Brutus myth, and it would probably be sobering for our so-called nationalists to look at the picture of diversity and cross-cultural movement that the archaeological record presents us with.
It was unfortunate that we were only able to stay for the first day. With a series of evening performances on the card, along with all the people we met and talked to we would happily have stayed for the evening and next day, but alas it was not to be. Happily we did find time for ice-cream and a spot of paddling at Irvine before hitting the road: