Field is a collaborative project initiated by Sue Rainsford and Jonelle Mannion.

Its aim is to investigate the nature of our engagement with place, and the significance of everyday experience in forging this connection.

We are approaching our enquiry by means of responsive documentation: written, drawn and photographed. We are looking at how each of these methods involves us with our surroundings, and the extent to which they overlap and diverge… The surplus of nuance generated by mapping a place in this way may serve as evidence of how place is shaped by our participation.

The motivation for this project has been our shared fascination with the significance of the creative impulse, what the act of art-making can tell us about the world and our functioning inside of it.

By restricting our area of investigation to typically mundane, everyday spaces, we seek to isolate our experience of them on a basic level, to keep it unclouded by any more complex intent or association. For our purposes, there is no hierarchy of experience – only methods of bringing it to the forefront.

Our intention in making and presenting these responses as documents is to perpetuate what we see as an evolving discourse about what can be documentary, and the implications for the nature of objectivity: an ever-broadening inclusiveness of what is real and noteworthy.

Both this tendency toward documentary inclusiveness, and our ideas about the impulse to make art, share phenomenological roots.

Our thoughts on this topic have been inspired by a number of writers, three of whom we will use as a discursive structure for our project: John Berger, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Georges Perec. We will look at how each presents experience as being the work done in constructing the world and its spaces. How they encounter the eternal in the everyday, by allowing our mundane movements through the world to be transformative.

We have planned a programme of discussions and collaborative events in order to closely engage with the ideas of each of these three thinkers, and to use them as a point of departure for our own investigations into the nature of place, by means of documentary gesture.

Programme of events

In beginning our efforts with John Berger, we are of course aware of not only the sheer vastness of his oeuvre, but its diversity. Poetry, prose, autobiography, polemic, essay, criticism; all operate as rippling strata that, while capable of self-sufficiency, reverberate with meaning, one to the other and back again.

And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, first published in 1984, is an embodiment of this ability to merge genre, their cohesion being facilitated by an all-encapsulating aim. It is this aim which for Berger endows all of life, regardless of the specificity of whatever given facet, with an immediacy – an urgency. The discovery of reality as it truly is, and by its discovery its engagement, its activation and its relaying, is a desire which carries consequences simultaneously artistic, political, social and historical. And Our Faces…, which has been summarised as a ‘book of love letters meditating on place..’, demonstrates the repercussions of such meditation for daily life, and by lived extension, the forms it may and does take. Ultimately what we witness in his writings is the inseparability of ‘mundane’ life from art, social injustice and political corruption, revelatory observation and fruitful introspection.

The overlap of these two levels of awareness is a presence in Berger’s writings we hope to discuss in our upcoming meeting; the transference of meaning from an embedded series of memories and connotations toward a landscape, and the power of a place to move and alter us. An employing of space as both presence and metaphor operating at the ground-level of all experience is poignantly illustrated in And Our Faces…, where it literally conjures the distance of a loved one who in her absence renders Berger an immigrant, estranged and alienated.

It is in the now and the here that we must operate in if meaning and awareness – at the level integral to the means of living we will explore throughout the programme – are to be obtained, requiring heed taken of ‘local experiences and to moments of life directly lived; to the specificity of being alive at a particular place and time.’ (de Cock, 207)

This level of engagement and the performative element it necessitates is something we will explore again with Rilke and his emphasis on self-awareness, of all experience no matter what the calibre:

‘Why should you want to exclude from your life all unsettling, all pain, all depression of spirit, when you don’t know what work it is these states are performing within you?’ (Rilke, 58)

and with Perec in his search for the quotidenne through engagement and documentation of space on both a literal and intangible level, his love of the daily:

‘..incidental excitements, improbable quests congealed in a mawkish haze a few details of which will remain in our memory..’ (Perec, 78)

The commonality of each venture is their provision of a means of achieving engagement with space and daily life, wherein lies the transcendent, the transformative and the redemptive. For Berger, Rilke and Perec space and daily life provide a means of overcoming, of exerting change. This occurs as a form of exterior impingement and insular ramification. The engagement these writers outline also provides, to varying extent, a means of resistance – resistance against capitalism, resistance against one’s own self-destructive tendencies, resistance against habit.

Works Cited

Christian De Cock – Cities in fiction: Perambulations with John Berger
Rainer Maria Rilke – Letters To A Young Poet
Georges Perec – Species of Spaces 

Programme of events