In our day to day lives Absence of Presence is all around us, such as the coffee stain cup in the cupboard, the scuffs against the corridor where one has knocked their bag and bike one too many times. It is fair to say it is all too much of a common occurrence, so why is it that poets, artists, song writers, scientists, philosophers and ordinary people feel the need to document something that really is just a trace of what was. Through this essay I want to explore what Absence of Presence is, how and why we document it, and also why it is important to carry on documenting.
Absence of presence seems to resemble a spiritual assertion, perhaps for somebody who is going through a traumatic time in their life, and is all too aware of the absence of the presence of God or a higher being. Possibly even someone who has recently lost a loved one, and is all too aware of their absence of presence in their life. Despite these both being evidence, I see absence of presence as the old beloved childhood toy that sits disregarded and long forgotten, in a box, along with the happy memories associated with it which we ourselves have disregarded and stored away in the box in the corner of our minds. The place where we abandon information that we have retained but no longer have the use for. Although the childhood toy exists and subconsciously we know it exists but is no longer obvious to us. Without the toy in function or even the memories of the toy being reminisced, the beloved childhood toy is all but Present.
There is one artist who I feel encompasses Absence of Presence in all of her work, and that is Rachel Whiteread. “Whiteread’s choice of subject-matter reflects an awareness of the intrinsically human-scaled design of the objects with which we surround ourselves and exploits the severing of this connection, by removal of the object’s function, to express absence and loss”(Tate bio OCTAVIA NICHOLSON 10 December 2001
Article provided by Grove Art Online www.groveart.com
Copyright material reproduced courtesy of Oxford University Press, New York)
I think what the quote is saying is that Rachel Whiteread uses an industrial material to cast the structure in such a way as if she was rebuilding the soul of the structure from the inside out, the fact that the rooms structure is made from such an industrial material it makes sense to use the same material to replicate and pick out the imprints. By the casting being solid with no way of getting in to the structure it takes away its function and purpose leaving it Absent of Presences.
I think it is almost poetic the way she translates the Absence of Presence and loss in not only the room but our lives. Probably one of her most famous pieces of work being “Ghost” is an excellent representation of exactly that.
“Ghost” is a cast of a Victorian living room. In a video on The National Gallery website, Rachel Whiteread talks about her piece “Ghost” she talks about the process of casting the room, and why that room was perfect for the project because it had everything she wanted, a door, a window, a fire place ect. What was most interesting was listening to her talk about the context of the work, the fact that we as the viewer become part of the work, we become the walls of the structure looking into heart of the room. The fact that she choose to cast the room was interesting instead of using another medium to do so.
“it was the only way to capture the fragility of the form” (This National Gallery video was released august 4th 2009)
By casting the room she picked up all the information that we would not normally see like cracks and dents. To me it is almost a documentation of a life, much like a body that has been lived in, we may break or dent a few things and this is recorded on our body. The fact that the living room not only contains the physical scars of what years of being lived in has done but it also seems to have capture the memories. You can almost imagine the family that would have lived here, gathering round the fire place on cold nights, opening their presents on Christmas morning. With this in mind the absence of presence is all too present to the viewer.
From seeing Rachel Whiteread’s interpretation of Absence of Presence it is hard to envision a more creative way to deduce the same amount of interaction between the viewer and the artwork. Yet Neha Choksi’s film the “Iceboat” would beg to differ. Neha Choksi rows a boat crafted completely from ice until the entire structure has melted. With Neha Choksi’’s work in the medium of film it is able to achieve completely diverse results in comparison to that of the format of installation. With film being a recording of something that previously happened but has now passed i.e. the Absence of Presence, making an ideal medium that also represents the concept as much as the content of the film.
We all understand the same pain of seeing the horizon but struggling to get there. And this is clearly felt when watching the film, we as the viewer want the subject reach the shore but slowly but surely we feel hope melting away much like the Ice boat.
In Neha’s film the “Iceboat”
she is clothed in white garments to represent innocence. She gets inside a boat crafted completely from ice and row’s until the boat completely melts leaving her stranded in the waters. In an article called “The Art of Collecting- Indian Artist Explores Absence through Presence” it talks about the melting of the boat as the representation of loss, that we all feel in life at one point or another, we know it will happen we know that we cannot prevent it but all we can do is keep rowing towards the shore in hope that we reach it before we are consumed by the waters. The fact that the boat was made from the same element as the very thing she was trying to cross is again an interesting concept, the very thing that was against her was with her. Perhaps the Absence of Presence in not as obvious as that of Rachel Whiteread’s work but does it have to be? The journey in itself is absent of presence in the sense that the evidence of the journey i.e. the boat no longer exist in a physical form but has diluted and become at one with the very element that it was protecting the passenger from.
Although both Rachel Whiteread and Neha Choksi’s work requires the presence of a viewer to experience their work, there is an artist that very much requires the presence of a viewer for his work to in many ways to truly exist, and that is Anish Kapoor. In the artist’s biography on the Tate website talks about the constant themes in his works look at
“presence and absence, being and non-being, existence of filled space versus the empty void”. (Anish Kapoor vertigo 2006 polished stainless steel)
In my opinion his mirrored pieces reflect these themes most, the fact that the reflection of the viewer in these pieces are often distorted and occasionally unidentifiable confirm the themes. These reflection are merely temporal distorted footprints, and in the same way the tide washes the footprints in the sand away, as the viewer retreats leaving the sight of the mirror their mark is no longer present, the piece is once again absent of presence. All though it seems like a simple concept it really is rather a subtle yet powerful way of interpreting absence of presence.
These were merely a couple of examples of artists that explore the concept of absence of presence, but the art is not the only form in which this concept has been explored and documented.
These were merely a couple of examples of artists that explore the concept of absence of presence; however art is not the only form in which this concept has been explored, translated and documented.
Science has particularly contributed to documenting Absence of Presences, with many scientists theory’s focusing on this specifically. One theory that I fined embodies this is the theory of Schrödinger’s Cat. Schrödinger’s theory looks at the idea if we cannot see it does it really exist, thus rendering it Absent of Presence. A cat is placed in a box which is then sealed off, until the box is opened the outside world is unaware of the cats condition i.e. weather it is alive or departed. Although a simple concept I think it really does embody Absence of Presence in a very subtle way.
Schrödinger’s cat is merely one theory in the whole field of science, but one particular form of natural documentation which without science we ourselves would not fully understand. And as soon as it turns dark everyone in the world is able to see them, and they are stars. So simple yet we don’t really give them much thought. When we look up at the night sky and see stars, we are not actually looking up at a star, but what was a star and more to the point is a mark of what was but no longer is. Rendering the stars Absent of Presence. The Distances from the earth to the stars are measured in light years which is the distance that light travels in one year and Light travels 186,000 miles per second so light travels very far in one year. The closest stars are about four light years away and there are several stars that are less than 20 light years away. To put into perspective our galaxy is roughly 80,000 light years wide so the stars in our galaxy must be thousands of light years away. Thus by the time a star is visible to the naked eye it has already died and no longer exists, we are only seeing its absence or presence left behind much like a grave marking what once was.
Much like the night sky is a mass graveyard full of lifeless marks (stars) which mark something that once was, we as humans dating back to the beginning of time have felt the need to mark the departing of those we loved, this can be seen all over the world in graveyards in the forms of gravestones. A grave stone really is the most common form of absence of presence that effects us all, it is a personalised mark that is left in remberance of us once we have departed.
Through this investigation of Absence of Presence although only brief, I have looked into different forms, approaches and ways in which Absence of Presence has been documented weather that be various artistic interpretation, scientific theory’s or human rituals they all show very different sides to the meaning Absence of Presence. At the beginning I stated that “Through this essay I want to explore what Absence of Presence is, how and why people document it, and also why it is important to carry on documenting”. Well when it comes to how Absence of Presence is interoperated there is no one definitive way in which it can be interpreted as you can see through the works of Rachel Whiteread, Neha Choksi And Anish Kapoor’s, three different artists and three completely different conclusions to the theme Absence of Presence. Much like no two people are the same, the three artist’s representations are not the same in any way.
As for why we document Absence of Presence it has become apparent to me especially looking at correlation between the works of Rachel Whitereads and grave stones, is that of the preservation of memories. Rachel Whiteread looks meticulously at the preserving of memories and that of memories imbedded in objects that either provoke or recall memories such as her piece “Ghost”, I realise that a gravestone in more ways than one is completely different to that or Rachel Whitreads work yet they both intend on preserving something that is no longer there physically but in sprit.
The need to document the Absence of Presence for scientific purposes is to as important, as it is the documenting by scientist that help us better over the years understand what has been before and what is to come. Like stars, without the scientific evidence we would all still believe that it is just a star shining in the night sky, when actually it has been proven that what we see is not all it is made out to be.
In my current work I am looking into that of Absence of Presence and Spacial Memory. This book has been very influential towards my research and has encouraged my experimentations. Here are a few quotes from the book that I have found of particular interest:
“A creature that hides and “withdraws into its shell,” is preparing a “way out.” This is true of the entire scale of metaphors, from the resurrection of a man in his grave, to the sudden outburst of one who has long been silent. If we remain at the heart of the image under consideration, we have the impression that, by staying in the motionlessness of its shell, the creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whirlwinds, of being.”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
“In the theater of the past that is constituted by memory, the stage setting maintains the characters in their dominant roles . . . . And if we want to go beyond history, or even, while remaining in history, detach from our own history the always too contingent history of the persons who have encumbered it, we realize that the calendars of our lives can only be established in its imagery.”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
“Thus the dream house must possess every virtue. How ever spacious, it must also be a cottage, a dove-cote, a nest, a chrysalis. Intimacy needs the heart of a nest. Erasmus, his biographer tells us, was long “in finding a nook in his fine
house in which he could put his little body with safety.
He ended by confining himself to one room until he could breathe the parched air that was necessary to him. ”
― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
“I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” ― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
” Absolute Pitch, Relaxed Awquade, I Wish I Was a Stone”
“Relax, Awquade” http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slade/fairclough/stone/relaxed-awkward
“I Wish I Could Be a Stone” http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slade/fairclough/stone/i-wish-i-could-be-a-stone
“Absolute Pitch” http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slade/fairclough/stone/absolute-pitch-ii
As our first visiting artist it’s fair to say that the talk given by Louisa was beyond interesting; the talk she gave and the work she presented was utterly captivating. The talk began with somewhat of a performance, where Louisa stood at the front of the full lecture theatre and chanted:
“what shall I do, do with my hands, what shall, shall I do, do with my hands, do with my hands what shall I , shall I do, do with my hands, shall I do, do what shall, what shall I do, do with my hands, do with my hands what shall”
It was all very abrupt and quite strange to start with but she had us hooked from then on. Louisa’s work stems simply from the pages of her sister old and never before seen sketchbooks; it’s I suppose it is to some extent appropriate to point out that the sketchbooks that her work is derived from are of that of her deceased sister. I feel that this gives the her work a slightly haunting feeling to it, in the scenes that the drawings and poems from her sisters sketchbooks are that of the thoughts and feelings that she felt in her darkest times; which are not normally shared with the out side world. Her work seems to be that of a grieving proses, almost as if a proses of healing is taking place through the work, and intern by showing us the healing can begin.
The journey commenced in the idyllic grounds of Chelsea School of Art. Along side the critically acclaimed Tate Britain; surrounded by pockets of suburban life and encased in a built up metropolis
The journey led us through quaint side alleys to royal cobbled streets. From concrete jungles interlaced with charming scenic parkland.
With both the Serpentine (Pavilion & Sackler) gallery being housed in the grounds of Hyde Park the setting is quite befitting; Hyde Park is the largest of the Royal Parks. commonly known for its famed Speakers Corner; with the concept of free speech it only seems right to throw free / public art into the mix. That’s where the Serpentine Galleries come into it.
Both the Sackler and Pavilion gallery are adjacent to traditional style Georgian buildings; this only magnifies their differences, where traditional meets contemporary. The Sackler and Pavilion structures in themselves are quite conspicuous to there surroundings; but in ways its as though there trying to blend into the landscape. With their fluid and linear structure; which seems to hug every dip and crevices in the physiognomy of the landscape; although it has obviously been placed, it appears as though it has been their for year.
On my visit to the gallery’s among all the critically acclaimed and renowned artists and their work’s which are temporarily housed there; their was all but one of whom’s work truly struck me as having a fluent correlation between that of the its situe and the aesthetic of the outside environment. It was the works of Cerith Wyn Evans.
with his use of man made, fabricated structure depicted through his use of text and the organic decadent forms created with the branches of the tree; Evans work creates a perfect ying and yang. Although the text is very structural in appearance it is at root as an organic form as the tree.
“how does it seem to you know…….. does it seem to be persisting”
The use of the natural and unruly form/ material such as the tree within the establishment blurs the boundaries of the inside and outside. With works such as Smiljan Radic’s Pavilion situated out side of the Gallery, it only seems fair for nature to take a place within the gallery.
Evans work seemed to correlate with nature on more than one occasion, the image below depicts what appears to be iridescent tree like structures extended upwards towards the sky. The placement of these structures gives off an almost futuristic like forest; although as beautiful as the pieces were I can not help but fell somewhat saddened; as thought the tree like structures were almost a desperate attempt to recreate what was just on the other side of the wall.
Throughout my journey through Hyde park something struck me as particularly strange about this area; and it had been troubling me for the duration of the trip. It was only as I were leaving that it struck me. Considering Hyde Park is situated in the heart of the capital encased in a metropolis like shell, the sky line was surprisingly clear and free of the clutter of sky scrapers and cold ridged like structures, just a clear roaming free sky. Heard to believe that I was actually in London and not some sort of country park in Yorkshire .
This concludes the events of the first day and the journey 2184 steps taken.
A journey of 9873 steps from Chelsea to The Freud Museum
Once again the journey commenced in the idyllic grounds of Chelsea School of Art. Passing through yet more suburban streets much like those that I passed on the previous day.
The walk to the Museum was pleasurable, with a clear sky and a warm breeze it was most defiantly a good day for walking. All though the majority of the expedition to the Museum led us through the very heart of suburbia I was still some what shocked to see the actual house in which the Museum is housed in. When I think of Museums the first thing that springs to mind is large grand buildings, marble, clean white coulomb like structures; much like the other critically acclaimed Museums in London such as ‘The Natural History Museum’ and ‘The Science Museum’ both of which are particularly grand buildings and quite rightly so as this is just the presumption that something great should be housed somewhere equally as great. However upon arrival at the ‘Freud Museum’ this was not the case, all thought the building in its self was not particularly as grand as previously conceived, it still how ever was a beautiful building in its own right.
The situe for the Museum to me was really rather befitting that the work be housed in the home of the man himself Sigmund Freud. My now previously conceived idea of what the Museum should look like no no longer stood as appropriate but far-fetched and deluded.
“No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed”. SIGMUND FREUD, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
For most of Freud’s loyal followers , the one thing that we all wish to lay our eyes upon, is lay bare for all those who know of ‘The Coach’ to behold . With the adorned fabrics and throws along with that timeless smell of age and knowledge (dusty books basically) its hard to not fall in love.walking down the street and along the road in which the house/ Museum is suited, its hard to believe that the very place in which I was standing was once homed to the founding father of psychoanalysis.
One question I was eager to answer prior to my arrival at the Museum was; ‘How do people act or how are they encouraged to act in the space’ and also ‘ why might the Museum be situated in the chosen place of its situe’,
Firstly the people that I saw out and about up and down the street just seemed like you every day run of the mill family with their young children and push-chairs. so I defiantly have to say that the behaviours of the people are not out of character.
A Journey of 4172 steps from Chelsea to Speakers Corner
Although I have travelled to Speakers Corner many a time, on this particular day I visited I got lost trying to find my way. By the time I arrived there was only one man packing his table away, I recognised him from previous visits; he always preached about the Quran and how it was simple a book that had been misunderstood and misinterpreted. Much like other religions their are always a select minority which misinterpret the intention of the Bible & Quran and take the contents of them to the extreme. The small minority of people which do this are the ones which give a bad name to these religions; resulting in the persecution of others faiths. This seems to be the main topic of discussion on the occasions which I have attended.
Unable to record my own footage of Speakers Corner, I found a rather interesting selection of footage taken from debated at Speakers Corner.
The atmosphere of Speakers Corner when in full flow is really rather empowering and releases a sense of participation throughout the crowds. How ever like the footage above shows in parts, a select few people abuse this sense of free speech to interrupt and make a mockery of those engaged seriously in the debate . It was interesting to see how people acted and how they were encouraged to act in the space, I think from what I have seen on my trips to Speakers Corner; when people hear the words free speech they automatically think arguing and getting your point across weather it is right or wrong, because it is yours.
I always find it interesting the fact that Speakers Corner is out side mainly because when I thing of a corner I think of a corner within a building. However with Speakers Corner being out side it give the participants a sense of freedom, not constricted by four wall but out in the open free. This almost give it a feeling of a rally or demonstration, a feeling of you being part off a bigger picture.
To end here are a few quotes on free speech which I found of some interest: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington
“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. In the long run it will create a generation incapable of appreciating the difference between independence of thought and subservience.” – Henry Steele Commager
“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.” – Euripides, The Phonetician Woman