Las partes son el todo, el todo son las partes.
(The parts are the whole, the whole are the parts.)
— Gabriel Orozco (1998)
The game had one more trick up its sleeve.
While creating my portable image library to use with the mobile printer, I had noticed that my photos tended to repeat certain themes. Starting as early as my first walks in Portland, and becoming more pronounced throughout the week of seven years, the images reveal an interest in particular things. Brooms, doors, cobwebs, circles. Powerlines and rubbish bins.
With all of the walking and photographing that I had been doing in recent months, this collection was rapidly growing. I was still organising the images into albums based on date and place, but I knew that soon I would no longer be able to keep a corresponding index in my head to help me recall and locate specific images to print for installations. I needed another mechanism to help me navigate my photos. These recurring themes suggested that the mechanism I sought was a taxonomy.
I retained my existing album structure because the container of the day was still important to my walks. Each day was its own conversation, with its own energetic currents. T1 But as I worked my way through these albums adding tags to individual photos, a larger world began to emerge. Additional themes became apparent: deep shadows, distorted reflections, triangles, hearts, ribbon and wire and other lines that seemed to bind, women’s faces, imagined faces, vegetation pushing through the cracks.
T1:The idea of the day as a container for a documented walk has also been explored by Australian contemporary artist Simryn Gill and Mexican contemporary artist Gabriel Orozco, although with differing intents.
a sense of place
Gill’s photographic series May 2006 began to take shape when the artist set out one day from her inner-Sydney home ‘with no agenda beyond using up a roll of soon-to-expire black-and-white film’ (Fitzgerald 2013, para. 1). Gill proceeds to wander ‘with a deliberate openness, stopping to converse with neighbors and strangers and photographing objects and scenes that happen to catch her eye’ (ibid.). She produces nine photos that day, and goes on to shoot a new roll in a similar fashion every day for the rest of the month.
Gill, who was born in Singapore and moved to Australia in 1996, found that these walks brought her to ‘a new understanding of her place in the world’ (ibid. para. 2). I recalled my own journey with seven years when I read this, although unlike my solitary undertaking Gill indicates that her experience was largely shaped by human interactions.
‘When you’re walking slowly and looking at things, there’s always someone who wants to stop and show you a flower; they’re trimming their hedge or they ask you where you’re from,’ Gill recalls. ‘And then you say: “Well, where are you from? Germany maybe? Ireland?” “I don’t know, I’m Australian.” “Oh, really. Well maybe I’m that too. Although I haven’t changed my papers yet.” And you’d have these strange conversations. It was very nice’ (ibid.).
I have retrospectively found further resonance, and perhaps a closer correspondence of intent, between seven years and Gill’s work A Long Time Between Drinks (2005-2009). Here Gill returns some 12 years later to the Adelaide suburb where she lived upon first moving to Australia, ‘looking for points of view and perspectives that she remembered, with a question about whether these vistas in her mind were still the same, if they had changed, or were they simply artifacts of how we remember’ (MCA). For this work Gill produced 13 black-and-white photographs of her old neighbourhood, which she then housed in the physical container of a wooden box. ‘The photographs are a record of the question, but not a complete answer’ (ibid.). In the albums that trace the days of seven years I can likewise detect my own question, and a sense of resolution that remains elusive and ambiguous.
all these things
Gabriel Orozco is more interested in abstract narratives than personal connection to place. He uses his video camera to create “stories” that follow his thread of attention as he walks his way through a single day. ‘I wake up in the morning. The light has to be okay,’ he says (1998, p. 193). ‘I have breakfast and then start walking down some street until something catches my attention. That’s when the movie starts.’
These movies absorb themselves with the happenstance of the everyday. ‘Walking down, say, Sixth Avenue, I’ll suddenly see something that intrigues me — a plastic bag, a green umbrella, an airplane tracing a line in the sky’ (ibid.). But Orozco emphasises that he is working with focus rather than chance, following one thing as it leads on to another. ‘The kind of connection that intrigues me is contiguity,’ he says. ‘Borges wrote somewhere that all these things that are next to each other, we call the universe. It’s this “being next to each other” that appeals to me’ (ibid).
Reading Orozco made me realise that I had always thought of my own walks as collaborations with chance. But while I would not say, as Orozco does, that ‘the flow of images in my work is extremely controlled’ (ibid.), I certainly recognise something of his methods in my albums. Like Orozco’s movies, each album can be viewed as a ‘series of punctums’ (ibid.) that in their contiguity attempt to present ‘a day of awareness’ (ibid). All these things that are next to each other …
I had been thinking of the signals that I encountered on my walks as emanations of particular frequencies. Now as my taxonomy slowly revealed a world, I saw that these frequencies were in fact the forces animating this world; the entities of the subtle city.