Intercorporeal, Intersubjective, Imaginary and Rational Spatialities: Between Existence and Abstraction

Untitled © Denise Startin

“If a person feels inside a place, he or she is here rather than there, safe rather than threatened, enclosed rather than exposed, at ease rather than stressed. Relph suggests that the more profoundly inside a place a person feels, the stronger will be his or her identity with that place.”

‘Space is multiple. Such multiplicity is both the precondition for and the result of spatial practices. Spatiality and practicality ground one another. There are different ways of attempting to grasp this co-dependent multiplicity. For example,

“…Relph defines four sorts of space, or knowledge about space, produced by different relationships to places. At the first step ‘pragmatic’ spaces are organised by our bodily situation (left or right, up or down). Second is perceptual space, organised through our intentions and centred on us – what we focus upon, what we look at, thus tending to be centred on the observer. Existential space is informed by cultural structures as much as our perceptions – it is space full of social meaning. This space is defined in relationship to some human experience or task. Finally, cognitive space is how we abstractly model spatial relationships.” (Crang, 1998:110). While this is a valuable starting point, recent re-thinkings of the phenomenological heritage, within which Relph lies, may point to a slightly different classification, coordinating person-hood with place-hood. This schema is based on the intercorporeal (as embodied-situated interaction), the intersubjective (as symbolic, performative, narrative interaction), the imaginary (as fantasmal, intracorporeal, medial-virtual interaction) and rational (as geometric, logical, coded interaction), each with their different degrees of freedom. Each of these four dimensions may or may not be well integrated and may well be skewed in various different directions, such that, for example, one’s fantasmal imaginings may begin to dominate and render unsustainable one’s intercorporeal and intersubjective relations. Through integration of these dimensions, spatial practices coordinate, integrate and separate spatialities centred on the self, and its motivated engagement with the world, with the spatialities that derive from geometric and logical calculation and fabrication, the structures of the designed and manufactured world. This is to acknowledge, while re-articulating Heidegger’s focus on care:

“Heidegger does not talk about intentions so much as care. Since we are always engaged with the world, we must focus our attention on particular aspects at any given time. We thus have different types and levels of care for different things at different times. The world might then be seen as comprising different levels of care.” (Crang, 1998: 110). The conclusion that Crang draws from this passage above, in which Relph interprets Heidegger, is that (human) knowledge of the world is always em-placed. It starts from and continues to be based around places as centres of care about the world. Thus, notes Crang, employing this approach suggests that we make sense of the world through the materials at hand, not from abstract schemes.

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Place Making > Placing Self

Heidegger’s Hutte, Todtnauberg, Black Forest, Germany

“…place is that open, cleared yet unbounded region in which we find ourselves gathered together with other persons and things, and which we are opened to the world and the world to us. It is out of this place that space and time both emerge, and yet the place at issue here also has a dynamic character of its own – it is not merely the static appearance of a viewed locale or landscape, but it is rather a unifying, gathering, regioning – place is, in this sense, always a “taking place, a “happening” of place.”

Malpas, Jeff, Heidegger’s Topology, Being, Place, World, Massachussets Institute of Technology, 2008, Chapter 5 Place and Event pp.221. Image reproduced from

Wish you Were Here: Micro Residency, Artist Researcher (Interpretation) Erddig House & Gardens

The Bridge in the Park, Erddig House & Gardens, Nr. Wrexham, Wales

The Bridge in the Park, Erddig House & Gardens, Nr. Wrexham, Wales

Micro Residency, Artist Researcher, National Trust, Archaeology Team, Erddig House & Gardens, Nr Wrexham, Wales 15th – 31st October.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Erddig like this:

“ERTHIG, or Erddig, a township in Gresford parish, Denbigh; on Offa’s Dyke, 2 miles SW of Wrexham. Pop., 117. Houses, 31. Erthig Hall is the seat of the Yorkes, -of whom was Philip -Yorke, author of “The Royal Tribes of Wales;” has, on the walls and ceilings of one of its rooms, the heraldic bearings of the tribes; and occupies a charming situation.” [1]

I have recently spent the week at the Yale Hostel about a mile from Erddig (pronounced Erthig) House & Gardens as Artist Researcher (Interpretation) assisting the monitoring of the Archaeological Monuments in the grounds of Erddig which has a formal walled garden and covers 485 hectares equalling 1,200 acres. The collection at Erddig is the 2nd largest in the UK, bequeathed to the Trust under the provision that no item be discarded. Supporting the Field Archaeology Team my remit is to contribute artistically to the undertaking of the Archaeological and Historic Landscape Survey at Erddig. My contribution includes A] Deep Mapping: Stories in the Landscape, B] The Map & The Territory: Utilising items in the collection to interpret the Landscape C] Documenting the Process: in a format that can be understood by the public D] Visualising and Representing the Data: making recommendations regarding the concrete representation of the Historic Buildings, Sites and Monuments Record which is essentially a digital database of the archaeological monuments in the historic parkland.

As a visual artist my artistic practice is site specific whether this site be actual, physical, textual, fictional or virtual. Both contextually and historically sensitive the role of place and place making is central to my work. Within this there is a tacit acknowledgement that the concept of place is constructed from a complex network of relations i.e symbolic, social, political, familial, local, national and historical. Place is central to the sensitive concept of belonging and home which contribute to a person’s autobiographical identity. This profoundly affects how that identity is situated and has significant impact on emotional wellbeing. Within my work I take a methodical, detailed, and extensively researched approach to the curation of material in order to construct comprehensive documents of place in the form of installed environments. In many respects I am a custodian or caretaker who respectfully recuperates, conserves and restores micro histories, narratives, objects and images that have been orphaned, discarded or forgotten. Legacy, whilst it may not always be visible, is a constant presence whether this relates to National Trust custodianship, archaeological practice, the historic parkland at Erddig, personal history or artistic practice. The rich tapestry that is art history, an artists’ conceptual trajectory, their historical timeline, the time of their work, the time of its making, the context in which one is making and their contemporaries all add up to what the literary critic Harold Bloom called, in the book of the same name, the anxiety of influence. Art does not occur in isolation, it is always made in ‘situ’. As a printmaker there is no such thing as a blank piece of paper, one always approaches it knowing that contextually, historically, artistically and technologically that it is already replete; it is a dialogue not a monologue.

Similarly the National Trust’s investment in significant cultural, historical and natural places, the people who populate them and the communities that surround them ensure our heritage is preserved as well as shared by enabling people to contribute and collaborate in its preservation. Personally speaking the research aims to investigate the intersection between art and archaeology, whereby art can also be a form of historiography that re-contextualises our relations to the past as a form of memorial or restoration. For that reason I will also be mining the art historical legacy relating to the site specific and the correlation between an aspect of historical archaeological practice and conceptual art, the concept of the grid. This concrete and in depth engagement with Erddig, generously facilitated by Kathy Laws: Archaeologist at the National Trust, will develop a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be site specific, not just artistically & imaginatively, but historically, physically, technologically and contextually. This can only improve the depth of my work as an artist engaged with concepts of place, contexts, histories and heritage both private and public.