To Occupy

Bennett, A 2008, To Occupy: panoramic interiors of concrete fortifications, ANU School of Art Photospace, part of the Vivid National Photography Festival Aug 2008. Reviewed in Un Magazine #2.2 & Indesign Nov 2008.



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“It’s like an addiction, a compulsion. I search for these places, I network, I hustle. I read and I talk and I research. I’m good at it; its my special gift. I can be so charming, as only the addict or collector intent on their fix can be. I collect stories and memories in conversation and books. All in search of that moment of frisson, that shudder of intense excitement at encountering an extraordinary room, the thrill of being outside of regulated space. I know I’m not alone. You’ve left traces, you’ve written on the walls. Online zines such as Infiltration document your exploits, the evidence of being in places where you are not supposed to be. I am not so flagrant, unlike the boys who got inside the Roswell Silos or the man who collects photographs of hotel swimming pools. Those guys are practicing a more radical form of outsider archaeology. My challenge is to get people to say yes, to allow me into their ruins.
The experience of space is imaginative and visceral. As an artist, I explore aspects of the experience of place and time through images of ruined interiors, seeking an uncanny fusion of document and distortion that mimics the experience of interior spaces. I am interested in exploring the conflation of architectural and psychological ‘interiority’. I am interested in the space between the physical fabric of a building and the lives enacted within it. I am interested in the shudder, the space between what it feels like inside my head and what it feels like inside this room. I want to bring your attention to the physical experience of a room. The experience of space is imaginative and visceral, a physical experience, a gut reaction, an intrinsic relationship to the interior space of the body. Patricia Pringle, writing on the fascination of space in SCAN journal stated: ‘We know space through our knowledge of our bodies, but since that knowledge is itself uncertain, space too is uncertain, subjective, and contingent.’

Interiority begins to describe the attraction and elusive flows between surfaces, between the surface of my skin and the enclosure of walls, its thresholds and apertures, the geometry of intimacy and defence. The physical sensation encompasses the skin like a breath and transforms at the collision of surfaces, the collapse of the space between, the touch of a hand on a doorway, the strike of a shin on a step. Touch is where interiority shifts from spatial incarnation to tactile and sensual, a point of contact, the collapse of the space between. Touch is the perpetrator of the trace, the patina of occupation.
To live is to leave traces.”
This series of images began with an investigation into the notion of inhabitation as a negotiated process. Through practice-based research, the series has become focused on the interiors of concrete fortifications along the east and south coasts of Australia. I am interested in the ‘shudder’ one experiences when encountering a room that has resonance; that has duration; where past, present and future collapse.

‘Interiority’ (McCarthy 2005) has been a useful concept for exploring this shudder. It is a term that traverses a number of relevant fields. In architecture it is used to describe the experience of being in an interior space; it is used in psychology to describe one’s interior life, what it feels like inside your head. Indeed, it was originally a theological term relating to one’s interior relationship with god. I am interested in the shudder, the collapse between ‘what it feels like inside this room’ and ‘what it feel like inside my head’. I am interested in the physical experience and construction of space (Grosz 2001; Pallasmaa 2005; Tuan 1979; Pringle 2004)

These derelict and redundant spaces stare blindly into the liminal interstitial boundaries forming our notions of inhabiting the interior (Drew 1994; Teyssot 2005; Osz 1998-2002). The psychology of their construction and occupation is immanent to their materiality, characterised by Vidler as ‘paranoiac space’ (Vidler 2000).

This project has a strong relationship with the work of Charles Bayliss. Specifically, the composition and atmospheres of his Nettle Cave images (Bayliss c1888), held in the National Library collection, and his use of the overlapping panoramic image making technique, first employed by Fox Talbot in 1845 (Hyde 1988). Of specific relevance is Baliss’ panorama of Middle Head Defences in Sydney (Bayliss 1874).

Selected bibliography

Bayliss, Charles. 1874. Middle Head Defences. Sydney: State Library of NSW.
Bayliss. c1888. Nettle Cave. Jenolan Caves NSW: National Library of Australia collection.
Drew, Philip. 1994. The coast dwellers : Australians living on the edge. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin.
Grosz, Elizabeth. 2001. Architecture from the Outside: essays on virtual and real space. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Hyde, Ralf. 1988. Photographic Panoramas. In Panoramania! the art and entertainment of the ‘all-embracing’ view. London: Trefoil Publications.
McCarthy, Christine. 2005. Towards a Definition of Interiority. Space and Culture 8 (2):112 -125.
Osz, Gabor. 1998-2002. The Liquid Horizon. touring exhibition: Gabor Osz.
Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2005. Eyes of the skin : architecture and the senses, Chichester: Wiley-Academy
Pringle, Patricia. 2004. Seeing Impossible Bodies: Fascination as a Spatial Experience. SCAN journal of media arts culture 1 (2).
Teyssot, Georges. 2005. A Topology of Thresholds. Home cultures 2 (1):89-116.
Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1979. Space and Place: Humanistic Perspective. In Philosophy in Geography, edited by D. Reidel.
Vidler, Anthony. 2000. Warped Space: art, architecture, and anxiety in modern culture. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

See also: Dereliction and the space between
paper presented at antiTHESIS symposium on deja vu
Melbourne University 7 July 2006


About Alison Bennett
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