Purgatory is that place of transience, a place that is neither one thing nor another, a place that is ‘twixt and between’ a holding zone for those not pure enough to enter directly the Kingdom of Heaven but not bad enough to go to eternal damnation. It is in Purgatory that one might be cleansed of sin and one of the key means by which these mortal turpitudes are exorcised is through continuous and predictable application of pain. This temporal inevitable subjugation of the body is key I think to the concept of purgatory. There is no short sharp lesson in that place, the expectation of exquisite pain has echoes today in the ritualized flogging of dissidents in Saudi Arabia, where the victim’s wounds need to heal before the flogging can be continued. Once the punishments have been completed, their soul having been purified and saved, the victim may then proceed to Heaven for everlasting life. The punishments in Purgatory were for the penitents, the unrepentant and the non-believers who would bypass the temporary correction zone and go straight to hell for an eternity of punishment.
This assignment, and perhaps this edit in particular, sets out to express in visual terms depictions of how I came to describe this transitory state, whilst visiting the physical place of Purgatory. I have spent a considerable amount of time and plan to spend more so in Purgatory; I want to become accustomed to the ‘place’, experience the terrain and the difficulties of reaching it. There was a settlement in this vicinity for a few hundred years, until the very early part of the twentieth century – I am working with a local historian to find out how long it was inhabited and perhaps by how many – I have found out that at it’s height there were eight dwellings situated there. I am somewhat fascinated by the notion that it is now ‘unsettled’ and as much as Purgatory has many connotations so has the term ‘unsettled’.
After I had decided that I would work on this place as a subject for assignment two I have read three books which have influenced my thinking on the topic. The first was John Gossage’s ‘The Pond’, the second was Christian Patterson’s ‘Redheaded Peckerwood’ and the third, a novel, being ‘The Offering’ by Grace McCleen. All of these books deal with memory – as McCleen denotes – “All these years, there have been things I cannot remember, blanks where the colours had faded or the lines had been wiped out, and there have been others that darkened even as I watched, like photographic paper left too long in developing fluid.” 1
I looked first at dictionary and thesaurus definitions to help me find a way in to the work, I listed the various meanings and terms and then set about to describe what I felt about the word purgatory. After writing them down I looked at the images I had made to see if I could find connections, I tried not to force connections but to allow a free association. Most of the imagery deals with the psychological aspects of the term, only one deals with physical pain, and I realize that those emotional responses to the non-physical may be critically influence the reader if I accompany the image with the response that I gave it, so I have decided to redact those from the assignment, though of course I can provide them if required.
Another phrase from McCleen “…suggestive of things ravaged yet fecund with time.”2 also caught my imagination. That a place, though unsettled, might still echo with a past, with a history, echoed with me recently at the recent “Time, Conflict and Photography” exhibition at the Tate Modern where Indre Serpytyte’s piece (1944 – 1991) Former NKVD – MVD – MGB – KGB Buildings was/is being shown. These buildings, which are presented as isolated edifices – either as models or as highly worked graphic presentations – are very stylized representations, with a sense of ‘otherness’ about them – due to their ulterior as opposed to their anterior aspect. This contextual facet is very significant and finds an echo in what I feel some of this work in Purgatory is about – isolation.
The images are grey monotonic and bland, belying their history and their place in the history of their culture. Our – the viewers – contextualized knowledge about these buildings imbue these two dimensional constructs, that are clearly not mimetic, not depicted in a photo-journalistic attempt at verisimilitude, as a fiction; representing a greater sense of a narrative of what might have occurred, what might have been.
I too have been thinking of using black and white to delineate truth from fiction. I wonder now whether anyone still believes the age-old trope that black and white was a determiner of fact, of an attempt to mine for truth. My suspicion is that colour is the contemporary and ubiquitous disseminator of whatever might be considered as the ‘real’ and so by rendering in monochrome it will be seen as a manifestation of a fiction. And because I believe that truth is mediated, a monochromatic rendition of the narrative will alert the reader to any claim of veracity.
Patterson’s “Redheaded Peckerwood” is a story; no more a truth than my relating of my personal history, but the narrative potential of Patterson’s flow allows the reader to question the notion of a single truth and what I have discerned from this book is that I shouldn’t be overly concerned about telling a fiction about a truth, but perhaps more about being truthful about the fiction. Another influence on this work thus far has been Martina Lindqvist whose work ‘Neighbours’ are stark depictions of isolation, of crumbling edifices reminiscent of the disintegration of relationships and the unsettling of a place. The fact that Lindqvist is comfortable with extensive editing and ‘de-factualising’ the arena surrounding the place – including the re-situating of the sky to a uniformity across the series – has given me some inspiration regarding how I might eventually develop the narrative components in the Body of Work.
1 – Loc 150 Kindle edition.
2 – loc 176 Kindle edition
And so to the images:
This image suggests to me of the difficulty of trying to move on, to find a way. There is no route forward other than this difficult terrain and no particular sense of anything better beyond what is in the frame.
A perspective of isolation.
I saw this image as one of hostility, one of demonstration of power, one over another, combative but futile for one.
This seems to me to be an image of neglect, not perhaps of the structural foundations but perhaps more of emotional neglect. I think the broken stairs are particularly important, there is no point in attempting to develop as there will be nothing here to support any ambition.
The first of two ‘horizon’ images which for me are subtly different. This one, because of the obvious, but indistinct references above the horizon line, presents an ominous looming
This is the sole image that speaks to me of pain, more especially of physical pain. I am distinctly aware that the image lacks definition in the white area, but it is a purposeful allowance on my part.
A small thicket at the edge of the space that is Purgatory has this plantation. The fog renders the distance impenetrable and the near distance equally so. Hopelessness and very clearly a man-made construction.
The leaf held in stasis by the ice on the footpath suggested to me down-trodden, unable to move. Stuck.
The indeterminacy of the future, the fog holds back any purposeful sense of a direction of travel, limiting the field of view, restricting outcome.
In looking for a way out, the blankness of the view ‘over-the-horizon’ offers no respite in the search for escape.