Purging through

Than I so stared and started and felt lost

When the dream fled and left the face of me

Pale, as of one whom fear congeals like frost.   Purgatory, Dante, Canto IX lines 40 – 42

A chance conversation has led me to Dante. Sharon had suggested that I find a critical contextual framework for the ‘place’ that is Purgatory and Dante’s second volume of his epic “Divine Comedy” may indeed be it, my copy is the translation by Dorothy L Sayers with a long introduction and excellent commentaries throughout. The text is littered with the language of landscape and I am hopeful that this layering of Dante’s verse with the underlying narrative that this work seeks to be about will bring.

It has been an interesting week. I had planned to submit my Literature Review for Contextual Studies last week, but the arrival of a bellyaching superfluous appendage had me admitted to hospital for its removal. I had felt under pressure to complete this review and its completion was a matter of personal priority, I sent it the day after I left hospital so I expect it will be a couple of weeks before I see the comments from my tutor. Dante’s verse is an allegorical text, there is no inverted mountain on an island in the Southern Hemisphere with corniche’s to traverse in order to purge one’s sins; nor is his metaphorical journey a mere psychogeographic peregrination from Inferno to Paradiso. The purpose of Dante’s Purgatory is to endure it, freely, willingly in the knowledge that the only outcome is the paradise of Heaven. The purpose of Purgatory the ‘space’ is one less lofty; perhaps more primeval.

But ’twas the marsh I made for; there, bogged round

With mire, and tangled in the reeds, I fell,

And saw my veins make pools upon the ground. Purgatory, Dante, Canto V lines 82 – 84

Endurance is a very personal aspect about the ‘space’ of Purgatory that I want to try and document/narrate – it has deep echoes. I am interested in the conscious decision to endure, to accept that pain is part of the process; not necessarily the Catholic concept of redemption through purgation, but perhaps the knowledge that strength can be claimed by challenging it.

These images were taken at a different time of day than all the other posts i.e. mid afternoon as opposed to morning. When I feel fitter I plan to be there late afternoon/early evening utilising the different perspective of a changing light. The images that work best for me are those that have muted contrast, as if they were unsure of themselves. Those with higher contrast stand firmer in the frame, and whilst their allegorical content could be equally strong, they tell different stories, or the same one in a different way. I am aware that this story is still in its early days and that, as Sharon has suggested, an episodic narrative might – just as Dante’s text does – enable a more nuanced story.


For better waters heading with the wind

My ship of genius now shakes out her sail

And leaves that ocean of despair behind. Purgatory, Dante, Canto I lines 1-3

I don’t plan for the words to illustrate the images, nor vice versa; but rather the ‘Open’ collation of the two to illustrate the underlying narrative. The one of my youth.


Assignment Two Feedback

Given the paucity of context the feedback to my last assignment was as good as it could have been. The edit I made was further cut back and the remnant made some sense; it had an aesthetic coherency that belied it’s lack of narrative structure, however I am pleased with the outcome so far. But if I am to develop this story there needs to be additional avenues to develop and explore.

The treks to Purgatory are ongoing, I have been back three more times in the last week trying to find different light and new perspectives. Skirting around the quarter of an acre that is the extant space of Purgatory – there is a place a hundred yards or less from the current site that was the original settlement site, but which now bears no signature of habitation – is Buswell’s Thicket, and it is an odd place. Whilst Purgatory is a difficult place to get to, miles from anywhere and along a muddy track, sometimes almost impassable, the thicket is slightly further on. It is clearly a managed woodland, there is plenty of evidence of timber as a commodity, planted and sawn, rotted and hewn; this woodland contains more evidences of the traffic of people than Purgatory, and without the need to look very hard.

Sharon has suggested that I ‘place’ Purgatory better, to provide a stronger critical sense of what it was, where it inhabits in non-secular literature in order to provide the viewer a stronger sense of where the work resides; her view of it is different to mine and as she rightly points out there isn’t a definitive, or perhaps in-difinitive reference to it in the bible. I shall consider this very carefully as it will directly affect how the work develops, I am considering a number of alternate strategies, mostly to do with fiction, as I take the work forward.

Buswell’s thicket may be very similar to thickets elsewhere, but I found the space quite curious, perhaps because of it’s geographic location, but the presence or trace of people is very strong. There isn’t a huge refuse dumping problem, but the jetsam of human life isn’t difficult to uncover. The natural ebb and flow of animal life, the predation of birds whose scattered remains are left to the elements, isn’t difficult to discover. A couple – at least – of badger sets, fox droppings, squirrels and other mammals compete with the birds whose numbers include many Red Kites and Buzzards amongst the flocks of starlings, rooks and other less communal species. It is a wild place, but as it is a place provided by man this wildlife presence have the feel of visitors, of tolerated uninvited guests.

I am very attracted to the idea of fiction as a means by which I can talk about, or reveal a truth. Sharon seemed very happy that I have started to reference fiction in my studies and we have discussed strategies by which the work might proceed. The edit that I made suffered from an aesthetic inconsistency, which whilst I feel might not be an issue in a wider body of work, is starkly evident when the image count is so small. It was suggested, and I think this is a very good idea, to consider the narrative as episodic to allow the fiction to twist and turn using the construction of chapters that are aesthetically linked to a development of the story. Bridging images would need to be considered as much as the construction of the flow of dialogue.

People meet in Buswell’s Thicket. They go to quite long lengths to ensure they are away from the threat of interruption. The discard of their trysts are evident across the thicket floor. Used condom’s whose purchase was influenced, it seems, as much by taste as their prophylactic potential lay alongside their open packets; their colours attracting attention, red and yellow against the verdant floor. Other bodily functions are neatly dealt with as well as visitors come prepared with toilet tissue as if expecting to deliver. Maybe it is such a distance that they expect to have to attend to their needs. Lost sunglasses, discarded lager cans – perhaps lovers have shared a post coital drink – lie strewn amongst other evidences. It is a curious place and one that provides a lot of narrative potential.

I am encouraged to continue to develop this work, I have strong sense that I will work it into a piece of fiction about a truth, and be truthful about that telling. Sharon has recommended that I develop more work from the place, develop new perspectives and be tougher about the editing process. There are a good deal of angles that I haven’t explored yet and it may be that Buswell’s Thicket comes into the story, separated as they are by such a short distance.

Thoughts on the cold and Conflict

Sunrise was forecasted at 7:42 this morning which meant if I was to beat it to Purgatory an even earlier rise was needed. And I suppose that the frost had one essential benefit which was to freeze the flood plain in front of Purgatory. It was chilly this morning in that in-between land.

ridge snow 2c2

I’ve been considering my reaction to the recent exhibition ‘Conflict. Time. Photography’ at the Tate Modern a lot recently. I’ve been asked for my reaction to it from a couple of places which has helped me to focus my thoughts on what I think now is an interesting show, but not necessarily from the aspect of the curatorial intent. After the second viewing I was involved in a student discussion about the show and there was a suggestion that the show might have been more about photography than about it’s combined titular aspect. Well, I thought, the clue’s in the title – it was always going to about photography in some form or another. Was it though perhaps more to do with the photographer or the ambition of the curator? I suspect both.

Puddle track Sc2

As I continue to create work for this project in Purgatory I am aware that I have about twelve months to do so, I am particularly pleased to be starting this work in winter, I can sense the level of difficulty that even a moderate change in the climate can bring to this un-managed land. It hasn’t been that wet so far and the cold hasn’t dipped for too long at a time. Three years ago this area would have been under two feet of snow. But at this time of year it isn’t a pleasant land, it is recalcitrant. The earth yields readily to the step, yet easier to water whose presence is what demanded the builders to place Purgatory on ground above the flood-plain. Today’s tractors leave deep trenches as they career from field to field, a century or more ago cartwheels might have been too difficult to manoeuvre for weeks if not months at a time.


The more I considered the show at the Tate, the more I wondered about both the curatorial aspect and the notion of ‘Conflict’. Both times I visited the exhibition I lost the idea of ‘Time’ – maybe it was because I wanted to engage with the work, to see what narrative I could extract from the imagery, but as I passed from room to room (lots of rooms) the notion that I was passing through fields of time passed me by. The artists in rooms were often from different eras, their approach to their work, though perhaps contemporary at the (their) ‘Time’ often clashed with each other. This conflation of epochs might have helped to foster questions in the minds of students, but it was at the expense of cohesion. I have come to reflect that the ‘Conflict’ might have been a comment on the way by which artists and photographic commentators had conflicting approaches to the events they were attempting to either to document or to register their emotional response to. The elegantly described innards of Hitler’s bunker in beautiful modernist full tone imagery alongside the artfully constructed conceptual pieces of fiction, crafted by the teamwork of model maker and photographer/fictionalist? Which one being closer to any concept of truth as document would have been an easy calculation, with one being more concerned with form over fact. ‘And so it goes’, as Clive Wight reminded us of a Vonnegut quotation. The real beneficiary of this exhibition was the student, able to wander freely in ‘Time’ with no concept of how and when they might end up. Alarums and distractions from various quarters, seemingly unconnected works of visual referencing to anything but an abstraction of time, which apart from its tutorly contribution left me with a sense of conflict, a conflict of what I should feel about the subject matter, and not about the tenuous linkage between rooms. As Keith Greenough suggested, maybe the images were moulded to provide rigourous referencing for the concept. A clash of styles and genres that for me added to less than the sum of its parts.

horizon snow Sc2

And so back to Purgatory where I hope to conflate Time and Conflict with Photography. I was able to return home after and hour or so in the field and if I had dampened the inner soles of my boots they would be dry before the day was out. No confliction there about how long to stay in this unsettled land, when the sun came up and over the ridge to the south east of Purgatory it started to feel like time to go home to central heating and a hot mug of tea. Home is where the hearth is and it is a cold hearth in this sodden land.

sun up Sc2