by David Brazier and Kelda Free
David Brazier and Kelda Free
As site specific artists we are constantly negotiating the space between locational specificity and a world increasingly migratory and mobile. While traditional notions of ‘site’ were inextricably fixed to a particular place, today’s notion of ‘site’ has broken free from those spatial constraints. The successful site specific artist is on the move from one location and job placement to the next, fluidity and mobility their most esteemed values (Bishop 2012). While there is an expectation for us all to become progressively flexible and fluid, this capacity is not distributed evenly to everyone. Mobility itself comes from a place of privilege (Kwon 2004).
For a time we found ourselves living a relatively sedentary life in Hackney Wick, a semi-industrial area of East London. From here Victoria Park is a 5 minute walk. Once described as the ‘lungs of the East End’, the park provides a welcome relief to the high density housing that surrounds it. At the eastern end of the park is a lake that was used as a bathing pond until the 1930’s. In the middle of this lake stands the island, approximately 50 meters long and 20 meters wide. It is inaccessible to the public, completely surrounded by a body of water now popular with anglers. We used to ride past the lake on the way to work and for ten years the park became part of our everyday experience.
Out of this familiarity, the island took on a sense of the great unknown. There was something mystical and romantic about its inaccessibility. Its mass of unkempt vegetation aesthetically separated it from the park’s highly manicured Victorian gardens. Even surrounded by busy public parkland, it felt like no one had ever stepped foot on the island before. It became a metaphor for the possibility of something far away, something exotic, even utopian. When we looked at the island we became consumed by a powerful sense of wanderlust. We eventually bought our inflatable boat and began planning our maiden journey.
As we rowed towards the island in the dead of night we were reminded of Bas Jan Ader’s final work, In Search of the Miraculous. In 1975 Jan Ader set sail from the east coast of the United States to Europe in a 14 foot boat and was never seen again. There was something undeniably heroic about the enormity of his journey with such limited means. Comparatively, maybe we were taking the easy way out searching for the miraculous in everyday experience so grounded in the local. On the other hand, as futile as it may seem in a mobile world where we are conditioned to seek gratification ‘somewhere else’, perhaps this is an important place to start. For those few nights camped on the island it was easy to forget the distance travelled was only a few meters across muddy waters on a lake in our local park.
Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2012
Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004