Your Wilderness Revisited is a project I’ve been working on with William Doyle and Sapphire Goss for almost three years now.
FKA East India Youth, Will has been reinventing his approach to his music for a while now, pitching this project to me in 2015 as an expanded artistic project about home, suburbia and the eerie nature of existing in the kind of “New Build” developments that are now synonymous with English suburbia.
There is a lot of overlap here between thinking on this blog but it’s not a project I’ve ever mentioned here before (I don’t think), attempting to keep different strands of what I do separate from each other. I’m kinda over that at this point, particularly when these are so relevant to the politics of this blog as I see it.
So, here’s an announcement: following a minor setback behind the scenes (which Will has detailed on his Facebook page), his first major outing of the new project’s live show is due to take place at Chats Palace, London, on January 17th. Come down! It is not to be missed.
Last year, we previewed the project at the East End Film Festival, each of us introducing the project and our view and role in it. Below is my intro which I read out on the night, drawing parallels between what we’d been doing and Mark’s The Weird and the Eerie.
I wanted to say something about strangeness.
When Will and I first started exchanging emails about this project in early 2016, I had just started tentatively on a project of my own exploring a neighbourhood in East Hull where my biological family had lived. Having grown up in West Hull and having never met my biological relatives, I had explored the environment anticipating some sort of connection or surprise. What I found was a place surreal in its familiarity — a neighbourhood with the same kind of houses, the same layout, as the one I had grown up in on the other side of the city. “What would life had been like if I’d grown up here?” I had thought beforehand. It was strange to realise it probably would not have been so different.
Most of the photographs that make up my contribution to Your Wilderness Revisited were taken some time last year, somewhere in the UK. Despite living with these images for quite some time now, they have been affected, for me at least, like most things this year, by the death of Mark Fisher in January. For those who don’t know, Mark was a writer and cultural theorist best known for his 2009 book Capitalist Realism. He was also a lecturer at Goldsmiths in the Visual Cultures department where I am currently a Masters student. What I would like to do with my little introduction to Your Wilderness is give some extra context to these images with a little help from Mark’s last book, The Weird & The Eerie.
In the introduction to the book, Mark writes about the entangled double-bind of the weird and the eerie in relation to our experiences of the strange. He begins by discussing Freud’s concept of the unheimlich — which he translates as the “unhomely”. He writes:
Freud’s unheimlich is about the strange within the familiar, the strangely familiar, the familiar as strange — about the way in which the domestic world does not coincide with itself. […] Is it about making the familiar — and the familial — strange? Or is it about returning the strange to the familiar?
Mark hopes to rescue the Freudian strange from its familiarity by exploring his own nuanced conceptions of the weird and the eerie instead. He begins with the weird, describing it in relation to “that which does not belong.” He writes:
The weird brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the “homely” (even as its negation). The form that is perhaps most appropriate to the weird is montage — the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together.
Discussing the eerie, he writes:
A sense of the eerie seldom clings to enclosed and inhabited domestic spaces; we find the eerie more readily in landscape partially emptied of the human. What happened to produce these ruins, these disappearances? What kind of entity was involved? […] the eerie is fundamentally tied up with questions of agency. What kind of agent is acting here? Is there an agent at all?
(It is far too tempting to invoke letting agents here…)
These two descriptions of the weird and the eerie say a lot about all our approaches to this project. Montage is an obvious part of all our approaches but even deeper than the aesthetic is the intent. As Will and Sapphire have made clear from their introductions, this project is not an attempt to judge these spaces for their familiarity. They are too easy a target in that regard. Rather the intention is to find the beauty and potential in them but that is not to pretend these spaces aren’t strange.
The four central photographs here — double and triple-exposures exposed onto a single negative in camera — are the only ones to feature a human presence — a presence that both ruptures and is inseparable from the environment around it. These images are concerned precisely with the thresholds, egresses and the between which Mark writes are central to a weird that “denaturalises all worlds, by exposing their instability, their openness to the outside.”
The aesthetic form of these environments, with their repetitive geometric shapes, is easy to focus on but what is harder to capture and express is their affect on the psyche and precisely the human agencies that shape these spaces despite themselves. They can so often be over-designed that, when walking around, any sign of human individuality or nature undoing design jars the senses — and that experience is often not unpleasant. It is precisely what is needed to imagine new alternatives and potentials for these spaces; to stoke creativity and imagination, and these instances are more affective for the adolescent brain, in particular, than we care to acknowledge.
Mark writes later of the eerie that it
has to do with a detachment from the urgencies of the everyday. The perspective of the eerie is to give us access to the forces that govern mundane reality but which are ordinarily obscured, just as it can give us access to spaces beyond the mundane altogether.
The letting agencies that govern these sprawling mundanities are certainly worth being wary of, but our own agencies can offer these spaces (and their future iterations) many more potentials — and that is why they are worth revisiting.