Worlds At Your Feet

Posted: March 4, 2018 in Chat
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I picked up a copy – limited edition – of PAVEMENT PRINTS, by Ralph McGaul, the other week.


The booklet consists of rubbings he made of masonry marks, and pavement markings, within a certain area of the local town. There are still parts with the old, or to be correct, older paving, and kerb stones. That is where to find them.


This is fascinating, as a slice of material history – whether they are charting the codes of highway workers, road makers, or maintenance crews, or, as we see, more individual marks.
Local Council funding has gone through huge overhauls recently. No longer could they afford to keep up more than a cosmetic maintenance service ie cheap-sourced road repairs, and skeleton-crew highway maintenance.
Now we have again a dedicated service, with sign-of-the-times negligible identity, contactability, or ethics. This in itself charts the crisis in identity of local Councils: are they at last transparent portals of central Government ? Or do they maintain hold on local cross-Party/no-Party decision-making?
The Council that covers the area of the booklet has an almost regular place in the satirical magazine Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs section.

These markings have, therefore, gained layers and levels of implication.

Not all in Ralph’s booklet seem to be highway markers. The centre-spread gives a pavement/kerb rubbing: P.W./JUNE 1962, and page 28, the last page, a photograph of the stone and process of record. There does appear to be a border of chiselled dots around the stone. Almost an Egyptian cartouche. The town museum carries a substantial  19th Century collection of Egyptian artefacts.
Another stone carries the message BERT/ TALKS. Another records a name: ERNEST/ bASKERVILLE (sic). All cut substantially into the stone.
Who knows what was being recorded here.

Many stones carry numerals, and here there is much variation in styles of stone carving. Some appear roughly scraped, others, for instance, aptly on page two, carries the numeral 2, within a circle. The style of this numeral is the cursive character of early 20th Century written script. Page 36 carries two examples of 2 within a circle, the upper also cursive, whilst the lower has the simple form, more Cailibri or Ariel typeface, we might say.

And so I had a go.
But by photographing the marks.
Instantly we see a change in the craft of the recording: no longer the noble dirty-handedness of the craftsman.
It can be said that essentially photographs record light, light on surfaces. The attention is diverted once more, firstly, from the subject to the craft, as in the rubbings; secondly, solely to the effect.

100_1138               100_1143


100_1145       100_1146

100_1147        100_1148

I have to admit the reversed number 2 intrigues me – no, it’s not a camera glitch. The Maltese cross is from another area of town, a hidden, covered alleyway.



And yet. on another level, all these images are presented as deliberately devoid of their contexts: they were intended as kerb indicators to on-pavement features. These may no longer exist.
And yet, part of me sees this as artistic license, to be able to take an image as self-sufficient, with no web of meanings, intentions, purposes: thing-in-itselfness.
I am very uneasy with this, it would seem to hold open the door to a lot of abuse, avoidance, moral vacuity.

You could, subsequently, put meanings to the marks; they would be forever transitory, and the original intention lost further under the patina of whimsical meanings. The original meanings may well be utterly banal, as the pavement signs probably were. But you can still read into them the human element, the sociological and historical reality around them.

This could imply I am averse to abstract art, but it is not so. Nor fantasy, nor language art.
A little wary, perhaps – after all, it is too easy to jump in and think This is the best thing ever. Everything is part of a relationship: abstract is only abstract because there is the non-abstract etc.
The one always relates to the others. In isolation, like refined food, refined anything, it has a capacity for a form of harm, whether ethical, or physiological, or whatever.

And if you didn’t feel This is the best thing ever, you wouldn’t be able to do it fully.
Art as a process: realising it was not The best thing ever, that There is still something/more to do, as all part of the cognitive world of being an artist.

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