For the past couple of years I have been thinking a great deal about centrality in my practice – what it is as a human being to need a centre and what it is to be disconnected from that place. We may all choose to define the idea of centre in different ways. Some may see the centre of their lives as a site, person, people, church, organisation, political group, team etc. others as a space associated with financial wealth and capital gain such as the house they are buying, the car they own or the workplace. For me I believe my centre is my artistic practice and thought which is very deeply rooted in place or land.
As some of you will know I have also been studying the philosophy of Heinrich Blucher (the unpublished husband of Hannah Arendt) these past couple of years. He very much believed that when art was born, the eternal subject matter of art, human experience, became that centre. Therefore making every work of art central to human existence. Blucher went on to say that,
‘Everything will change but only if that one little thing that is changed is in the center and one can put another center near the old one. Then this little thing that is done will cause the whole cosmic relationship of the world to change position.’
This quote led me to think that it seems from the beginning of the post-war period, centre’s were changed but new centre’s were not put anywhere near the original ones. The more a human beings centre became infected by a capitalist driven ideology, the less human that centre became, until that centre was pushed so far from it’s original position the human itself was displaced. And this seems to be where we are right now, in a world with a lot of displaced people, pushed from their natural centre’s, without that human connection to land or place, which has in turn removed their proximity to compassion and care for the place of earth they occupy or those that they share it with.
This week I came across a text by John Berger I hadn’t read before,The Meaning of Home, taken from, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos (1984),
‘Originally home meant the center of the world—not in a geographical, but in an ontological sense. Mircea Eliade has demonstrated how the home was the place from which the world could be founded. A home was established, as he says, “at the heart of the real.” In traditional societies, everything that made sense of the world was real; the surrounding chaos existed and was threatening, but it was threatening because it was unreal. Without a home at the center of the real, one was not only shelterless but also lost in nonbeing, in unreality. Without a home everything was fragmentation.
Home was the center of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. The vertical line was a path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal line represented the traffic of the world, all the possible roads leading across the earth to other places. Thus, at home, one was nearest to the gods in the sky and to the dead of the underworld. This nearness promised access to both. And at the same time, one was at the starting point and, hopefully, the returning point of all terrestrial journeys.’
Berger’s idea of home as the centre of the world making the world real, seems now more true than ever. Perhaps in hindsight or the next few years it will become even clearer and more relevant. But what I was really interested in was how to creat the experience of being at a site where the vertical and horizontal lines met. In an interview I found of Berger speaking of this idea of centre he also states that this is something not many people are able to do today. I have been seeking out ways to create that experience and yesterday I managed to do so.
Some of you will know that this area I live is very much my home, the majority of my ancestors throught the last 500 years have lived within a 30 mile radius of where I was born and reside and that is why I choose to make work here. My trueset home, in all feeling and belief, lies in the North Yorkshire Moors where I have lived from time to time since a child, I have been researching my family history as part of my practice since 16 years of age and this has become much easier in the past few years with the release of more and more records and of course the internet.
These pictures are of Witherisse, Weather House or Widris as I can find the are named in the 11th century. The existing house, now a ruin, was built by my 10th Great Grandfather, Oliver Barre and his family in the late 1500’s. Probably nothing more than a barn then, decendants of the family lived here until about 1900 when it fell into disrepair and was abandoned. These picture are of all the roads in, a green lane, stone markers across the moor that lead to it. The experience of being able to place yourself on land where the roads of the living and the dead meet was an unforgettable one. There was no greater sense of wholeness, no truer a centre.