Russell Coates Museum, Bournemouth 2007
The Line the Waiting Room and the Cabinet
“I’ll meet you at the line” has, for a short time at least, become something that I hear around the Arts University campus a lot at the moment. The line in question is a chalk drawing by a student, two metres wide by fifteen metres long made up of repetitive, methodical, gestural bursts outside the Arts Bar. It was drawn on one long, very cold, winters day that never rose above a couple of degrees. It has quickly become an open ended meeting place or point from which events, discussions, arguments or movements are initiated or happenings started. It is this potential of ‘the meeting’ and in particular the place where the meeting happens which set me thinking, and the instalment of an artefact on to which social status has been bestowed or defined by a local knowledge and collective understanding of place. The line does not signify an activity or function; it is in fact its lack of function that allows its audience this subsidiary use and their multitude of choices that result.
What is it that makes us identify, acknowledge and develop these transient places of connection? Their formal function may only be as a staging post, to bring together a group of people who then spurn the spot for another activity or mission. These are however valid places in themselves. Their non-ness is their strength. They are like the cracks in the pavements between the monumental slabs of landmarks.
When we force a place to become empowered with the physical function of a ‘meeting place’ it seems to transform this place into a ‘landmark’ – Dublin’s stainless steel spire, the Eiffel Tower. The landmark can be shared and even as strangers we can access cities from these points. They become the familiar and we build up knowledge of their topography and come to think of them as surrogate ‘home patches’ for the length of time we use them, we take ownership of these landmarks. But we do all this as an outsider, we become familiar, we meet there because it is a there, defined and designated as a place of meeting. The meeting places I am thinking of are those born out of an understanding of the local, an insider’s knowledge. It maybe that it is close to a particular shop or is out of the prevailing wind, its importance is as much to do with its absence as presence, it forces you to move on. It is the space ‘Under the Clock’ in Waterloo station where as students we all used to meet, spend 30 minutes waiting, coming together and then dispersing. Or the small round table which my wife and I made in the kitchen where we eat breakfast.
I wanted to take at this idea of the ‘Line’ and expose it to the context of collecting from a cultural perspective. As a visitor I found Thailand full of such locations for me, non-descript places where people gather. My wife and I would have to meet in large air-conditioned spaces, anonymous, void of understanding and function. We were in Thailand to be introduced to our son for the first time. It was hot and we moved about from one government office to another, shopping mall to shopping mall, air-conditioned floor after air-conditioned floor. If you were not moving you had to seek out these places to keep cool. They were the springboards for the next meeting or official destination. Our encounters were based around these spaces, endlessly pacing up and down the ‘chalk line’. Hotel foyers, airport lounges, entrance halls and waiting rooms were the backdrop for the extremely important process of adopting our son. His early identity and our memories were forged out of these places and the latent potential of a meeting and ultimately, meeting him. The bland and general architecture of such sites gains a symbolic emptiness that allows these possibilities to happen. Again, the non-ness of the place gives rise to these feelings of something going to happen and incidental meetings gain a level of significance that may change your next intention.
I met Christian at the Russell Cotes to make some preliminary drawings of my chosen cabinet for ‘Meeting Place’. As we walked around the museum we talked about the each other’s work and the exhibition, how things change and the whole nature and purpose of meetings. It turned into a day of chance encounters and changing thoughts. It was not long until I was empty and separate from my initial intent. There was something about the museum that illustrated the coming together of a cultural collection too well.