Perceiving Place: Worm Wood reflections

Perceiving Place: Royal College of Art PhD research methods course

Convened by Tereza Stehlikova

I was asked to run a research methods PhD session called Perceiving Place, focused on exploration of the creative process, inspired by and developed in collaboration with a unique location, and employing multi-sensory methods of research. Working with particular places, the sessions included sensory workshops, exploring how different senses outside vision can help us engage with a location and reveal invisible layers of meaning, and create emotional narrative. There were also guest presenters such as the award winning landscape architecture studio J L Gibbons, and writer and Sensory Sites member Kay Syrad, who introduced their own methodologies in working with places and their stories. The workshops involved video documentation which also became part of the method explored.

One of these sessions involved an exploration of Willesden Junction and Old Oak area, using various optical devices.

I have been inspired by the Claude mirror (black, round, usually convex mirror), which was used in the 18th and 19th century in Europe, to perceive landscape in an aesthetised way, as if it were a painting.

To walk and observe landscape was part of the picturesque tradition: “the mirror eliminates particular details and imperfections. This removal of triviality brings forth an abstraction, that of ideal beauty.” (Maillet, The Claude Glass)

Below, a walk that was a recce towards Perceiving Place.

A reflection of Willesden Junction in a Claude mirror.

I am particularly interested in this industrial area because it is going to disappear soon, transformed beyond recognition through the Old Oak Development. There is a beauty to this web of electricity cables, bridges and railway lines, made all the more intense through the knowledge of its limited existence.

John Berger muses on his time spent in Willesden Junction: “I have heard people say that they first felt small when they gazed through a telescope at the night sky. For me it happened when I looked across Willesden Junction. In the early morning, at twilight, through rain, in the dark, under snow, in the summer heat, and day after ordinary day. ” (from Vertigo Magazine

Still from a Worm Wood film, by Tereza Stehlikova

Inspired by Arnauld Maillet’s book The Claude Glass, I was keen to try out the use of filters (i.e. coloured acetate and glass) to create a different mood.

Could these early optical devices, such as the Claude glass, perhaps be considered an early version of instagram, with their desire to enhance and alter the reality, which is somehow never satisfyingly complete? The filters I used this time did not come in post production, after the event, but during the act of looking itself.

Wordsworth expresses an interesting observation in regards to our need to interfere with plain view, which concerns the role of the imagination, which according to him “is a subjective term, it deals with objects not as they are, but as they appear to the mind of the poet. Imagination is that intellectual lens through the medium of which the poetical observer sees the objects of his observation, modified both in form and colour.” (Maillet, The Claude Glass)

Claude glass (using different tints to create different emotional states), which may have started as a metaphor for the imagination, took on a literal form.

So what happens when a refractive glass shape is used, to break the reality into fragments?

My little fake crystal enhanced the sense of multitude of wires, and lines, keeping an impressionistic record of the area, a subjective moment in time…

Even a sense of movement, of animation through a sequence….

A different mood, a world coloured through a small brown bottle of whiskey which I found…lends the image (of large rubbish heap) an idealised golden glow.

A world through rose tinted glasses…

As well as an existing mirror

Blue mood

I even managed to find a large Claude mirror in the grass.

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