Site-Writing

It’s Just a Matter of Time (2020)
  • Toby Blackman | Newcastle, UK

  • Toby Blackman, The Path (2019), The Hunter’s Path, Teign Gorge (6x6 cm negative)
  • It’s Just a Matter of Time (2020)
  • Toby Blackman | Newcastle, UK
  • ‘Of the paths leading out of this history, the one I took has led me to consider the space and time of visual representations in which components of identity coalesce.’ Victor Burgin (2004)


    This work acts upon Lauren Fournier’s ‘autotheoretical impulse,’ writing the autobiographical site of memory and loss through explicitly subjective autobiography, description, and discourse on the image. The site written is formed in the space and time produced outwards from two photographs taken on the Hunter’s Path in Dartmoor, Exeter. 

    Set in immaculate formal gardens and overlooking the Teign Gorge, Castle Drogo was designed by Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe and built between 1911 and 1930. I visited Castle Drogo for the first time on 14 September 2019. I was on my way to visit my mum on the weekend of her seventy-first birthday. She had suffered a massive stroke earlier in the year and remained hospitalised in Truro, Cornwall. I took a break from the long, hot drive from Nottingham and walked on to the Teign Gorge ‘classic circuit,’ a circular path which joins a singletrack trail, the Hunter’s Path, and descends to the floor of the Gorge. I carried my medium format film camera around my neck and stopped to take two shots on a bend on the Hunter’s Path, simply – it would seem – to be present and active in a place. 

    It was the last weekend I would see my mum. 

    The history, events, patterns, and condition of the physical body – mother, and son – form situated knowledges after Donna Haraway, at an intersection in the literature of Roland Barthes, Peggy Phelan and Brian Dillon, with John Berger, Susan Sontag, Iain Borden and Victor Burgin. Gaps are formed between photographic discourse, the body and the page, creating the ‘inner space of language’ between the signifier and the signified observed by Gérard Genette. 

    This work writes site in these gaps as mnemonic spaces embodied over time to offer an autotheory of and for photography. 


    Biography

    I am a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University, Director of the BA Architecture programme, an Arts Emergency Mentor, and Fellow of the HEA. I teach across the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes of architecture, supervising undergraduate dissertation studies which examine the ways in which the city is made, remade, translated, and renewed in an expanded field of architectural processes and practices at the intersection of political, ecological, social, and cultural concerns. 

    I studied Architecture at the University of Edinburgh, Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, and I am interested in an expanded field of architecture. I have exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy Summer Exhibition, practiced with Allies and Morrison, OMA, Zaha Hadid Architects, and Studio Bednarski, and I was Highly Commended in the 2019 Blueprint Architecture Photography Awards. Recent projects and publications include, ‘How do buildings talk? co-authored with Jing Yang and Jonathan Hale and published in ARQ (Volume 25, Number 1, March 2021), and an edited, live reading of this work, ‘It’s Just a Matter of Time,’ on Bloomsbury Radio as part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2021.

    During my time at the Bartlett, I took a series of classes within and across the MA Architectural History, MA Situated Practice, and MA Historic Urban Environments programmes: Critical Methodologies, taught by Peg Rawes and other staff; Research and Dissemination of Architectural History, taught by Robin Wilson; Representations of Cities, taught by Iain Borden and Sabina Andron; and Critical Spatial Practice: Site-Writing, taught by Polly Gould, David Roberts, and Jane Rendell. Rendell additionally supervised my dissertation, and my examination of architectural borderlands through literature, film, and site-writing. These studies – carefully nurtured, guided, and fed back upon – proved transformative, establishing the basis for my teaching and scholarship.


    Practices

    In my work, I explore an embodied, spatial architecture-writing, drawing from the work of Hélène Frichot and Naomi Stead, Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis, Emma Cheatle, and Jane Rendell. I am stimulated and inspired by the opportunities identified by Frichot ‘both within and alongside the discipline of architecture, both within and without buildings and places,’ at the intersection of the discourses on architecture, literature, film and photography. 


    Keywords
    architecture, autotheory, photography, writing, temporality, memory

    References

    The work of Emma Cheatle has inspired and guided development of my writing practice, and my writing of architectural history. In ‘Writing Walking: Ficto-critical Routes through Eighteenth-century London’ – published as a chapter in Writing Architectures: Ficto-Critical Approaches, a collection of wonderful, temporal and spatial, embodied and material writing edited by Hélène Frichot and Naomi Stead – Cheatle writes the historic site through writing intersecting the everyday and the intimate, the narrative and the descriptive. Cheatle feels proximate and present to the reader – careful, vulnerable, attentive, revealing – the subjects and objects of study resonate and reform on the page. I would wish to invoke similar intimacy and accuracy in my work.

    In Stud: Architectures of Masculinity (1996), Joel Sanders intended to provoke and stimulate debate in the field of critical theory of and for architecture, queer space, and in the contested community of architecture, art and criticism practice. Stud demonstrates an inter-textual dialogue concerned with spaces of absence and exile, and the representation of shifting, provisional identities and images constructed between subject and object, matter and imprint. Stud challenged disciplinary boundaries. In the book’s structure, the coordinated juxtaposition of contributions from an inter-disciplinary field of authors, in its form, an exchange of ideas between image and text are offered, and in its content, the book posits questions of masculinity, gender, and sexuality on spatial, artistic, and critical terms. My work seeks to pay close attention to structure, form, and content, working across the disciplines in strategic, intersectional ways whilst remaining ‘alert to cadences’ in the discrete sites of meaning production.

    In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard essays our first home and the conditioning effect upon the development of our spatial, temporal patterns of movement and positioning. Brian Dillon suggests it is the space of the home itself which plays out over time through this embodiment, ‘It is the empty volume that we get used to, that makes our bodies move in particular ways, that forms habits and physical attitudes which persist, awkwardly, after we have left.I return to Brian Dillon’s articulate, precise, and intimate writing frequently. In the Dark Room: A Journey in Memory, (2006) forms an unflinching examination of memory and loss, childhood and the self with poise and accuracy. It is profoundly moving writing, and a continued source of both inspiration and solace.


    Other projects
  • Signal/Noise: Ambient Text in the Urban Landscape (ongoing project)
  •  Acanthus, (March 2022)
  • Unter der Hohen Brücke. 
digging in a ditch, writing for a place 
(2021)
  • ‘Reading-writing alongside HALL08,’ HALL08 (2021)
  • Nothingness Beyond Blossom (2021)
  • Angelo Ciccaglione, ‘The back of the dust-machine, where the visitors pour the dust in,’ Rotterdam (2021)
    The Deposition of Dust (July 2021)
  • Skye Edge (April 2021)
  • Corvid-19 (15 March 2021)
  • 1_5
    Glòries_(Eixample). A dispositive for very slow aesthetic observation, (January 2021 –)
  • As Lightning to the Children Eased (January 2021)
  • Station F (October 2020)
  • It’s Just a Matter of Time (2020)
  • 1
    Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History,
    issue # 1: ‘beginnings,’ (2020)
  • Homekeeping-image_sml
    Homekeeping (2020)
  • City Embers (2020)
  • Between Our Words I will Trace Your Presence (February 2020)
  • What Remains (2019)
  • Situated Writing as Theory and Method (2019)
  • Parts Apart Read Together (2019)
  • Fields of Awareness, (2019, 3min 18 secs)
  • A Non-Aligned Narrative in and Around KSEVT, (2019)
  • 21 Orientations: An Atlas of Geographic Promiscuity (2019)
  • The Windowless Hotel Room (2018)
  • Spaces of Grief (2018)
  • Soft Landing (2018)
  • Shared Remains (April 2018)
  • Metropolitan Salem, Liuerpul (9 June – 18 August 2018)
  • Things Come Apart (21 – 24 March 2018)
  • Learn to Read Differently (2018)
  • Il Balcone. A site-writing performance (2018)
  • History begins with the vanity of kings (2018)
  • Dear Mr. Jung: Inhabiting Carl Jung’s ‘The Red Book’ (May 2018)
  • A Lunar Perspective, (2018-2020)
  • Heaton Hall: A Palimpsest (2017)
  • Location (+) (2017)
  • There’s Sand in My Infinity Pool (2017)
  • Talking Quilts (April 2017)
  • fifteen ways to cross the desert (2017)
  • Between Landscape and Confinement: Situating the Writings of Mary Wollstonecraft (2017)
  • Agency at the threshold, (2017)
  • A Ficto-Historical Theory of the London Underground (2017)
  • The Glorious Tomb to the Memory of Nothing (2016)
  • The Arrival’s Reader; A Visual Literary Criticism on The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2016)
  • Reading as Art (27 August-19 November 2016)
  • Re: development (London: Silent Grid, 2016)
  • Kjemikerens død [The Death of the Chemist] (23 – 26 May 2016)
  • Kingsland High Street (2016)
  • Foray in a Modern Reserve: An Impounding Portrait of Landuse (2016 – 2018)
  • Fall of the Derwent (2016)
  • Away from Home – Home from Away (April 2016)
  • Penguin Pool (2015)
  • Geography Lessons: Liberian Landmarks 1953-2013 (2015)
  • Women’s Anarchist Nuisance Café (2014)
  • The Writing on the Wall (after Rembrandt) (2014)
  • The Italic I (2014)
  • Designing Architecture as a Performing-Ground (2014)
  • Urban Literacy (2013/2014/2016)
  • The Disappearance: Manfredo Tafuri’s The Sphere and the Labyrinth (April 2013)
  • Folded Ground: Escape from Cape Town (2013)
  • Phantom Railings (2012 – 2017)
  • In The Emptiness Between Them (2012)
  • 10/08/12 (multispecies event) (2012)
  • An Arcades Project (2011)
  • Tideline (2010-2012)
  • The Museum of Breath (2010)
  • Slab (2010)
  • One wound. Two wounds. The body as site for writing (2010)
  • The Fluid Pavement and Other Stories on Growing Old (2006)
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