Thinking Places: A Proposal

May 17th, 201111:08 pm @


Some ten or so years ago I moved to The Cut in the Waterloo area of London. I live on an estate, once owned by the Church Commissioners but now privatized, just behind the Young Vic Theatre, a centre for experimental theatre built in 1970 to counterpoint the more traditional Old Vic just down the road.

What I didn’t know back then was that this theatre had been built on a Second World War bomb-site where fifty-four people, sheltering in a bakery, had died during a single fateful night of the war. Once I had discovered this fact I soon noticed how the buildings along much of The Cut all originated from that time. I also viewed in a new light, the crack that snaked across the ceiling of my second-floor flat, just across the road from the theatre. Clearly, the bombs that fell on this South London neighborhood had devastated a community. However, there was little official evidence of a desire to commemorate this tragic event with a memorial or some such marker.

One day, in late April 2002, I stumbled across a bunch of flowers neatly tied to the somewhat dilapidated fence that enclosed the back of the theatre workshop area away from the gaze of the more busy main street. Bending down, I read the script on a plain card that accompanied the flowers…

That this person, and presumably others unnamed, could only commemorate their loss in such a furtive manner evidenced something of an oversight on the part of Lambeth Council and the Young Vic. Thankfully, they subsequently acknowledged this and a plaque was installed near the front entrance, including a list of the names of those who perished there.

In 2006 the Young Vic undertook a major rebuilding programme one effect of which was to completely erase the unofficial site of remembrance. Since then no flowers have appeared and it seems this particular family history has joined that vast realm of forgotten city stories: the great London unconscious.

In, Camera Lucida, Barthes claims that in a photograph there may be some element or detail that the viewer is particularly sensitive to. He describes this, the Punctum, as a quality that pierces the viewer in a deeply personal manner, like a wound. Could we extend this concept to encompass the idea that the Punctum is precisely that quality of experience that inspires thought and reflection? Could we apply this concept to actual places?

I’m interested how the spot where those flowers were placed is now a place of significance for me, somewhere I cannot pass without pausing to reflect on things: a locus of personal thought in an otherwise anonymous street. Don’t we all have places that are intimately bound up with who we are? Not just the obvious ones related to birth, death and family but also the more incidental sites of encounters, exchanges and happenings that in some way help define who we are. Places that ground our thinking or provide us with a location for reflection.

I would like to edit a series of short videos, each one no more than five minutes long. Each video would be the record of a place chosen by you. Somewhere of personal significance that prompts reflection and thought. The video recording of this place would be discussed with you, as would the preparation of a short text or recorded conversation detailing the reasons for your choice and its significance for you. The completed videos would be uploaded to this blog, building an audio-visual archive of public thinking grounded in personal experiences of place.

If you are interested please get in touch:

Nick Stewart