Thoughts on Self

Commitments, Perception, and Hummus

The bath of Diana, Van Diemen’s Land, 1837 by John Glover (source)

Standing on the hanging bridge that bounces with every footstep, there exists a non-silence as the water flows in fits and rages between stones. The river draws towards us from between the two shorelines, marked by geometrical stones and sporadic foliage. A couple nearby chatters about their lunch, a child presses there head between the bars, a man checks his watch while reading the time estimates for the two treks up the Gorge. I wonder about the history of this place now uniquely designed for tourists to meander and leisure. As we continue forward, paths seem to vanish into foliage, the remainder of a cement wall hides beneath fluidity, and images of the now-extinct Thylacine sound like cries for help. Instant coffee, Serpentine lines, frilly Victorian hotels, unasked questions, garlic hummus.

Recently, I spent an entire afternoon reading, or rather skimming, a thesis that asked questions about landscape preferences and the ways our perceptions change with the land-use changes predicted for Places. While the focus was specifically on the future addition of wind turbines to a rural community, the underlying feature was a claim that landscape paintings (generated by the researcher through extensive analysis of landscape paintings and photography) seem to elicit more emotional reactions than simple photography ever could. Rather than being a captured moment that could be easily related and defined, theses little artworks required a sense of imagination or speculation into a place that could be, spaces that are relatable but not related. Thorough grasps of the mind-place gravitational bend, in the Latin percipere sense.

The challenge with perception and commitment is that we exist on a planet that has the potential to spontaneously reorganize the very ground we walk upon, ‘an earth (which) constantly carries out a movement of deterritorialization on the spot,’ as Deleuze and Guattari claim. Just in the very moment that we begin to perceive a landscape as beautiful, a white turbine pops up in the shadows and for some reason, we claim it as ugly and in a very Donquixotian way, demand it finds its way into someone else’s backyard. Or maybe we decide to make commitments, memorialize them in paint, and forget to warn others that it is still wet. It can all happen so fast that before we know it the figures swimming in the waters have vanished as well, or maybe they were never even there in the first place.

In talking about the ‘Bergsonian virtual’ with regards to actor-network theory, Clark states that when “[c]onceived as a limitless reservoir of promise of which any existing being is a localized incarnation, the virtual exerts a constant pressure on the actual to veer off-course into something other than it is.” The virtual is the watercolor landscape, the perception of some ideal rural community, and the memories of something that hasn’t yet occurred. Yet, at the same time, the virtual allows for actors and objects to exist beyond the constraints of some ominous external source of motivation. In the same way that we can decide to have a picnic on a whim in an acorn-filled grass park, the virtual is our chance to make commitments and preferences beyond the constraints of a researcher’s interview.

How does the virtual influence an artist, I wonder, as I gaze into the fine strokes of seemingly dancing trees and the eerie stillness of what must be a flowing stream? I’ve learned recently about Glover’s technique to make quick sketches in a notebook of the places he visited, only to return to them at a later date with brush in hand. The moment paint struck canvas, the actual veered towards the speculative and preferences were decided without the abstraction of a systematic literature review of various artworks before him. Similarly, I feel my own perceptions of place bending and folding the moment my heart mind quakes in response to a particular laugh.

And then there we are hand in hand, caught between our own body warmth and the chilled air, uniting, connecting, combining. In the case of landscape preferences, we are challenged to balance between our perceptions of space and our commitments to place. In the case of relationship preferences, we are challenged to balance between our perceptions of self and our commitments to other. When we consider the elemental starting point where most certainly must begin, the flux and flow of the river act as reminders of the divergence and convergence between the actual and the virtual. Perceptions are marked more by the metaphorical reactions with a living moving dancing landscape than with a conceptually generated placelessness. Commitments are decided in the space between bridge, water, land, cloud, and self. Hummus is chosen amongst the emergent relationalities of the actual.

Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Tasmania, studying climate change adaptation, risk perspectives, and coastalscape values.

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