Thursday, 7 August 2008

I do not like the tree she says, it reminds me of autumn. Summer has barely begun. We all hope this to be true, certainly it is warmer here than any other summer I have known, but the warnings about the colds of encroaching winter have been sounded out from everyone.

What kind of undertaking has Tim Robinson begun? It was something started substantially in the past and yet now holds itself fast to the future as an archaism, as a document of time and place. These geographies, capturing these geographies, how important is this? Those particular angles of land that shift, the storm beaches and cliff faces that undergo perpetual erosion and slippage, movements of land that challenge not only cartographers but oral histories. Within every turn of land is a story, a relation to an accident, a happiness, an anecdote. And when these stories were first told in a language now lost, about a place now lost, are we not to be fearful? Turns of land like prompts for memory, but now beneath the sea, waves riding high over and in towards the land.

Does that not happen here in the city? Is it just wind and rain that can cause stories to disappear, that can cause association to be lost as though a word remains the next day as only a hollow sound, a sign without signifier? Or does the city feature these slippages? Is it not these slippages that are related in Sinclair’s Lights out for the Territory, a book that has continually come to revisit me when walking around any city. The ideas of leylines, factions of architectural influence, the hidden borders of a sector, the covered narratives of mounds and valleys and dissecting railway lines – all feature now in my daily rides around the city and were born with Sinclair.

Turn left, and then left again and then right and you come to the velodrome. Stepped high on the other side of the road, beyond the tramlines and cycle paths, it is partly submerged and the apple orchard planted on top is its only indicator. Opposite are old slaughterhouses. They have stone pig-heads cemented above their dilapidated entrances. Steel fences borders the long buildings, perhaps there used to be more, so access is limited. Still, cobbled driveways allow a route past, and those meat production units can still be felt to relate to a past time. No doubt around here, perhaps in those old apartments that way or these shiny new blocks here, there are stories of this place. Perhaps the old workers sit in their new rooms relating stories to themselves, stories bound explicitly to brick and mortar.

Next door, a large strip of parched grass, irregular rectangles of reclaimed land, now boldly proclaimed as park in which the city dwellers flock and separate, each drifing away to personal oases in which to read, drink or become distant in thought. But even here, where there is nothing, stories build. Any space which holds nothing, in Berlin, tells of something. Absence in this place, the lack of continuity in the impacting sprawl of tenements, never occurs without reason. Builders don’t leave strips of land in this way. The past tells us this. A general history can tell us something, but personal histories ask us something, they seem to ask what is to be done next, who will record these voices?