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|[D I S C U R S I V E  S P A C E S ]| Residency project 

      [ David Checkley ] -March 2020 | Healing in heterotopic spaces

| Research from our writer in residence |

There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as
simply messing about in boats. In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter.
Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you
get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination
or whether you reach somewhere else,

or whether you never get anywhereat all, you're always busy,

and you never do anything inparticular;

and when you've done it there's always something else to do,

and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not. 

-Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows


A common theme of late capitalism is the encouragement, in tourist advertising, to ‘get away from it all’. The not-so-subtle intimation is that if you work hard enough, and gain sufficient purchasing power, you can escape, both psychically and physically, those burdensome trappings of wage-labour that gave you the desire to escape the burdensome trappings of wage labour in the first place. Yes that is a circular problem: working to alleviate the stress of working. 

As mercenary as the market’s exploitation of this desire is, it recognises a sociological, political, and psycho-geographic truth: humans find satisfaction and relief in the art of travelling through space and encountering ‘more of ourselves’ when we retreat from those activities and locales which make up for the common place and everyday. Technology has yet to render completely this desire to retreat to the inner world of the digital self and so it is still possible to find havens or sanctuaries of the self in the obese and noisome landscape of our major cities.

‘The path has come full circle, born, died and born out of crises, new beginnings.’

J.R.R Tolkien, that great myth-maker from the heart of England, witnessed the development and industrialisation of his rural surroundings and famously decried the loss of a certain ‘age of innocence’ to that of hyper-industrialism.  The canals and waterways of Wolverhampton have seen more than their fair share of this industrialism and yet, because technology is never static, they have, over the past one hundred years, seen an almost complete commercial obliteration of their economic strength and purpose to the local economy.  

Normally this commercial redundancy would mean an institution, network of physical spaces, and the communities that go with it, are consigned to the heterochronic archive; a sort of cultural echo bearing only tangential relation to present time-space. Though the human spirit is no normal thing, it’s resilience is almost, if not, as creative as its capacity for industry.

Resilience, creativity, and industry are the watchwords that spring to mind when encountering not just the exhibition of, but also the journey behind artist, David Checkley’s Discursive Spaces residency with the Asylum Art Gallery. Resilience because, working with (the wonderfully anarchistic) 'Urban Moorings CIC'; Checkley unpacks the transitional and safe space that a canal boat represents, based on David's own experience of the safe haven and escape from the world canal boats gave him in times of past personal challenges.

Creativity, not simply due to the nature of the artistic vocation, but as encounter and a way of being. I had the pleasure of visiting, with the artist, Urban Moorings CIC a not-for-profit Boaters Facility and community project in Wolverhampton at the start of the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Their priority is to create and sustain spaces where you can share the ‘canal folk’ way of looking at things, and explore the rich industrial history of the site and the area around it. It is an oasis of calm, where the sheer solidarity of the community there has shown us that work, be it duties on deck, or labour on land; life (and some very good food) can be born from the ashes of industry.

And it is this third tier, that of industry, which finds a level of poignancy one may miss when contemplating the sinewy business of creating art out of steel and iron. Checkley’s installation is:

‘constructed out of the detritus from the canal and surrounding waste lands, a skeletal boat, split by a new uprising, its bones lit by echoes of the industrial past that surrounds it, the reborn shining like a diamond in the darkness between the bones’

It is a poetic vision of the fruits of artistic industry that seems to have eluded minds even as august as professor Tolkien. The Oxford don, on the one hand, provided the literary image of the Grey Havens in his Ring saga. It is a place that can only be accessed by boat, and, once there; we are to imagine a place of organic bliss, where vegetation and wild nature alone are capable of rendering structures of beauty. 

Not so with the world we are introduced to via Checkley’s vessel, parts re-forged from the end of industry, made present in Asylum Art Gallery in our time, and then dismantled and returned to the community from whence it came.

The journey is experienced as much as a moving heterotopia of objects, as a journey within the Self .   


|Writer in residence| [Nathaniel Grant] March 2020

A special thank-you to Urban Moorings CIC for their contribution to this artist.

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