Tuesday, March 31, 2009

American Beauty

Window/Wall, New York, March 2009, JB

And through the walls we hear the city groan
Outside it's America - outside it's America
U2, Bullet the Blue Sky

Just through the window - the only window - is a wall of bricks. Its proximity is such that it feels to be in the room. The pressing presence of such a mass could become oppressive, yet there is something strangely seductive about the brick expanse. Its enigmatic nature draws one to it, and it always catches the eye while moving about the tiny room. Melville had such a relationship with his chimney, "My chimney is grand seignior here - the one great domineering object, not more of the landscape, than of the house; all the rest of which house, in each architectural arrangement, as may shortly appear, is, in the most marked manner, accommodated, not to my wants, but to my chimney's, which, among other things, has the centre of the house to himself, leaving but the odd holes and corners to me." (I and My Chimney) I begin to feel this way about My Wall. It leaves a little space for me, the margins of some much greater realm. It has a curious beauty, pale and wan, yet engulfing. And somewhere beyond is the frenetic life of the city, something which my wall demurs from in its quiet vigil outside my window.

Further south, the university town is oppressive not in its presence, but in its absence. Vast and sprawling, it is discomfiting. Setting out on a long walk to my destination I find myself trying to hug the boundaries, the edge of the forest, the road, to avoid being out in the open, exposed. The open and hostile expanses eventually gave way to the fabric of the university itself. Yet any signs of relief were quickly dispelled since the first building I encounter is the nuclear reactor. It is under heavy surveillance, pervading the surroundings with feelings of dark menace against the backdrop of the forest. After a long day and an even longer evening I later return to the hotel, out in the vast nothingness beyond the campus. The sinister moments of the day linger, but there is a certain fascination with this place which is so alien, so unforgiving. Switching on the tv, American Beauty is part way through. The claustrophobic scenography, the darkness, the rain, the brooding and foreboding, seem to amplify the setting I find myself in. And then the scene, the plastic bag which swirls in the breeze. The beauty. Pulling back the curtain to stare into the night I see the swimming pool aglow, like a radioactive puddle, and then beyond it, the darkness, into the forest. The unearthly green glow has its own toxic beauty, haunted by the strange calls of a unknown bird ... at the brink of blackness ...

Swimming Pool, PA, March 2009, JB


DT said...

The comfort of the brick - yes. I like that scene greatly, an almost total oppression, which is perhaps an expanse, too?

Ans the nocturnal swimming pool photo is sublime, literally. Is that a lone table? Wonderful, I'm jealous!

Hope all is going well over there.

jacky bowring said...

Hi Dylan ... yes, lone table quaking out there in the darkness. Strange thing about the pool is I think there was no water in it, which adds to the uncanniness of the scene, the green aura emanates from a void ...
cheers, jacky (enjoyed your tirade on non-places, a much needed antidote to the superficial reading of this domain...)