"On the ground are two footprints and a sign 'you are here'. The person puts his feet on the imprints, and no longer sees where he is; when he is beside he is able to see where he could be, but not where he is. There is after all a 'terra incognita', that which is beneath our feet".1
This paper investigates the relationship of the chair to the threshold space of the porch/verandah as the theoretical construct. The paper explores the chair when placed on the porch/verandah as a social portrait, through its historical and social context. The chair's context is developed through a series of scenarios that show the potentiality of its meaning. This is extended by examining the uses of the chair as a metaphor as well as exploring its continual relevant use as a symbol.
The threshold space of the porch/verandah with chair has become an area of interest through which to develop a contextual framework for my theoretical and conceptual ideas. This area of interest has developed through a process of walking around suburban streets.
Whilst studying in Sydney in 1994, I started to walk around the streets of Leichhardt, the suburb in which I was living. During these walks I began taking photographs of the facades of houses; the steps, doors, verandahs and chairs, a process that re-established me in a new location. This process seemed secondary to the work I was producing at that time, which related to autobiographical research of my work produced after arriving in Australia in 1977. The retrospective work I was producing in Sydney, seemed to be losing certain aspects of authenticity in its material translation. Being blinkered to the present, I had looked back to the past. Up to this time my art work had reflected a conscious and unconscious construct of dislocation. The sense of dislocation appeared in my work as a social critique which I now see as a form of colonialism, which was distancing the process of assimilation. This awareness of feelings of my own colonialism lead me to find some interesting correlations between myself and some early Australian explorers. During George Grey's exploration of Western Australia in 1837, when confronted with some Wandjina cave paintings, he asked his men to file by the works so they could all have an opportunity to examine them.
Paul Carter states:
"... rapidly Grey passes from explorer to tourist and, in doing so, progressively empties the country of its human owners. Blind to the eyes that briefly surrounded him, he refuses to imagine that the country is more than what can be seen, composed from his point of view.
This was the blindness at the heart of his seeing: he mistook what the fixed eye saw for 'reality' and failed to perceive the remainder of space, ritually inscribed with ochre lines, beaten tracks, camping places".2
This 'blindness at the heart of seeing' I felt clearly defined my own propositional stance reflected by my perspectival vision. This passage related to my own failure to examine my spatial concerns which maintained my identity as a tourist.
The authenticity of my present location came about, not by looking back to my home of 17 years, or, to my origins in England but by examining the threshold space of the porch/verandah in the front of houses, especially those with the chair. Walking from one house to another through the streets of Leichhardt and the adjacent suburb of Newtown, I viewed the poetical nature of these thresholds where the porches/verandahs are a domain for the chair. To me the chair in the threshold space became a poetical reflection of social values. This newly identified source of imagery was closely related to my feelings of dislocation as there was no parallel imagery in my place of origin. Indirectly this space confronted my feelings of dislocation linking it with my prior work. In this way the threshold became a metaphor for dealing with the past.
Carter in discussing the painting of Eugene Von Guerard's entitled From the Verandah of Purrumbete (1859) suggests that Von Guerard painted two views. One painting was the view from the verandah with the other being a view of that verandah from a focal point in the original painting. In this process of visual occupancy the past and present are owned, by their understanding of spatial illusion, by looking out from and back to the verandah.
"As a result the true subject of From the Verandah is not landscape, whether domestic or pastoral, but a visual coincidence, a time and place where a spatial historical event - the active process of visualising a place - coincided with a place that already had a view of its own.
There was no necessary identity between Von Guerard's view and the view from the verandah. It was just that here, fortuitously, a picturesque view cunningly mimicked his own spatial history. It was in this sense appropriate that the author of its picturesqueness, the artist who saw and painted it, should not be visible from the verandah, but should be represented, if at all, by a horizon".3
This passage reflects my own spatial history which by viewing the threshold space as a metaphor, allows me to not only look at my present but also to look back at my past. The threshold is a place of transition which enables me to feel located in the present without denying the past.
This relationship between Lincolnshire, my county of origin, and my confusion of spatial awareness in migration is made clearer when I read Carter's examination of the writings of explorer, Matthew Flinders. Flinders, on naming sites in Spencer's Gulf, South Australia, created a spatial and topographical resemblance to Lincolnshire by naming all the sites accordingly. 'But the essential point about Flinder's Lincolnshire names in Spencer Gulf is that they preserve the spatial and topographical relationship of the Lincolnshire villages'.4 Flinder's naming of sites was not saying something about his own autobiography but about life as an explorer, which in turn suggests some connection with my own position. As a migrant, caught in a destabilising confusion of redefining a spatial awareness, I allowed myself to settle with a sense of security that was based on not redefining my location. This settling process was based on superimposing where I had come from to where I was now. Perth was like, and therefore was Lincolnshire. Carter also stated something I felt, concerning being in a destabilising confusion as 'displaced, disturbed by the emptiness of resemblance'.5
The need to relocate was negated by spatial resemblance based on my narrow point of view.
"The Berkeleian solipsism of imagining a country springing into existence as one sets foot in it,- Any orientation to the new environment depends initially on finding resemblances between it and the home left behind &emdash; its novelty resides not in its absolute strangeness but in its strange familiarity".6
The process of relocation and its relationship with the threshold space therefore became a focal point for my work, as my awareness of its spatial significance became apparent. My past work focused on a spatial denial of Australia, maintaining my position as a permanent tourist. With the development of the notion of threshold space, and the place of the chair inside this threshold my work re-evaluates my resident and cultural status.
In chapter one the research paper investigates the spatial context of the threshold by discussing Henri Lefebvre's and Gaston Bachelard's concepts of abstract fetishised space and felicitous space. These disparate positions are used in this chapter to examine the threshold space. At first glance the threshold spaces make clear statements of what they are, their 'denotations'. But as their 'connotations' are formed for the seer, the individual uniqueness of these spaces are revealed.
Chapter two looks at the historical background of the chair to establish its context as a significant social symbol. The chair is investigated as a piece of furniture that occupies an important role in our society. The positioning of the chair on the porch/verandah creates a link between these two important symbols. This importance will be explored in relationship to an Australian connection as the chair's individual and cultural implications are explored.
In chapter three the theoretical context of the threshold space and the chair as a significant symbol are joined. The chair acts as a metaphor for the occupier in the threshold which humanises the space. Though the humanisation of the threshold space the paper develops alternative readings of the chair as a metaphor when placed in the threshold space. The various interpretations of these chairs are explored and interpreted to suggest their social significance.
Chapter four develops the concept of the chair as a social portrait. In this context the chair is seen as projecting some of the occupant's conscious and unconscious ideology on to the public space of the street. The threshold space allows the seer by a direct cognition to define and re-define these ideologies.
Chapter five links the theoretical, historical and social context of the threshold space together to reveal that the porch/verandah displays a rich and dense social commentary.
The paper explores the poetics of the chair inside the threshold space in a theoretical, historical context. The intention is to establish the threshold as a culturally significant space with humanising element of the chair as a key component in this space.