Closer, but further away

I do not live in Bath, though I am resident of two studio spaces: EMERGE at Sion Hill and The Studio at Palace Yard Mews, Bath Spa’s Enterprise & Innovation Hub. People work and interact within these studios temporarily, occupying spaces, coming and going. The organisational and spatial structures of these studios encourage an interrupted flow. An artist familiar with robotics bumps into another who creates sound installations. A writer has a chat with a painter and another visual artist who uses code to create geometric images (these examples are made-up). These pauses, these interactions, allow visions to emerge of what or how things could be – they turn ‘undifferentiated space’into place[1]. They provide openings. Still, it’s hard to shift out of patterns. When I arrive at Palace Yard Mews, I have my set way of doing things. I enter in the same way, scanning my card and half-barging the door open with my shoulder. I go to the first floor, to the same desk, though the other week someone else was using it. These little actions are automated, like the habits formed in my room, or in vacant moments – biting my nails, drumming, getting lost in some part of the internet. They are impulsive actions, and often I do not realise I am doing something until I find myself doing it, until I come out into an opening, as in a forest or a city.

The studio spaces are distinct from that functional, habitual, automated fabric of the city. They are also occasionally distinguished by their lack of intimacy with this fabric, the visions which sprout from them representing an intermingling of subjectivities, devolved of the constraining characteristics of a place and its culture. This is not oppositional to the pauses I mentioned previously. Intimacy is partly about care, but it easy to get lost in this. Caring too much can become burdensome or oppressive both for the caregiver and receiver. You can lose perspective. Gaining distance is not an act of carelessness, but keeps possibilities open by giving space for different perspectives to emerge. It might sound like I am writing about a person, but I think this way of speaking can also be used when discussing places and our relationship to them. Care draws attention and focus to my actions, but I know that, for example, when I am drumming if I focus too much on each little action the whole thing falls apart. I’m reminded of a scene in the film 24 Hour Party People. Martin Hannett, played by Andy Serkis, is trying to explain to Stephen Morris of Joy Division how he should play the drums. He says, “Let’s just try something a lot simpler, okay? Faster, but slower.” Faster, but slower. Or in this instance: closer, but further away. This is an interesting, if strange, way to think about the future of Bath’s creative industries and, by extension, the city’s creative ecology. Closer, but further away.

[1] Yi Fu Tuan: “…each pause in movement makes it possible for location to be transformed into place.” Pauses allow value to be experienced and co-created.

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