Care is a practice, a gift, an ethical value. It is a noun and a verb. We can think of care in relation to other people and animals, but care for places is more difficult to conceive. However, we can think of places that are or aren’t well cared for.
We can think of unkempt gardens or dilapidated buildings, broken appliances, neglected neighbourhoods. People often have different structures of care, and different ways of caring. A trimmed lawn and a mosaic paving on a driveway show care, but somewhere less well-kept – a tufty lawn with weeds, wildflowers, an old apple tree the fruits of which are mouldering in the turf – might encourage more ecological diversity. Does this mean that one or the other is less caring? Must care be about intent? In some sense, yes; caring is not a utilitarian commitment determined by outcome, though individuals can structure care in this way. You may conceptualise care as something which increases the well-being of the person or place that you care for.
And yet, care is also about taking someone on their own terms and not imposing the care-giver’s idea of what should be. It is, in part, about letting the care-receiver speak for themselves. But how can places speak for themselves? And even in instances where the care-receiver is not a place, but a person, don’t problems of translation, interpretation and subjectivity prevent a complete knowing of the other, and thus render care a limited project?
In care, as in creativity, the practice involves a relinquishment of stable ends, of secure knowledge. Care can exhaust the giver. It is often not a light exchange. Relationships of care can also be differentially formed. In some, care-giving flows mainly in one direction. In others, it changes direction, there are ebbs and points at which energy dips. These confused and complex tensions are disorientating, so does this mean that care obfuscates, rather than makes clear, relationships to place and relationships to others?
Whilst care can induce a sense of closeness between giver and receiver, this is not necessarily defined by clarity. In person-to-person relationships, after a while we might begin to understand the other’s needs and actions automatically. Yet this straightforward understanding is often joined by other insoluble aspects of the relationship, by tension, friction, and an exasperation at the elusiveness of stable, predictable patterns of action. The most cathartic and healing moments frequently emerge in sharing this unpredictability. Whilst it can be frustrating leaving behind a set of possible solutions, all of which sooner or later fall prey to decay, a shared acceptance of frailty can be paradoxically strengthening, because it reminds both parties that whilst they are fragile, they are not alone.
This makes the idea of caring for place perhaps more complicated. Part of what this project aims to do is explore these notions of fragility and complexity in the context of care for place. How does place experience us as we are in it, as we move through it, as we interact with it, and vice versa? How do contextualised structures of care inform our actions in place? And how can we better share the complex fragilities of our inherited ecologies, creating more honest, conscious ways of being in and caring for place?