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Alec Finlay, Jeremy Millar, Guy Moreton: There Where You Are Not

31 May 2005 - 09 July 2005

There Where You Are Not is a collaborative project featuring new works by Guy Moreton, Alec Finlay, and Jeremy Millar. The exhibition explores the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein and his interest in the landscape (of language), and architecture within landscape.

The remote places to which Wittgenstein was drawn include the northerly landscapes of Iceland and Norway; the alpine village of Trattenbach, where he worked as a school teacher; and the later refuges that he found in Connemara and County Wicklow in Ireland. These landscapes all share a quality of ‘quiet seriousness’ that reflects aspects of his philosophy and his own psychology.

Wittgenstein’s retreat to Skjolden, Norway, lies at the heart of the collaboration between Alec Finlay and Guy Moreton. Presenting a descriptive essay in text and photography, they reflect upon the site of Wittgenstein’s house overlooking Lake Eidsvatnet and the surrounding landscape. Here he worked on the manuscripts of the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations, and its relationship to a more general cultural model of a ‘house for thought’.

The austerity and sense of isolation in Finlay’s collage poem and Moreton’s photographs can also be found in The Dark Night of the Intellect, a new film by Jeremy Millar. Based upon an essay written and, here, narrated by Tim Robinson, the film explores the landscape of Rosroe on Ireland’s western coast, described by Wittgenstein as ‘the last pool of darkness at the edge of Europe’. Another new work brings together footage from the artist’s home with a musical echo from Wittgenstein’s childhood. It attempts to establish both a sense of belonging and an understanding of how we might engage with the place of another.

Wittgenstein was a radical literary theorist, writing philosophy as if it were poetry. There is a poetic intensity to the works on show that illustrates a form of expression more eloquent than language, echoing Wittgenstein’s own exploration of the visual depths of language.

Yet while this exhibition possesses a quiet, haunting beauty, it is not without a sense of play, perhaps most clearly found within Finlay’s Language Games (Word Puzzles) and Wall Wordrawings - wanderings within Wittgenstein’s thought, and points from which our own thoughts might also wander.

 

There Where You Are Not has been organised by the John Hansard Gallery. Guy Moreton’s photography has received financial support from Southampton Institute. Jeremy Millar’s films have been made with financial support from NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

Artist's Interview

AF: Alec Finlay

GM: Guy Moreton

JM: Jeremy Millar

BB: Dr Bernadette Buckley, John Hansard Gallery

 

BB Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview for the John Hansard Gallery. We will share copyright of this interview between yourselves and the John Hansard Gallery. I like to begin by welcoming you all to the gallery here today: welcome to Alec Finlay, to Guy Moreton and to Jeremy Millar who collaborated on the current exhibition There Where You Are Not. Let’s just start by talking about the origins of this project. Would you like to begin Alec?

 

AF This project first started about five years ago, when I became interested in discovering a place for thinking – for thought. And I was invited to propose a new Centre for Contemporary Art in the Natural World – a place that’s never actually opened. But I wanted to make a replica of Wittgenstein’s house. I’d read Ray Monk’s biography and I was very interested in the life and Wittgenstein’s very famous for the house that he designed in Vienna – which is very abstract and very perfect and in a very obvious way, fits into a Utopian, abstract European tradition. And I was interested to uncover another kind of house – something that would be more vernacular, that would more relate to an ordinary life and maybe even to a country life – to the house that he made in Norway in the early years of the century.

 

So I proposed this replica-house as an idea – as really as a piece of research. I proposed it even before I’d been to visit it. Then I became friends with Guy Moreton and admired his work a lot and I wanted to make a documentation of that place which would be a poetic record of the landscape where Wittgenstein would walk, as he would say, doing philosophy. So it came out of an interest in place and thought and you could say, the relationship between the external world and the internal world. And it was Guy’s ability to look in a very quiet and still way that seemed to me to be a way of uncovering whatever it was in that place that Wittgenstein chose. So I suppose you could say that in a sense, the project was about discovering how much one could uncover a thought within a landscape – as it were – to follow Wittgenstein in where he’d been attracted to and where he’d gone to discover his thoughts and to see what it would be like just to look in that place and to walk in that place now. Maybe Guy wants to say something about that experience…

 

GM Yes I should say that before we’d met in Edinburgh, I’d actually spent some time with Alan Johnston in Norwich and it Alan that really talked a lot about Wittgenstein and especially the house in Vienna, which I knew of. My work then was really dealing with the relationship between architecture and landscape. I was making portraits of houses, so I was very interested in this. And I suppose I continue the same practice, which is really about walking – about walking and looking and returning to a site. It has that kind of rhythm which is really important in making this work (and in reading Wittgenstein, I think). So this work from Skjolden really is very much about a very slow process of returning to a site and looking, and looking at a certain kind of landscape. Some of it is a very complex landscape. My interest is actually seeing something clearly and making a portrait of something in a very particular way. So in terms of photography, I use a large format camera which has a very descriptive ability. The process is actually about looking – about waiting and looking.

 

BB And what was it about Alec’s suggestion that really drew you into his project?

 

GM There were many things actually. I knew about Wittgenstein’s house in Vienna and it made perfect sense to visit the site of the house in Skjolden as a counterbalance.

 

AF One of the interesting things of course is that the house wasn’t there.

 

GM Of course, so the site becomes this really wonderful possibility as a site for thought, for contemplation – all those things which were intrinsic in my practice.

 

AF And also that sense of what it means when a thing has been in a place and is no longer there – which is what we always are. You know, “there where you are not” comes from a Schubert song which Wittgenstein loved and would no doubt have whistled on the veranda a Skjolden. So there’s that sense of the romantic yearning just to be in a place – which I think sometimes can come from looking through a camera lens…there’s that concentration… or in the same way, writing a poem. As human beings, we need to discover a way just to be somewhere, just to be able to live. And certainly for Wittgenstein, that was always a struggle.

 

So, in one way, Wittgenstein motivated our journey, but in another way, we went as ourselves to look and uncover. And I think in that sense, the invitation was simply an opening. We met by happenstance and it was more a case of, what will happen if we go there and look? And in a sense, the longer you spend there, the less and the more that Wittgenstein is important; the less because you’re so much more engaged by that landscape (which I wanted to add is such an interesting landscape of sections because you have the valley and the hill and the view – a very Alpine landscape), but also Wittgenstein is more present, not as a personality, but in terms of the character of his thought and his life – which somehow you can read in that landscape I think.

 

GM Yes very much…

 

BB At what point then do you come into this project Jeremy?

 

JM Probably quite late really…fashionably late really. [Laughs]

 

I became aware of the book – Irish 2 – which had been published and which had Guy’s photographs in it. It contained a piece of writing by Tim Robinson called ‘The Dark Night of the Intellect’– which is a very beautiful poetic essay about a period that Wittgenstein spent in Rosroe, on the west coast of Ireland, in 1948. And again, this was another example of Wittgenstein’s need to be somewhere else – his need to isolate himself, to find a place to think, to create a place of thought really. I think we share a lot of the same interesting concerns about place and landscape – for instance this notion that, as Joyce wrote, places remember events (that is, the sense that events, or history, or memory can be inscribed onto a place but could also be half forgotten as well). It’s about trying to locate yourself at that point between remembering and forgetting.

 

So as soon as I read this piece – and Tim is such a fantastic writer – it just seemed obvious really, that the essay was almost like a very beautiful shooting script for a piece of work. And so I used it in a very straight-forward way. When Tim describes certain spaces (what had been the cottage that Wittgenstein stayed in for example), when he describes the hills, the valleys, the pass, the summer tree…these just become, one after another, shots to follow in a way. And I sort of like the idea of following as well. We’re all following Wittgenstein in some way. We’re always being in place that he’s been in before. I quite like that notion which is contrary to a classic notion of the avant garde – that art is beating through the wilderness and breaking new ground. I quite like the idea of actually following something as well. It seems to be more interesting in a way and maybe less egotistical.

 

BB Are you embarking on a kind of pilgrimage?

 

JM It is in some ways but then, as Alec said earlier, that diminishes somewhat. The reason (personally for me) for me going to the west coast of Ireland was because Wittgenstein had been there and then because Tim had written about it. And so that was the entry visa – the reason for being there. And then as soon as you’re there, your own sense of looking, of being in a place, starts to take over. I think this is something which then became manifest in the piece itself because, as I said, Tim’s essay provided the structure of the video and the order that the shots appeared in. There were certain points within – and Tim has narrated the essay over the footage – there were certain points where he just cuts out. Because it’s then the desire to look at the place for longer means that the images and the words move out of synch. It’s then that the desire to look overpowers the desire or the law of the words and gets broken. So then there’s a sort of a sense of repetition and Tim’s voice comes back in again. So that’s an interesting tension within it and I think it’s a tension that probably exists in all of our works and that acts as a form of pilgrimage. It’s a way of paying respect and also of trying to find something out about yourself as well. Wittgenstein’s desire to go to a place is to use it as a method of understanding oneself really.

 

AF Can I come in here? Just thinking about Jeremy’s work and Guy’s work and also my own experience, I wouldn’t use the word ‘pilgrimage’. I might use a simpler word like reason – it was a reason to go there. But what’s interesting is how much the landscape then structured that experience. And Wittgenstein had an incredible gift to do philosophy sometimes without philosophy. He did philosophy in terms of teaching methods. He devised a vocabulary for Austrian schools. He did philosophy using photography. For two years he made these incredible photographic albums, which were really an attempt at philosophy. And in some senses this was also just an attempt at looking – you know how to look at the world. When you go to both of those landscapes you discover that they share certain very simple characteristics – northerness, wetness, both in proximity to the sea (in Skjolden it’s a fjord but still you feel that connection with the sea), backed by mountains and looking, in both places to the west. And so in both places you sense a structuring of the landscape. Patrick Eddis would talk about ‘sections’. It’s very easy actually to be in that place and analyse it – but also to be broken down oneself by it, to be almost analysed by the landscape.

 

I would say that anyone could walk through this exhibition and know nothing about Wittgenstein and have the essential experience. And that is part of what Wittgenstein says – that he wants to teach you as much about how to live as how to think. And he certainly struggled with that and in many ways, wasn’t good at living but was very clumsy and awkward. I’ll always remember that thing that he said just before he died, he said “Tell them that I’ve had a wonderful life” – which for anyone that’s read his life is very strange because he plainly didn’t. But I want to add one other thing about these places which is interesting. It’s to do with this journey and this idea of ‘there where you are not’ …which is that, in both places he’s always struggling to resituate himself. In both of them, he is really at the edge of a small crafting community. In Norway, his house is some way away from the village and yet it’s not up in the mountains. It’s unusual in that respect. And he was always struggling about whether to be further away or to be closer. And he was really like that I think in terms of his human relationships. And when he was at Rosroe, he dreamed of crazily going to live in a hut on the island that he could see. And he also wanted to move in with his next door neighbour – a crofter who said to him ‘I’ve only got one bed’. So there was this real struggle for Wittgenstein just to find that place. It’s not simply someone who goes and is peaceful there. It’s a tormented life in which the thinking happens in moments of clarity.

 

 

BB I guess that’s the reason why the word ‘pilgrimage’ comes to mind initially – because the ideal pilgrimage is supposed to be that which arises out of a sense of struggle and out of a search for something…

 

AF That’s true.

 

BB ..but another reason as to why it sprung to mind for me is because Tim Robinson’s recent book Rock of Ages was divided into two parts – that of pilgrimage and that of labyrinth. And that brings me to the next question too which is about the labyrinthine qualities of this project. Because we are here – to quote your puzzle which quotes Wittgenstein – in a forest trying to find our way out of it. Could you say something about these labyrinthine qualities of the exhibition also?

 

AF Guy and Jeremy are very gifted with lenses. They look. They know how to look. They’re both very thoughtful artists. But they know how to look. And perhaps I struggle with that in that I don’t have that facility. And I remember thinking in the poem I wrote there, that perhaps I couldn’t learn from Wittgenstein how to think like he thought. I would never have that intelligence. But perhaps I thought that I could learn to look. And I learnt a lot from watching Guy looking and from looking at the photographs. But then, for me, the labyrinthine, the inner life was just as key to that. And when we went to talk with Dr Nedo at the Wittgenstein archive, he taught Guy and myself that one of the things that Wittgenstein was always seeking was a view - in other words to be above the forest and see out over the lake, the hills, the horizon, towards the west, to see, to be situated at the centre of the landscape. And I don’t think this is about having power over it as some people might discuss. It’s more simply to find a situation from which you can look and then clear a space for thinking.

 

So the labyrinthine is certainly about finding those clues and finding that clearing and the works that I made are puzzles. They obviously refer to Wittgenstein’s ideas of ‘language games’. But because they use words and in a sense are like a poem, they’re also very influenced by John Cage. And they’re somewhere between the Wittgenstein ability to clear away and make a single view: you know, I see and this is the truth of this seeing…I think that would be a definition in a way of what Wittgenstein achieves… but Cage would always be happy to stay with complexity. So for instance he would talk about a ‘weather system’ and in many ways my puzzles, once they’re shuffled up and the words are jumbled, are more like a weather system. They deal with the complexity of ordinary lives, with the complexity of ordinary thought, with how difficult it is to clear thought.

 

BB And the changeability of thought as well…

 

AF Absolutely so I think that all of us would agree that we’ve had moments of clarity and that as human beings sometimes that’s all you can aspire to. Perhaps the contemporaneity of our work is to also admit the way in which complexity now impinges on our lives. I think one of the main current of thought in the last 50 years is to try and actually acknowledge how we will never clear away complexity – whether we use the pile-driver of modernism or the camera – whatever, that complexity will always remain. So I haven’t, as it were, found a trick to remove that, but certainly the labyrinthine that Tim brings out, the way that a place has so many layers, is part of the looking and the seeing.

 

BB Guy would you like to say more about this concept of the labyrinthine? It seems in listening to you that there’s a kind of connection between the geographical or the geological and the metaphysical. What is it about place that that makes one come back to oneself.

 

GM Yes, can I first just also come back to what I was saying earlier – to something that also links in with this? The way that I work is that I use a ladder actually. I climb a ladder in the landscape. And I work more or less at the same height which is about 10 or 11 feet off the ground. And it is about understanding what I see and I need to have a little bit of height from eye level as it were. And its very much about standing at the top of this ladder with a lens-hood over my head. So I’m in this darkness, only with the grounds glass screen of the camera. And one really becomes involved in the picture through that method. And it comes back to this line that Wittgenstein wrote, which always stays with me: “A picture held us captive and we could not get outside of it.” It’s very much part of that idea. I think place is central to that – it’s like understanding our position –our position within a landscape, our position within the world, our relationship to the world and to ourselves. So it is very much part of all those ideas. And the work in Skjolden is absolutely central to that. It’s a very slow way of working. It’s about coming back to a certain point, revising, crossing out ideas mentally and actually making a picture and understanding that place, that sense of place.

 

AF What it doesn’t represent is the mosquitoes though…[laughs]

 

GM It doesn’t represent the mosquitoes…no and the rain and the wind and all those problems but there is a fine line between waiting, between nothing and something.

 

JM I can’t follow that!

 

BB What we’ve been talking a bit about here is also some of the complexities of seeing in particular. And it seems to me that what Alec and Guy have been talking about is not just a seeing in terms of visibility and invisibility but a seeing in terms of recognition or in terms of an understanding. Does your work feed into these kind of concerns as well?

 

JM I think so. One of the things that I had in my mind when I was in Rosroe – an aspect of Wittgenstein’s thought which he was working on then and which Tim talks about – is this notion of change of aspect –that is, where things change where nothing has changed. What you’re looking at hasn’t changed at all, but everything has changed. This is obviously something which was very important to Wittgenstein, because he talked about it a lot in his philosophy – actually just removing the problem by refusing to accept that there was a problem. I think this is something which is incredibly important – not only in life but particularly in terms of art – this idea that suddenly it has a value, instead of just being random sounds or collections of words or some sort of arrangement of coloured shapes. It becomes something profound, but nothing has changed.

 

I think this is something that I was aware of, in the sort of slow looking which you have in Guy’s photos as well – the sense of waiting. Perhaps if you look long enough or look in a certain way, what you have in front of you changes. It’s just whether you recognise that change or not – rather than trying to impose some sort of change. And I think that perhaps, what we all share (with Wittgenstein as well maybe) is this striving for clarity. But it’s a clarity which is then transformed into something poetic rather than into a very ‘scientific’ clarity.

 

It’s very interesting. You know, Guy’s way of working seems almost abstract – the notion of a large format camera and this sense of isolation – but at the same time this becomes transformed into something which would seem counter-intuitive to that. Something (which could almost be used for purely topographic purposes) is then actually turned into something else. I think I was thinking of this when I was framing in Ireland – the sense of clarity and looking at details.

 

It would be interesting to think about what Wittgenstein might think of this work. Famously (I think it was the first time he went to Skjolden) Wittgenstein went with a friend, Pinsent. They ended up having an argument because Pinsent was a quite keen, amateur photographer. Pinsent wanted to take a photograph and Wittgenstein stormed off and wouldn’t talk to him for an hour. He said ‘Oh you’re just like a man who, when walking in a landscape, can think of nothing but what it would be like for a golf-course. So he was critical of this idea of landscape being transformed into something useful rather than being just experienced. And I’m sure that in a typically contrary way, he might have the same reaction to Guy or to me going to a place, instead of just experiencing it – this sense of having to bring something back.

 

And it’s this very fantastically interesting and difficult position that a lot of artists share – particularly John Cage – this sense of trying to erase their own position – of trying to remove the ground from beneath themselves, to a point where its necessary to make art in order to arrive at a position where art is no longer necessary. I think that that’s probably an area that we all struggle with and that Wittgenstein struggled with as well in his desire to make philosophy in order that philosophy no longer become necessary. There’s no sense here of trying to illustrate what Wittgenstein’s work was, but perhaps there’s an attempt to inhabit the same sort of place. What he might have thought of this is open to conjecture really. Given that he said that not only were there no great British films, but that it was logically impossible for there to be a great British film, I don’t suppose the things that I’m producing here would change his mind about that. But it is interesting to consider what his position might be and that his response would be typically awkward. [Laughs]

 

BB We seem to be edging here into stories all the time. You seem to be treading in the way of stories. Is story an important part of how this work has come to be? I started thinking about this first probably in relation to your work Guy, because these lush landscapes are there – they’re photographed as ‘real’ if you like – but also they have this mythical quality to them, as in your work Jeremy – the snow falling and the birds picking up crumbs – also seems to have. Perhaps you’d like to say something about this quality that I’m talking about – because it impinges on language but also on the symbol?

 

GM Er not…[laughs]

 

AF I’ll speak. I’ll say what Guy was going to say. [Laughs]

 

BB Well yes Alec, because this question is relevant to your work too isn’t it and you’ve spoken recently about the importance of story too.

 

AF Well one of the interesting things about Wittgenstein is how many stories there were about him. And he was, maybe wrong about many things, because although he had a vastly superior intelligence, he did also have such a tortured relationship to the world. I think, as Jeremy was suggesting, and again like John Cage (though in a very different way because Cage was so genial and had a Zen-like contentment), they’re both constantly wiping the blackboard clean. And to do that, you have to have a certain savagery.

 

So there’s that aspect. But also, Wittgenstein was very concerned about how to live and he was very bad at it but also very gifted – I mean in the sense that he was very prickly, very difficult (especially in his younger years) and he was trying to find people who he could be at one with. But the stories about him are in a sense almost saintly, in that there is this accumulation of myth. And anyone who reads the biographies is struck by this. And those stories teach.

 

But what is also interesting about Skjolden (I remember reading it in one of the studies) was that Ibsen’s Brandt was actually meant perhaps to have been based in that valley. It’s an imaginary place. It’s a supposition but Ibsen had been there and so this was a meeting in an incredible landscape. The mountains are, I don’t know, 3000m. The glen has an incredible sense of space. And it has a contradictory sense of being an inner space because of the heights of the cliffs and yet offering these incredible panoramas and skylines. So that before Wittgenstein had been there, although actually not that far away in terms of time, the place had other mythical associations.

 

One of the things that we were all conscious of also, was that we were very much going to places – not ‘non-places’ as in that contemporary sense of the urban non-place – not airports. We were going to the west coast of Norway and the west coast of Ireland – to poetic, beautiful, tragic landscapes; landscapes that in one sense had been left behind; landscapes that had cultures which have incredible value to us now but are also marginalised. So all that is going on within that sense of story here and Tim Robinson very much picks up on that. He’s also interested in this relationship between Wittgenstein and really what you might call ‘folk culture’ – that Tolstoyan sense of a people, or of the relationship between a people and a place. And so, in terms of story, when we went there, all as strangers (though perhaps I would suggest that with my Scottish relationship to landscape and to place, I had more familiarity with that). But we were all going to beautiful, western, Valhallic landscapes and so in a sense, that then in itself becomes a story doesn’t it? There are all these Wittgensteinian stories but there’s also just the sense that that landscape is a narrative that still has a lot of charge for us.

 

GM You can also see this in Wittgenstein’s photographic albums in the archive. He very interestingly makes these typologies – these groupings of photographs. And they’re all perfectly cut. He’s very very concerned with scale. And he presents us with photographs of friends of his, and photographs of places (of Vienna and of Skjolden and of Cambridge and of London) and they’re positioned together. You know, it’s very much about a relationship between where he is, and a relationship between him and other people. And that’s set up in these typologies. It’s a very very interesting way of presenting those connections. One can really read that through the photographs. And it’s quite an unknown side of Wittgenstein I think.

 

BB And this concern about story is also present in your work here Jeremy too isn’t it. For example the film in the project room is based on a story – the story of how Wittgenstein used to feed the birds and of how, when he left, all the birds died and were eaten by cats…

 

JM Yes…you know we keep using the word ‘place’ and I think that it’s very interesting that we use the word place rather than that of ‘space’ or ‘territory’ or ‘location’ – all of which have very different meanings and connotations although they tend to be rather lazily used to replace each other in a lot of contemporary art discussion. Place for me is something that is related to history and memory. It has a sort of embeddedness about it. So, just to go back to the notion of the story then, maybe a location becomes a place just through the layering of stories that are placed over it, over a period of time. The birds video as you say, come out of another story of Wittgenstein becoming fascinated with birds, when he was on the west coast of Ireland. As Alec said earlier, Wittgenstein had this hope of maybe living on this small island and of having this man called Tommy Mulkerrins making him a hut on the island. Mulkerrins of course put him off that idea rather rapidly. But he was fascinated by the domestic birds – the robins and chaffinches which used to come to the back door and which would feed. And as you say, when he left, he left some money for Tommy to carry on buying some food and the first time that he came back, because the birds had become so tame and so used to being fed, some cats had killed them.

 

This was something I was interested in – this notion of how you relate to a place, but also of how you relate to the person who has almost invited you to go to that place as well. A number of my works often relate to other people, to other figures and to their relationship to a specific place. It was something I was very curious about, because obviously my cultural upbringing, my history, my intellectual capabilities are just so vastly different from Wittgenstein’s.

 

While I was in Ireland – well you have your own responses to it and you’re always trying to imagine what Wittgenstein’s responses would be and you can just never know. The thing that interested me about the birds was the way that we feed the birds in our back garden in the same way that he fed the birds at his back door. And there’s a line from Goethe’s Faust that he often used to quote, which was that ‘in the beginning is the deed’ and that, no matter what else had happened, then this was to the thought. There seemed to be the short-circuiting in a way – that this was the one connection that I had with him – was that we both opened the door and we both threw the bread out. And that’s maybe the only one.

 

BB It’s interesting the way you talk about this connection because it seems again and again to be described in terms of ways, paths, searches, and perhaps in your work Jeremy there’s a stronger sense of ‘home’…can you talk a little bit more about that?

 

AF I just want to and one thing to Jeremy’s story about the birds which is the only reason that we know it. The first person that came to live at Rosroe after Wittgenstein was a young poet called Richard Murphy – an Irish poet who’d left the city gone there and talked with Tommy Mulkerrins about Wittgenstein and wrote down this story (many years later, he didn’t write it down at the time). He wrote this story about Wittgenstein’s deed and deeds do have effects and influences and become part of people’s memories. And art still has this role – we talk about this story but we know it because of Richard Murphy. So our layering of this includes Richard Murphy and it also includes John Cage, who also has a connection to the birds. So in our layering, you know it’s not a linear track. And no doubt someone one day may follow us – not in any sense that we’re great – but Richard Murphy was just a young poet, so other people may make that journey and add their own layers to the place.

 

JM And just relating to what someone said earlier about following a track…

 

AF Or a deed…

 

JM Yeah, it’s not say in the sense of an open wilderness which is a classic Modernist notion of the artistic landscape in which you find yourself – which is empty. It’s actually acknowledging that maybe there have been people there before. You’re not erasing the history and you’re not pretending that other things haven’t happened there. You’re actually working within it. There’s a sense that the place is shaping you more than you shaping the place or the response to it. And this was sort of important in the birds piece because I have a very different relation to place that I imaging Wittgenstein did. He had you know, a troubled relationship with his family – there was this tension that he had about wanting to be by himself but also needing people; or of having to isolate himself in order to work. Whereas I have a very different relationship. I love being at home. I love being with my family. And though I can understand his desire from a purely conceptual point of view, it’s not one that I can share. The piece with the birds was in a way trying to show that difficulty. The music is Brahm’s Clarinet Quintet, which had it’s first performance in the Wittgenstein’s family house in 1891, when Wittgenstein was two (the same age as my daughter now). It’s a piece of music that he loved and that he played throughout his life as well. So there’s a sense of nostalgia, which means a longing for place rather than a longing for past time. It’s just a way of inscribing my place – my back garden with his place. And that sort of uncertainty that he had, I also had and it exists between the two of us - my trying to connect in some ways but ultimately being completely unable to do so because we are just so different and had such different upbringings and backgrounds.

 

AF Yes, I’m just thinking about that moment with the birds again and that it kind of forgives something – there’s a connection. And we say we’re so different but I think that in those moments, you are sharing something with Wittgenstein. So when you’re reading Wittgenstein there’s a sense in which he’s scouring clean language and thought and ideas. But he also is the person who fed the birds. And for me, I know that I connect to the whole experience. You know, growing up in the country and we had one of those Norwegian Jøtul stoves – which had this strange decoration in cast iron of two people in a forest, sawing down a tree. And it had a godly inscription on the front. And it gave us heat – it was very important. It also used to smoke the clothes on the pulley. But it was part of my childhood, which I can actually weave into that story. So the ability to think of the Wittgenstein family, patrons of Brahms, his experience of that, and then going all the way to the west coast of Ireland and then into the back door of Jeremy’s house and then into my childhood home with this Jøtul – you know that’s the magic of art – that it can allow those things to connect. And there’s something that we all seem to perhaps bring – a certain domesticity; even perhaps the word ‘humanity’ – to this story – or it might be a gentleness, a kind of forgiveness, to perhaps what you might call the relentlessness of thought. As human beings, that relentlessness in itself is a scourge and will always have an aspect of…a kind of, there’s almost an aspect of self-hatred about it. Intelligence will always have an aspect of that to it. And in the story of Wittgenstein wanting to go further and further away to this island is very like the story of DH Lawrence. You know his story called ‘The Man who Loved Islands’. It’s about a man who utopianises his life to the extent that he ends up on a little rock in the ocean, facing obliteration in this storm. And Lawrence is not praising this. He’s aware of the aspect of himself which wants to shut off from society, from mess, from the British film or whatever. But there’s also another voice that’s saying ‘no, you have to find a connection to the birds’. You have to find a moment when you do that and all of Wittgenstein’s homes were spartan, were scrubbed clean – from his little teacher’s room in Austria to the Skjolden house. There is a kind of relentlessness in his sense of self. And the stories do forgive that and I think something that we all share here, is a love of all stories to do with art. We put the art up. We invite people to look at it. It’s what we can give them. But the narrative is also underneath that and through the cracks of that. The mosquitoes are part of that. It’s all part of it.

 

GM In another sense, I could mention also someone like Sebald in his The Rings of Saturn (which is very important to me) and his wanderings on the Suffolk Norfolk coast which is somewhere that I have wandered – Dunwich Beach. Again, it’s this idea of being in this landscape and yet trailing, wandering through a history, wandering through a story that Sebald so eloquently describes. That’s so important – being in a place and being able to imagine a certain history – to imagine another place.

 

BB And Sebald is also someone who likes to tread this line between fiction and reality…

 

AF And often following these figures of the past who have again written texts which to us are scourging, or are very difficult – you know the idea of melancholy and Sebald coming out of illness before he made that journey. So he always seems to be looking for those human moments – those human details.

 

BB Well I’d love to be able to speak to you about this for longer, but sadly we’re run out of time, so my thanks to all of you for participating in this interview. Thanks to Alec Finlay, to Guy Moreton and to Jeremy Millar, on behalf of the John Hansard Gallery.