I like things that sit on the border between chosen and random, where at least part of their appeal comes from the non-aesthetic of happenstance and utility, roughened by time. The colour and look of old urban buildings, of abandoned homesteads in the American West, of tumbledown farmhouses in rural France. Objects stacked in a back alley. The pattern of rust on old locks and doorways. The semi-random position of chairs outside a café after a long day of use, placed to support conversations that are no longer taking place, and which the participants may already have forgotten.
I like seeing the back of things, too, the non-presentation side. Years ago I took part in a theatre tour of Northern pubs, during which we travelled from venue to venue on a barge. The best part of the whole trip was cruising along the canals through the disregarded middles and godforsaken back-ends of towns in the small hours, seeing materials that had been stacked or thrown away, in places where people thought others wouldn’t see them. You see this sometimes on train journeys, too, just outside towns or inexplicably far out in the wilds, piles of non-stuff, ex-stuff, stuff deprecated, devalued or otherwise hidden away — abandoned to the elements, but marked by the behaviour and choices of the last human to interact with it.
The Japanese word shibui, the first entry in this blog, is an attempt to capture just this quality. I’m not sure why I find it quite so appealing. Maybe it’s just that some objects and places don’t seem truly themselves until they’ve been knocked about a little, refined through encounters with people and time. A couple of years ago I spent a fairly long few days mooching around Madison, Wisconsin, and while I can see it’s a very nice college town and doubtless a swell place to grow up or study or indeed live – and any place with a big Frank Lloyd Wright building in it deserves visiting – from my point of view it needs a couple hundred years’ more kicking around before it feels like somewhere in particular. Though I did enjoy reading Doug Moe’s collection of essays and columns on the place, Surrounded by Reality.
And isn’t a lot of human behaviour this way, too? Aren’t the parts of people we love the most – or at least, the bits we find characterful and distinctive about them – precisely those aspects and traits which lie between chosen and thoughtless: a manifestation of inner acts of consciousness, translated and contextualized through circumstance and expedience? Isn’t it people’s rust that we find most appealing about them?
Anyway. This is basically a long-winded and wildly pretentious way of saying that (in what I really hope will be the final groovy new way I find of not-working), I’ve started a Tumblr page. It’s for stuff that’s too short for a blog but too long for a tweet: pictures, quotes, that kind of thing. Not much there yet, but hopefully there will be.
Expect rust, naturally.