Here is a text I was commissioned to write recently on the site-specific installation by Anna Falcini, called ‘Listening Posts’- follow the link to the website http://www.listeningposts.co.uk/About.html
Researching a landscape and narrative through revealing the partial erasure of some things that have past and re-placing that narrative, that erasure back into the public domain is central to Falcini’s art and process. Hereford Train station – in the waiting room – is one of the sites chosen for the exhibition of photography and text of ‘Listening Posts.’ This now permanent site-specific installation, such is its success and reception, signifies both the conclusion to Falcini’s three year time-period spent living with the project; marks the end of the physical journey as walk, train ride, archivist, listener – which began initially at Dinmore hill (some seven miles away, and links the station with the tunnel under the hill, also the other site for exhibition); and the end of the journey back through selected histories.
The story which fascinated Falcini began when out walking through the woodland of Dinmore Hill and finding ‘a stone tower, that was originally used as a sighting tower, to construct the initial railway tunnel. Further walks revealed other architectural markers of the railway within the wood such as brick shafts and the entrance/exit points of the tunnel’. Falcini climbed the inside of the precarious tower and documented and filmed. The starting point for this project although on the one hand could be said to be the narrative, the backward digging that began to stretch out like a path in front of her (as she looked out and down from the top of the tower), was also the long time interaction with small intimate old buildings or structures in empty places. The symbolism, the dreaming begins here.
The final artworks are a body of 10 photographs, drawings, film and the placement of the partly archived text onto the waiting room wall. The text purposely opens out the tale of the working navvies, some who lost their lives while digging out the tunnels and is also a poetic response to Falcini’s understanding of the delicacies of place, ‘rhythms of rail and wood dubbing the air’. This waiting room operates on many levels beginning with the audience who become active participants in the project through their journeying and pausing at the station; and it does tell us what once happened but through this telling and documenting of the site in which it happened creates a presence that is about absence – it is all there but at the same time somehow not, and as viewers our sense of time and place becomes all as one.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
(Eliot from Burnt Norton)
One of the central themes in Falcini’s work is perceptions of time, and how this relates to a remembered, often emotional past, through worn away landscape and sometimes her personal narrative. This understanding and way of working began when Falcini lived on a small barge on the Thames Estuary and inhabited a working-life-style, but also being lulled by the rhythms, tides and winds. Although mainly returning to a tiny space on the barge to make and draw – this connection with nature and needing the outdoor air and potential narratives of place established itself.
Falcini’s working process began from this time to be about walking and thinking as art practice, and searching for sites that can become part of a gradual unraveling, re-tracing; this approach can be described as like Heidegger’s ‘findingness’ – ‘a structural moment or element of being-in’. This creative methodology is crucial, because once Falcini’s ideas begin to embody into a space, a mood, focus and tempo is established. The mood is often of melancholy places, that have become a bit empty and forgotten – industry has gone, the workmen have finished – the feeling is as if in a kind of vacated-space. But for Falcini an emotional connection is made and time in these places becomes polyvalent; like re-awakening memory but at the same time placed back into the now. The ‘findingness’ of the site, the pulling back the layers of time and history turns into a private journey – a being-in (herself).
A sensitivity to more delicate understandings emerges – the tempo of Dinmore Hill, for instance turned into the regular and periodic rhythms and winds set by the trains that traveled under the hills and woods – Falcini comments ‘the air of the tunnels and the wood and vibrations were felt through the walls of the shaft as the trains passed beneath’. Falcini began to bring a ladder on site and climb the outside of the circular shaft structure to photograph, listen and feel the sudden blast of wind when the train shoots through.
The resulting photography although representations of the site, becomes more about findingness or establishing gaps between things; opening a space to allow the sensation of wind and air to not only touch Falcini’s face but also into the work. A place between the photograph and the world of the wood emerges, a play is established between dark hidden places and structures and the light, air and coming out (of the tunnel, tower or archived material) for breath. The art work and way it is laid out and given to us all point towards a very particular feeling for something that is just slightly out of sight, behind in terms of the past and mysterious – the represented forms do refer to something real, but that event no longer exists, except in the photographs and other artworks. Therefore, the photographs becomes something like an absented presence.
The feeling for absented presence can be found through out Falcini’s practice, in earlier bodies of work we always find the return to simple structures like the barge, the hut (which was once studio), the old garments she occasionally dresses in to walk the site, and here the tower and the tunnel. Bachelard refers to this as a kind of returning to a primal remembered space representing shelter and house/home ‘the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace’. But the absented presence is also about what is left out and barely glimpsed – like the bodies just about imagined via shadows, clouds and sky in ‘Moving Clouds’ 2005. It is how deep memories linger into the now; it is about stripping things back to a clean yet precise line on a wall and leaving space for the audience.