Monday, December 21, 2009

The Idea of Farm House No. 6

FRANK GOHLKE"Among the few positive things we humans may do that other species don’t is to create Places. We can quibble about the details, but most people who have thought seriously about the matter would recognize a few necessary components in any satisfactory definition: places, like landscapes, do not occur naturally; they are artifacts. A place is not a landscape; places are contained within landscapes. Place is a possibility wherever humans linger, but it’s not inevitable. Sometimes we just occupy space. Places can be created intentionally or as a side effect of other actions with other intentions. Place seems to be more likely to come into being the longer we stay put, but many nomadic cultures roam in landscapes whose minutest features are named, recognized, and given a place in the story of a people and a world. 

"Place has something to do with memory. The evidence of the actions of human beings in a specific locale constitutes a physical version of memory. In the visible traces of their passage I read the investment of desire, hope, ambition, sweat, toil, and love of people who set this location apart from raw space. I don’t need to identify the origin of every feature to sense its significance. The intentions of the inhabitants may be opaque to me; I only need to be aware that intentions were acted on here. Long-enduring Places demonstrate Wright Morris’s dictum that the things we care about don’t so much get worn out as worn in. Some would go further and say that the vital energies, positive and negative, that are discharged on a site create a psychic echo chamber in which what happened there can continue to reverberate indefinitely. It is that faith which informs Joel Sternfeld’s pictures of locations associated with horrific crimes, utopian communities, and the civilization of ancient Rome, moments whose perturbations can persist for millennia. 

"Human history takes many forms, some material, some mental. Place partakes of both. One way to define Place in a few words, in fact, might be as a unique and significant intersection in space of human history and natural history. Is the Grand Canyon a Place? In what sense? When did it become a Place? When the first human being set eyes on it? When the first band of Archaic hunters camped on its rim or along the river at the bottom? When the first story about it was made? The first permanent settlement? When the first photograph was taken? When Congress made it a National Park? Or was it when the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and the downcutting of the Colorado River began 17,000,000 years ago?"