How Space And Geometry Can Change Our Thoughts | From Barcelona To Edinburgh
Mr Facebook’s espionage of what we do and like is sometimes quite successful. Last September I was recommended an exhibition held at Edinburgh Printmakers: Abstraction from Architecture. A quick look at the exhibition’s images told me that Facebook’s recommendation was fitting; it felt like the artworks shown would satisfy my recent obsession with lines and geometrical shapes.
The techniques, colours, materials, and particularly the forms and lines of the works in the exhibitions were interesting, yet at first sight I only found them aesthetically pleasant. But I went back to the gallery talk, where three of the four artists featured — Bronwen Sleigh, George Charman and Andrew MacKenzie — commented on the processes and intentions of their works, and my perspective changed. The artists talked about the interaction between man-made and natural structures and encouraged an open interpretation of their work making us reflect about our own experience of space and the geometry of our surroundings. Their works seemed to deconstruct spaces and perspectives, emphasising the failings of seemingly coherent structures and exploring the effects these incoherences may have on our understanding of the physical world which surrounds us. How do we make sense of shapes and spaces which are unnatural to us, difficult to understand or puzzling to look at?
“Every time I picked up on a thread of information the light would eventually take charge, mutating the lines and concealing what I had thought I had begun to know” George Charman; from the exhibition catalogue
After the talk my experience of the exhibition became more valuable and stimulating at a personal level and I was able to engage more actively with the works. Some of Sleigh’s and Charman’s pieces introduced impossible perspectives alongside more recognisable and realistic structures; MacKenzie’s works invaded natural landscapes with superposed strange geometrical figures. I felt that looking at them baffled my perception of space, making my senses uncomfortable. And in this state of confusion and discomfort my brain found one way out: imagination. Imagination as a synonym for “getting out of the side of your mind that forces you to rationalise and makes you want to dominate these spaces, and using the side which allows you to go beyond these limitations in order to envision space as a more flexible and creative reality”.
All of this led me to think about a process that was taking place in my daily life in relation to my experience of space: I have recently moved to Edinburgh and have found myself in the middle of a strange city I had only visited briefly as a tourist in the past. Geometry and space suddenly gained importance in what I did and thought everyday. When I walk around the streets of Barcelona, my home town, I move automatically around the city even though I’ve lived abroad for many years. Sometimes I’ll be meeting someone and my body will get there alone — I will have been daydreaming all the way there, unaware of my physical surroundings and unable to remember which route I’ve taken. The map of the city is something I understand well and it has become part of my unconscious, which allows my conscious thoughts to concentrate on other things that interest/worry/amuse me more.
While Barcelona’s map has become something personal and familiar, Edinburgh’s lines are to me an abstract mystery, puzzling me as much as some of the works in Abstraction from Architecture. This has had its consequences: I can’t daydream when I’m walking around Edinburgh. If I need to get anywhere I’ll be constantly watching out and reaching out for my phone to look at google maps. My movements are awkward, my experience of the city is exciting, and my consciousness about my body and the physical surroundings is awake and poignant. With all of this I suddenly realised I was changing at a personal level.
Since I got to Edinburgh I have been walking around a great deal — from 10 to 25 kilometres everyday — and my mood and way of thinking have indeed changed from all this walking in strange surroundings. In what ways? Having to look around me instead of daydreaming has made me look at other people more, making me more connected to the physical environment and the human presence of others. Having to be more physically grounded has led me to be more relaxed and clear-minded. I have stopped being overwhelmed by a thousand moderately relevant thoughts and interests and my mind has been emptied, busy with more basic ideas. The thoughts that pop up in my head in spite of me having to concentrate on the new surroundings are usually worth my attention, so my mind has been overcome by less yet more important thoughts. I have also become more aware of my frailty as an individual in a big strange world, something I’m aware of deep down but I tend to forget.
Ultimately, my presence here being rather random and abstract — this is not home, why am I in the UK now that university is not an excuse — I have seen myself forced to think more in depth about what the point in my existence is. (serious stuff).
Feeling like I’m surrounded by spaces which I do not know or understand well and which seem sometimes hostile, I’ve had to confront questions such as: Why do I tend to run away from comfort? Why have I left behind people who I admire and love, who make me feel loved, who challenge me intellectually and artistically etc.? Why did I refuse a good job to come here? How can I go far away from the most beautiful and loving grandmother now that she has little time left? If I move my life away from all these things that gave it shape and meaning at home, who am I now and what am I doing? What leads me to do it?
The result of formulating all these questions is that I see myself as an individual, coming up from beneath all of the doubts, and I hear my voice, which I hadn’t heard so clearly at home. I feel myself getting stronger and closer to who I want to be because in unfamiliar environments I need to fight harder in order to succeed, to survive, to exist, to become, to be heard. And I remember that this is the feeling that made me leave my home country a few years ago when I was 18 and that has made me leave again after a year of being back.
At this point all of this just gets too personal, wide and vague for me to keep writing, so my rambling musings on the effects that geometry and space may have on our thoughts shall appropriately stop here.