No Particular Place

How to put this into words? That if you treat mean­ing­ful­ness as a num­ber, and that an arbi­trary deci­sion in space is a 1 – a palette fall­en off of the back of a truck – and a very mean­ing­ful deci­sion in space is a 10 – a tall mon­u­ment exact­ly where scores of peo­ple died at a stroke – there are any num­ber of places that are 4, or 6. There are prob­a­bly many of them next to each oth­er, and from look­ing from one to anoth­er, you start to doubt where they are tak­ing their mean­ing from – from each oth­er, or from else­where? But in terms of Boolean oper­a­tors, there are no ORs here, only ANDs and NOTs.

A stone can oper­ate at so many lev­els of mean­ing. Sit­ting alone, while most­ly it is only a stone, if it even reg­is­ters at all, an expert could look at it and know it as rare or com­mon, in its prop­er place or rolled from far dis­tant. Start relat­ing one stone to anoth­er, and the nuances start appear­ing; the lay and expert views can be made to con­verge in a com­mon­place that rais­es the ques­tion of why the two stones, or four, or more, are laid in such-and-such way. 

Ambi­gu­i­ty dri­ves love. Ambi­gu­i­ty is not ambiva­lence, or any­thing-goes. Ambi­gu­i­ty is being able to ask the same ques­tion a hun­dred times with­out ever get­ting the same exact answer twice, and with­out ever being lied to. Those answers do not range at ran­dom, but clus­ter and form in a way that has its own pow­er; they describe a man­i­fold space of possibility. 

Land­scape mate­ri­als, be it stones or the spaces between them, can be pre­sent­ed in a way that makes the mate­ri­als invis­i­ble, or in a way that makes them step for­ward and speak one thing at a time; but the wor­thi­est goal is to make them say an iden­ti­fi­able range of things. Brought togeth­er in space, they can be made to add up to a place, as a col­lec­tion of peo­ple talk­ing can result in a sin­gle mean­ing­ful unit: live­ly con­ver­sa­tion, or a low mur­mur, or a shout­ing match. If a com­mu­ni­ty begins to form around such a place, it will do so to join the con­ver­sa­tion, or join the fray.

One wing of land­scape, oper­at­ing in high­ly con­strained sites, in tan­gles of pipes and reg­u­la­tions, has to spec­i­fy and jus­ti­fy every­thing in advance. I am all for con­straints; but I can’t help but see that the capa­bil­i­ties required to jump the hur­dles of design and con­struc­tion are not whol­ly aligned with those need­ed to build a com­mu­ni­ty over time, to build love of the land­scape. The results tend toward the frag­ile, the frigid, and the lit­er­al; it resem­bles the land­scapes of alle­go­ry where every hill, lake, or road stands for one thing and one thing alone. The rhetoric of the project is this: I have solved the prob­lem, and every­thing is set in its right place. Every sys­tem is as sunken and silent as a liv­er work­ing inside your gut.

So, let this be a rule for mak­ing a land­scape – if some­thing can be more than one thing at once, let it be. And if it is made to be one thing alone, force it to be vis­i­ble as part of a sys­tem, some­thing that los­es its self-explana­to­ry nature; as a tree becomes vis­i­ble all over again when you know that myc­or­rhizae are hang­ing off of it. To see it in the sys­tem is to be one step clos­er to find­ing your­self in the sys­tem with it. 

(September 2022)