SOUTHWARK KNIVES
Christopher Jones

from the notebook that has two cut-outs from Cranach's
'Adam and Eve' on the cover - a headless Eve holding
the apple in her right hand, and the head of a deer
floating in space nearby.

 

FRAMED BY MY HANDS:

26th September 2000 Saturday 2.25pm
I was walking thru' a cross pattern. Down to The River. The big Strand, crossed at Southampton Road + Carting Lane (Dirty Lane in 18th C). We're beneath The Savoy - so much / so many had looked up / down The River and over it to Waterloo. Tramp Chaplin on success had paid for the hotel room affording him aview of his native South London one night. In 1920, Georges Bataille had fictioned dirty scenes in the hotel's room and watches brown skies above the ugliest piece of London, a 'foul sewer of a landscape: the river and the warehouses'. On that side, at Waterloo, the others were written out - Arthur Rimbaud whilstmaking boxes, Flora Tristan in search of prostitution walked 'Misery Junction' to see half-dressed breasted whores in doorways, Percy Shelley knew it, trod it skint in 'the most solitary period of his life'. Giordano Bruno, 'Madde preist of the sunne', viewedthis land by boat mid-Thames, as had Turner, Walter Raleigh looked across at the squat still vision from Durham House as had Monet painted its dark hue and cry from another Savoy boudoir, beset by vapours and white flushes. There was rain and drizzle on the pavements and the steep stairs at the top of the Lane. Touristslip. Line slippage.
At Savoy Place gardens. spectres of the homeless, now banned, were slipping in and out of the railings. From here, the view was all lines. Convergence. The angle of Waterloo Bridge from the lefthandside (and it made me think how much I had begun to like Waterloo Bridge...finally). It's sturdyness. Backed up, swivelheaded, on the right hand, Hungerford Bridge. Hunger Bridge of the past. (Evicted) The view was a third of a pie. The horizon a smug trio of Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Hayward Gallery and the Royal Festival Hall. The IMAX circular cinema was obscured despite it's new Waterloo-ness. There was also a beach over there, the water out, steps going down. Disappeared.
I put my hands up to form a rectangular frame and saw the sights again. I saw thru' my hands, the landscape reduced and captured by the shape of my fingers touched together. A landscape made two dimensional with a gesture from where?
This is what I saw - The peak of the 3i building...venture capitalists. The concrete QEH, the penthouses of The White House, the light sculpture abandoned on top of The Hayward waiting til dark. The length of the R.F.H. Exclusive of N.T/N.F.T.
Beneath that, the prow of the Queen Mary, a Thamesside floating pub. One figure in the frame. Guilty, pacing the deck with a pint on the lefthand and a mobile in the right raised to his ear. In his head, everything. Murderous. For gentlemen, the ubiquitous mobile is the 21st Century equivalent of the 17th Century dagger in the waistband. Always carried. Always weapon ready. Inaudible and tense. There is a big anchor on the side of the ship. Below these details, the frame within a frame, the concrete and stone of The Embankment, the heavy flat line end.
When I drop the frame - all changes. All change. On the boat, bridge, land, in buildings, far away. It is vision that makes this possible.

I can see The Bullring, slaughterhouse, imagine the place, a right hand grasped round a fiery heart.

...Did I mention Blake died here?

 

IMAGINED:

8th September 2000 Friday 8.45ish
The painter Turner mentions a 'mysterious forest beneath London Bridge' where he would play in the 1780's. Hard to find on maps of the time, to aid fantastic visions, it can now only be imagined. Like at Naples and the occult cliffs of Posillipo, re-imagined in Surrey Zoological Gardens in Walworth in 1837. Viewed by Nerval who contemplated 'Octavie' then his own suicide there. Viewed by Crowley who had received 'Book Four' there in 1911. Viewed by Charles Babbage who had previously burnt his shoes off by descending down Vesuvius. By Charles Dickens in the Grotto of the Dogs. Viewed by Henry James who had experienced 'the all' there, hanging ecstatic on the 'slow unfolding on time'.
Summoned into view and each vision fantastically different.
I imagine, in flashes, a wooded grove. Time out of The City. Evening, star rays possible. The sky and the earth are close. At the edge of many trees, low trees arch. A big tree twisted and open (like a belly or a throat). We are "strangled in the depth of the wood". Who has come here? To London Bridge's hideaway. One ofthe first and most settled of Southwark's whole history gives up a secret opening, a picture frame of trees, we all hide here, have escaped - Have escaped to here? The Sacred Grove, described as, witness to sacrifice. Magic. Natural reality. Earth moves. Ritual.
I watch as one of them holds a dagger upright towards the sky, in his left hand. How far did they want it to go? I'm not sure anything really happens? This woman in the golden dawn. Laure. The Golden one.
This imagined wooded grove focuses the idea of flux. The uncertainty blurs moment by moment. The vision slips off. Change is constant. Contradiction. Insufficient. Forgotten.
The wood is banished from mind. These words decapitated and then all flows quite naturally from here / there

...can I find my way back to The Sacred Grove. It's tree. All that seemed recoverable.

 

SKETCHED:

22nd August 2000 2.40pm
I sat in the grounds of the old Royal Bethlem Hospital, above secret tunnels, close to a tree, and sketched on a lined pad an enclosure of wild overgrowth. Surrounded by an ancient brick wall onthree sides, one side is open, the innards visible through a portable and weedy, moveable metal fence. It was an area of some fascination with me. Here by the ghost of the old male criminal wards that had stuck out from the side of the building, long gone now. Out of mind. Are we sitting dead set on the space occupied
by a cell or the smallish yard the occupants used for exercise? The site of a bird-cage, its pretty occupants imprisoned for the well-being of the imprisoned occupants, human-sized and often twilling.
My sketch is fast. Representing what is there? The small curve of the inner brick wall. Its regular buttressing and then a tiny gap in the view that shows, promises much more beyond what we can draw, see. The wall runs from the left to mid-sketch. The building and large trees intrude right. At the centre, the gap is a white hole that takes the focus of my scribbles as brick wall, green-domed Bedlam, over inked trees. Blobs and frantic dashes of line.
Feelings overide my artistic licence. Here a reformed criminal ward. Linen, starch, sliding ward doors, books in cabinets, chess games for the inmates. One prisoner smiles and exercises (near me?) and remembers the murder, the purchase of the spring knife. His father. Dad. Ritual murder before The Sun, after pies in The Ship? There is a photo of me at the site of the slaughter, knife in hand, fake-Masonic hand signal but I had got it all wrong that day.
Everything is possible in the sketch. The dead come alive. Hands grasp each other. Wring themselves. Untense themselves in relief. I'm reminded of the escapes of the zoophagous patient Benfield in 'Dracula'. Mad dashes over broken brick walls. Dingy dark nights and a sense of his flight to the core of his obsession, the ruined chapel at Carfax. A land I have viewed from my own side of The Thames, from the 'mournfull gloom' Gravesend,
He is excluded from my sketch. We have our feet firmly on the ground.
In the wilderness behind the walls and timid fencing - weeds abandon. Beneath the soil, secrets. Underground motives. That's why I'm here. To catch the space on paper. I can't know the truths...I catch an image of it (forever). It's a good thing to do, I feel. I felt. These notes, walks, forensic tests, all of them, compiled to make nonsense of the territory. I can get to that.
Beneath the grass, microscopically, insects, spores, seeds, fairies, fays, gnomes and elves for some reason.
...If this was a self-portrait, my face, I would have beheaded myself for the text. To be put on paper like a magic spell. Freed from thought finally.

 

PHOTOGRAPHED:

"What Planet Is This?":
1am 16/17th August 2000

Walking down Crampton Street at 1am on the crossover from the 16th to the 17th August 2000. There is a full moon above that lights up my movement of foot over foot on the paving slabs below. I look at the fenced-in wild land that sits on the junction of
Crampton with Amelia Street. I remember the non-space fondly. I played games there. Have milked poppies there. Enacted with friends.
Then, the space, the creation of the demolition of the houses in the lates 70's, was fenced-in. Proposed development but it waits. So overgrown. No one enters. You can't see in very well. Weeds and purple flowers spill out from the cracks at the fence and pavement. Cabbage Whites fly into there. Foxes live there, takehikes at night. From the rooftop of the estate, I had watched three foxes leisurely enjoying themselves on the small piece of open grass within the wild enclosure, their fur so orange from the sun.
Budleia rules - wildfire plants bursting over the length of the wooden fence.
I photographed it today. Earlier on. Then I felt guilty. If this is land reshaping itself, by itself, then I feel guilty taking an interest in it. The procession of thoughts went from strict to stark.
I had thought about going over the fence to look at the process of something non-human happening quite normally. Then that seemed like an intrusion. No humans! Let the plants + trees + animals + insects be spared us even if it just here. Next door, overhead commuter trains, the early morning noises of theSorting Office. The rat-run from Walworth to Kennington and many spurts and bursts of accelerated exhausts down Amelia St as it collects on my carpet inside my front door.
Now it seemed like I shouldn't even look at it. The act of seeing it seemed like an act of taming it. Don't look! Enjoy the thoughts of it. Now, don't even think about it! Crazy. Thinking about it interferes with it. I know it does. I can't even acknowledge it now. The wilderness should thrive. If I ignore it, no human enters the picture.
I might throw my photograph in there. Let the wild destroy the picture of itself. Devour it. The photo stills one second of the budding, growing life there. After that snap, nothing is the same as it just was. More life. And life. Without logical reasons for living. I will put the photo in that grassy soil. Have to. Photographic sigil against development, that failed by 2003 as a monster light-industrial is erected by sterner spells than mine.

 

THE OBELISK:

At The Obelisk again. Dead set. In this Circus. The Royal Circus. The thing itself. This symbol of the head. This skull. Empty dust gravitates around it. The other landscapes, patterned, feedback to my body. The head is no longer the head. This central point of the
locale stands for nothing. All is correspondence. The quest for origins is forgotten. Possibilities lead us to marvellous places. Can we escape our thoughts? A voyage out of this world, like sailors...

"We travel thru' the world, through ourselves, through worlds". K.A


Past Tense, Spring 2003.

 

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