Thursday, December 20, 2012

Geneve Journal: Torch Bearing Shrub

A view toward the Petit Palais in 1992

You might think that the extent of my Genevois arboreal reflections related in the previous post would be limited to just one post.  But no.  They continue...

I'd like to make visible the my mental map of Geneva. But this is impossible because, in considering the impressions of a place in Geneva from my memory, I conjure the place itself, not  its relation to other places in that realm.  Those ligatures and linkages between specific places are lost in a dream fog.  It's a kinetic map, this mental one I have.  One in which places roam and flitter around in an undefined cluster like a swarm of gnats.  Navigation through this virtual terrain is achieved by a series of leading cuts or edits, as in a film; a specific action or route is not seen but is felt through the info expressed in the segments prior to and post-transit.
The primary factor in this Cartesian impossibility is that this mental map doesn't actually mark where locations are.  It marks where places are not, and generally only when confronted with the actual encounter with actual places in actual space.  In fact, these moments of virtual/actual locational discord are the ones in which my mental map is most clearly defined, if only for an instant, as I try to reconcile the two.

One such defining encounter in Geneva was with the Musee duPetit Palais, a rather confined, - and now that I'm writing this I'm recalling - dank modernist monument and shop of horrors.  I'm recalling a cellar level gallery - velvet hanging walls(? ) The building itself is far from modern, but I remembering housing a collection of early and mid century modernist art.  We're talking about modernism in the historical sense here, I can't even find a website for this joint.

Nevertheless, I was suprised to walk out of the Art and Archeology library and encounter - not only the museum, but along with it, a profoundly memorable sight.  In '92, approaching the PP from another location, I turned a corner and for a split second, I was presented with a shrub with arms upraised, holding torches.  This was a living, respiring, auto-anthropomorphological organism, complete with gilt flames.  Whoa.  What trippy, surreal sight that was.   I snapped what turned out to be a disappointing photo of this vision, which of course, I would have known until months later when I had the film developed back in the states.  Those were the days of deferred visual gratification, kids - no embedded LED screens.  My memory of that shrub was sharpened by my inability to capture it with my camera.  In fact the image at the top of this post is that very photo.

Detail of the armed shrub, 1992

The surprise encountering this torch limbed shrub again was doubly powerful.  Although I'd never forgotten this shrub, it never entered my thinking when drawing up my list of sites to see/things to do while in Geneva, and in any case, I hadn't expected to find it where I did, walking home from the library.

The shrub today.

I immediately recognized my chance, finally, to get the effect I failed to achieve twenty years before.  I snapped some pictures but for some reason, just couldn't get the effect right.  It was only after returning home that night and looking at the original photo which I brought along with me that I realized that this shrub had changed.  It too had twenty years to grow - even under the suppressive shears of some gardener.   This plant is now taller and wider by a couple of feet - while I've gotten, wider and slightly shorter in the same period.

A zoomed in almost-approximation of the 1992 vantage.

Part of the potential objective of this trip  is to find, if they exist, the quantifiable differences between the two moments, my two selves and my perception of that single place(s).  How to achieve that objective is part of the meat of the project, to be sussed out through the various media I'm bending toward that end.

I could see that better than my own fuzzy recollections, this chance photographic record of an encounter and re-encounter with a personally phenomenologically imbued location, could give a tangible, nearly-natural illustration of the time that has past. 
Not a perfect measurement, for sure, since this bush has continued to be trimmed and trained for the past twenty years.  But then, my own experience has not been without the mitigating influences of outside forces.
Reviewing the photos, I saw that my original perspective of the torches and plant was from some distance away.  I returned a few days later to try to recreate the original vantage.  My effort was foiled by another, perhaps more accurate measurement of the time that has passed.  A stand of trees which not existed before were now partially screening the view, rendering replication of an already difficult to capture image impossible.  An added obstacle is the parking sign that is now in front of the shrub.

In any case, the armed shrub I saw in 1992 doesn't exist anymore.  And, like the claims of Sasquatch sitings, I have only vague photographic documentation as proof of it's once existence.

sketchbook, 12.8.12


I should say that I'm back in the States now, having returned on Tuesday night (Dec 18).  There were a few other trees that caught my eye and which I caught with my camera in my final days in Geneva. 

They're almost self portraits, particularly the last two tall ones, whose shabbiness could not entirely be pruned into repression.  Although I can empathize a lot with those little brown ones too.

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