In the Museum of Thin Objects the notebooks in and of themselves are not thin objects. The Thin Object forms the subject of the notebook, for example, in the case of the Bub notebook the posts have grown out of an envelope of photographs, whilst in the case of the Dollis-Mutton-Brent notebook they’ve grown from a stream-that-becomes-a-river-that-becomes-a-canal-that-becomes-a-river.

The notebooks are practical in that they’re:

a). a means of recording and sharing stories, or journeys of discovery that might reveal something of the distinctive atmosphere or pervading spirit of a place or an object’s relationship to time or place.

b). an archive of ideas, images and strategies that may help me to see or celebrate or unpick the seemingly mundane and help make more sense of my relationship to the world around me.

Notebooks form part of the wider documentary-based arts practice that I’ve been engaged with, to a greater or lesser extent, since leaving art college in the mid-1980’s.

Over the years I’ve refined my definition of what might be called documentarist practice as a form of navigation.

nav·i·gate (nv-gt)

  1. nav·i·gat·ed, nav·i·gat·ing, nav·i·gates

v.tr.

  1. To plan, record, and control a course or position.
  2. To follow a course, across, or through: navigate a stream.

v.intr.

  1. To create the course
  2. To voyage over water.

3.

  1. To make one’s way
  2. Informal To walk…

He is slowly working out a model of thought – no more than thought, of self – not as something rooted in place and growing steadily over time, but as a shifting set of properties variously supplemented and deleted by […] passage through the world. Landscape and nature are not there simply to be gazed at; no, they press hard upon and into our bodies and minds, complexly affect our moods, our sensibilities. They riddle us in two ways – both perplexing and perforating us.

p 341 The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane

 To my mind, the process of navigating a site/space/place or object should:

  • be fun and instinctive (don’t overthink or try to hard, relax…)
  • involve research and imagination (a ‘drift’ across numerous stories…)
  • be neither history nor fiction…
  • make connections (without obsessively pursuing a dominant narrative form…)
  • give permission for leaps in the dark (in search of a deeper sense of place…)
  • explore the ‘hidden landscape’ of atmospheres, histories, actions and characters which charge a space…
  • encourage a broad unfolding of a story – over time…
  • enable thinking to take off in unexpected directions, leading to sudden U-turns and changes of tempo and tone…
  • be seen as nothing more than a modest personal contribution to the pantheon of psychogeographic activity

Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.

Alexander McCall Smith, Love Over Scotland

The practice of navigating might include: reading; studying maps; taking photographs; writing stories and poems; making drawings or paintings; or taking notes, with each being an entry point into an appreciation of the inter-connections between person / place / object or space.

With a respectful nod to Nick Papadimitriou’s work on deep topography here’s a number of strategies I believe help to kick-start a navigating mindset:

a). Look. Listen. Develop a sense of the transient nature of things. Enjoy the moment and the history. Build up a sense of place by valuing the senses, knowledge and feelings equally. Notice what is glimpsed from the corner of your eye.

b). Let your thinking take off in any direction that suits you. Go in unfamiliar directions. Lose sight of yourself. Follow your nose or go in familiar directions and try to see things in a new way.

c). Scour old books – on social, industrial, natural history; on navigation and folk art – and expose their hidden stories.

d). Gather around the stove and talk, and look again, and see whether in the story-telling you can make a little more sense of the present in relation to the past.

e). Go out on your own with old maps and a digital camera. Don’t be afraid of the digital camera framing the imagination.

f). Develop a poetry of the commonplace, with the inexplicable and the obvious talking to and residing alongside each other.

g). Go navigate, go walk the water road, go inland, go on!

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