Transitional Space

I have a current albeit a [rather appropriately] passing interest in transitional spaces. The origins of this undoubtedly derive from a long-held desire to write a sitcom pilot set in an elevator at television centre. But I’ve also been spending more time than usual travelling on the subway so I guess the topic has been perched on my consciousness this week.

While I don’t tend to spend much time in transitional spaces myself, (aside, perhaps from streets on urban strolls but do they count as ‘transitional’ when you’re deliberately spending time in them as places rather than as pure infrastructure?) I’m aware that many, more career-orientated people in the city do. When you’re working, trains and subways and elevators and corridors are as much a part of the soundtrack as offices and the bedroom.

So how does this affect the person? I once met a Muslim guy on a bus back from London who reckoned that the higher up you live in a building, the less chance you have of holding your marbles in that you’re not ‘grounded’ very often. I live in an attic and I think he was probably right. While he wasn’t talking about transitional spaces, he was nonetheless suggesting that the sort of place in which you spend most of your time will have an effect on your psychology.

When spending so much time in these transitional spaces, are you left feeling like a ‘nowhere person’, always between places but never really ‘in’ or ‘out’? Or does it make you appreciate the temporary nature of things generally, as taught in Buddhism?

So this evening, having already purchased a discovery card for the tube, I decided to spend some extra time on said mode of transport, just going around and around while reading a book and thinking about the nature of transitional spaces, their effect on the human noggin and how art and science can take advantage of that. I can’t say that the transitional nature of my surroundings made a tremendous difference to the way I felt, though there was very much a distracting ‘on the go’ feel to things (often experienced in crap coffee houses), which might shed some light on the problem with spending so much time in transitional spaces.

There are a number of schemes in existence which aim to introduce art into transitional spaces, presumably to combat the ‘on the go’ psychology that may well have the potential to warp the grey matter and ultimately destroy all humans. The entrance hall (or Turbine Hall) of the Tate Modern is probably the most famous example and there’s also the wonderful layout of the foyer at the British Museum. I suppose Trafalgar Square’s empty plinth is transitional space in a way (interestingly only transitional for the sake of transitional art). In Glasgow, we have the Subway Stanzas initiative: large printed poems by noted local poets and authors in space that would normally be designated to advertising.

Personally, I find the subway stanzas a bit naff. It feels too much ‘part of a scheme’ to enjoy. You feel as though reading the poetry would make you a part of some council quota. It also overlooks the ideas promoted by postmodernism, semiotics and cultural studies: that there are interesting things to say about the subway station itself, the behaviour of the people within it or about the advertising posters and the way they are positioned.

I’m not saying that there is no room for art in transitional spaces, but as this blog entry verifies, the transitional space itself and the things that inhabit it (either constantly or transitionally) are worthy of consideration.

I recently spent a day shadowing professional storyteller, Michael Kerins. One of the things we got up to was telling stories to commuters on the 09:32 train from Busby to Glasgow Central. I had felt extreme trepidation beforehand, believing that the commuters would find us a Trigger Happy TV-esque nuisance and would want to be left alone with their iPods and magazines and early morning blues. This was the case with many people, but the event was strangely well received so perhaps there is something to be said for impromptu art in transitional spaces.

I once had an idea for a piece of what I now see to be transitional live art, called Jesus in a camper van after the song by rubbish singer Robbie Williams. I used to have long hair and a beard and looked substantially like the Messiah. I would go around the county in the eponymous camper van with a bullhorn, preaching [non-biblical] parables to the masses. Removed of it’s comedy element, perhaps, Momus got up to something similarly bullhorny quite recently at the Whitney Biennial.

The new reference desk in the university library in which I work has been renamed as an ‘information point’ and relocated to just inside the main entrance. It’s new position in transitional space makes it very uncomfortable for a reader to make proper reference enquiries any more. The enquiries we tend to get now are purely directional and along the lines of “Where are the books on X?” rather than the challenging “In what year did Warhol die?” or “Who invented toothpaste?” It’s a shame, but works as another example of how transitional space can be employed as a mind-shaping techné.

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