Of Place, Industry and Red Skies

On Sundays, I often go walking around my local area of mid-Leicestershire. I live in a village tucked between the city itself, and Loughborough to the north. Half suburban, half rural, it has a varied landscape, and can be surprisingly dramatic at times.

This weekend past, I walked down the road from my house, and onto the lane that comes, via Crow Wood and the Reservoir, from Swithland to the west. I wandered north, and cut through Cocklow Wood, emerging at Mountsorrel Quarry, where two centuries of workers have dug deep into the defiantly pink granite of Charnwood. Usually, when I go there, it’s silent,  but this weekend, trucks were rolling by, and the air was tainted with the scent of tarmac.

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I can’t quite explain why the Quarry affects me in the way it does. I find in it a fascination, produced by the sensory and intellectual distance built upon my lack of knowledge about what occurs inside those Gothically industrial towers and stacks.* This ‘unique phenomenon of distance’ produces an aura about the place, the allure of the artwork.**

In ‘The Ghosts of Industrial Ruins,’ Tim Edensor spoke about the ‘edgelands’, the repressed and marginal sites which hide behind the city.*** We can see the Quarry in these terms, for it is a place behind the world, one of the hypotexts upon which the everyday rests. It is a place which denies the easy dichotomy between aesthetics and industry, between art and function. It is a place where we see into the depths of the simplest things, and which reveals the maw of the world’s time.

For there are traces of both past and future here. This landscape is Palaeozoic, with some of the oldest rocks in England. The Quarry itself dates back to the early 1800s. These conspire to give a vist there a sense akin to that of touring a ruined or musealised landscape or industrial site. But the quarry is working now, and will continue to do so into the forseeable future, albeit somehow partitioned from the visible running of society: aggregate and concrete are cultural black boxes. It is a place almost out of time: a little ‘out of joint’, a hinge point on the edges of the present.****

I suppose that these things are what make places places, rather than just sites and spaces. The word “place” implies meaning, the consequential impact of a locale on the corporeal and cognitive being of a sentient creature. On Sunday evening, at about 4pm, we looked out of the living room window onto a sky the colour of living coral, and couldn’t help but connect the pink dust thrown up by the Quarry with those scattered rays of the setting sun.

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*‘What fascinates us robs us of our power to give sense. It abandons its “sensory” nature, abandons the world, draws back from the world, and draws us along. It no longer reveals itself to us, and yet it affirms itself in a presence foreign to the temporal present and to presence in space.” Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock, Lincoln, London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982, p.32

**Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Hannah Arendt, ed., Illuminations, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968, 217-52, p.216

***Tim Edensor, ‘The ghosts of industrial ruins: ordering and disordering memory in excessive space’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23, 2005, 829-849, 833

***Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, New York and Abingdon, Routledge, 2006 (1993), pp.21-22