Shelf above Shelf

 Posted by at 4:15 pm  IN Conversation
Jun 152012

Last weekend was the final chance to visit the 300+ locations exhibiting during Dorset Arts (two week) event. So it was on Saturday I found myself walking along a valley footpath to reach a nearby village to look in at the two studios exhibiting there. I do not know whether the opportunity for a pleasant afternoon walk was uppermost in my mind, or the desire to see what I could see of what was on show before the event ended, but it happened that in the house where the second exhibition was located, I stood for a long time in a kind of indecision in front of a painting called 'On Uncertainty'. It was an abstract work of strong primary colours applied with vigour and energy, and later that evening I recalled the piece again while listening to the poem 'Lights Out' by Edward Thomas, which was being sung during the premier performance of a newly composed oratorio – A Time to Dance - in Sherborne Abbey.

I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose…

…The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself.

Elsewhere and two days later on, on a train to London I was reading Elif Batuman's 'Diary' in the current issue of the London Review of Books (Vol 34, No 11, 7 June 2012, P38-39) in which she describes her visit to the recently opened Museum Of Innocence in Istanbul. It is "the world's first synergic novel-museum", she claimed in her piece, since it consists entirely of 83 exhibits which parallel the 83 chapters of Orhan Pamuk's 2009 work of fiction The Museum of Innocence. The proposition is that the novel's characters which Include Pamuk himself exist through the mostly commonplace and everyday pieces contained in the exhibit cases; the consolation of objects, and so on.

"A place where time is frozen" as Pamuk described it to Elif Batuman.

Pamuk's description of the museum returned me again to the painting 'On Uncertainty', underneath which another exhibit called 'Taste Britain' by the same artist was standing. It was a white refrigerator on whose door as I recall the words "PLEASE OPEN" were printed. So I did open it. The fridge light went on and revealed another exhibition space inside, in which a number of miniaturised objects were being shown on the various shelves and on the different compartments of the fridge door. I recognised a shark inside a cabinet, and I think that there were several other equally iconic pieces in this "place where time is frozen", but I am unable to remember exactly which they are now. My memory is held more by the crowd of miniaturised figures who were surrounding the objects on display, not that I am able to recall any of them individually either, but more that I notice myself identifying with them in their various positions – people leaning back, people leaning forward – as a fellow onlooker.

Pamuk's novel The Museum of Innocence, described by Elif Batuman as a study of sexual ethics, is indeed an exploration whether or not it is possible to escape the feelings of shame which accompany an illicit love affair. At the end of the book a conclusion is reached in which shame is overcome, and a state of innocence is returned to (in which time is frozen). This time as a reader rather than an onlooker, I myself am not sure that the proposed escape is successful, or put another way I think there is a part of me which remains at heart still disgusted by the story told by Kemal the main character. How can I say, there is a bad smell somewhere.

Even for Objects of Innocence the process of freezing time is not absolute. Putrefaction continues even though in some circumstances it proceeds at a slower (or faster) pace than at 'room temperature'.

As if all the above was not enough for one week… on Tuesday I also went to Ta(s)te Britain in London, in order to visit The Robinson Institute, which is on display within a (Hurrah!) free acess area of the ground floor. 'On display' does not quite do justice to the experience and what is demanded of the onlooker and reader (several books are included to open and read at will… eg Robinson Crusoe etc) and listener (Brahms) and watcher (1951 British Pathe film 'Oil for the Twentieth Century') at seven different locations. After two hours I had only covered about a third of what was on show in the Institute, and decided to call it a day and to return for another go some other time.

One exhibit, a meteorite (in an area of the Institute dealing with meteorites) lead me to reflect how much deeper time is frozen in space than on earth, and further to conclude what bunk was Elif Batuman's claim in her piece in the LRB that The Museum of Innocence was "the first world synergic novel-museum". Robinson began his travels in London in 1994.