Remembering How To Be In The World
Sally Timmons
August '08

Using graphite as a drawing tool, and acrylic paint as a means to render large sections of tonal colour that are washed across both canvas and paper, Felicity Clear presents a series of drawings depicting virtual 'loci' (or places) of various scale. The works give the appearance of floating blueprints or drafts depicting detached elevations of numerous physical environments. What is unsettling about the environments depicted is that the renditions appear to be disrupted in their vision, not unlike the unprecious doodles generated by a draftsman, crumpled up in a ball and scrapped to make way for the 'actual' more laboured, more sober rendition or vision of things to come.

What Clear implies in these works is a certain hope for the potential uses of the locations she represents. Having visited numerous sites under construction around Ireland, prior to their completion, the artist has 'metaphorically' removed the crumpled up doodles from the waste basket, flattened them out again, re-adjusted the scale and applied colour. In doing so she allows the viewer to notice something that might not otherwise have been seen. She renders these sites as the push/ pull of banal versus strange while hanging in the balance of Utopian ideals. The term Utopia stemming from Sir Thomas More's monograph Utopia - in which More coined the word as a deliberate play on the two Greek words that supply the U sound eu (good) and ou (not). When taken together with topos (place) Utopia could be constructed either as a good place or somewhere that does not exist 1 - In Clear's renditions of familiar yet virtual or unsettling loci there is always something that reminds one of something else. Something that is present within the drawings of places that almost exist, yet are not actually there at all.

For example, in the Diamond Valley series (2008), a courtyard in what looks like a housing development has the semblance of a roman amphitheatre. Balconies jutting out from the corner of the same apartment complex have the expectation of an orator's rhetorical address. All good and useful components of any activated social space in which gatherings might take place but virtual in the sense of the possible ways in which they might be put to use in a gated private housing development. A balcony that might have served as a place from which an orator might make a historical address becomes defunct and used for the purpose of storing bicycles and rubbish bags. The theatre of life takes place now behind closed doors and the spectacle that might have been promised by such physical structures simply acts as a vacant gesture that was not really intended by its designer to be taken up by the milieu.

Clear's floating backgrounds in which real drama might take place allows one to consider the architechtonics of memory (mnemonics) which in the past involved architectural analogies used by classical orators as a prime aid for memorising the argumentative themes and premises, or topics of their speeches. Nowadays this methodology for memory and recall is known by cognitive psychologists as the method of loci and is given a more clear definition by Rodney Douglas Parker,

In essence, both classical oratory and achitecture focus on 'places'- topio, or topics, in Greek, and loci in Latin - that identify important subject matter, points of interest and premises, both physical and conceptual.

Parker describes the Roman methodology of Classical Mnemotechnics thus:

The Auctor ad Herennium (the earliest and most important Roman theorist and rhetorician who along with Cicero and Quintilian, left the oldest surviving records of classical mnemonic strategies) distinctly outlines a twofold strategy by which the orator articulates mental loci and then places in them the mnemonic symbols. The Auctor defines the loci - or backgrounds, as in theatre stage backgrounds - as scenes that are small, complete and distinct, and that naturally or artificially stand detached...

What is being decribed is where the person intending to store lists of knowledge (that will be retrieved at a later time) imagines a series of rooms within a structure, such as a palace, that must be animated with pockets (or cells) of memory in an order that will make the route seem practical as a means to get from one place to another. One might also imagine a high rise building and a journey in an elevator from one floor to the next. Each time the doors open a different mental world unfolds that allows the orator to envision the symbolic relevance of each section or location of a memorised speech. The method of loci demands the conception of an activity to take place in each location or memory cell that must be activated as a means to retrieve relevant information at the appropriate time. For this purpose, the scenes are in a constant state of animation yet only appear so when a door is opened upon them. Like in Clear's painting of Boy Multiple (2007), five small paintings of the same scene are re-presented but each one is different as though the artist is visually depicting this act of recall or re-seeing before she might forget. While this work is relevant to the act of recall its subject matter also portrays a more personal view of the overriding theme of the artist's current practice, that is, the social inadequacies of contemporary environments that are the result of capital growth and development.

It is as though Clear has consciously constructed and memorised her own series of detached backgrounds as a means to put forward her treatise on the social inadequacies that are a result of the grand plan of urban regeneration. Clear has somehow captured a moment in a time and place in which the processes of change are visibly taking shape. In an Untitled work (2007), a forest of delicate trees disrupts a location otherwise suited towards public and social gatherings. The trees seem to exist in an unchanging state of protest that is devoid of any purpose. In a work titled 7 Windmills (2008), Clear has supplied yet another example of a vacant gesture, lacking in vitality - bar the dramatic tonal wash of colour acting as a theatrical backdrop - that promises a lifestyle that may or may not deliver, at least not yet. In these examples the environments presented in Clear's renditions become the loci, backgrounds or memory triggers described by Douglas Parker. The mnemonic symbols placed within these locations are the metaphorical references implied by the potential uses of these spaces such as a citadel, a basin, a traffic island or roundabout that act as subtle reminders of a society that has shut itself off from each other and can only be circumnavigated but not entered or accessed.

We are encouraged by Clear to take stock of each of these places, and like a prophet she too orates from the balcony of a mentally constructed, one bedroomed apartment on the outskirts of Dublin and cries out (dramatic sentiment intended) that all is not without hope, but to beware the potential folly of our endeavour.

The Diamond Valley referred to in Clear's drawings is an existing housing development, whose title in Clear's own words,

...introduces a romantic grandiosity that I sometimes find in the ambition of a plan or in the potential of a plan.

A paradox lies in the fact that most housing developments are designed with the potential or possibility of facilitating the theatre of life, yet unlike the great platforms and theatres of the past, the spaces represented in Clear's drawings are devoid of human presence and the amphitheatre and balcony in Diamond Valley remain unanimated and still. They are unassimilated ingredients, described by Henri Lefebvre thus,

Boredom is pregnant with desires, frustrated frenzies, unrealised possibilities. A magnificent life is waiting just around the corner, and far, faraway. It is waiting like the cake is waiting when there's butter, milk, flour and sugar... Here mans' magnificent power over nature has left him alone with himelf, powerless. It is the boredom of youth without a future.

The possibilities for the spaces in Clear's drawings are present but remain latent and until now, unnoticed. Each place or locus represented is devoid of reference, whether to scale or time and even though some of the locations actually exist (such as Salthill in County Galway, and the aforementioned Diamond Valley in County Wicklow), without knowledge of this fact, they will remain familiar yet daunting. Nothing has taken place yet, but anticipation exists in the fact that something has the potential to occur. In time, social beings will remember how to perform their lives within the demands of these kinds of environments that present a stage from which anything could and will hopefully happen.

1 Modernity and Utopia, John R Gold, The Sage Companion to the City. Eds Tim Hal, Phill Hubbard and John Rennie Short, 00 pp 69 (published in 1516. Utopia was ostensibly a travelogue about an idyllic Carribean island kingdom written by a wandering portuguese philosopher, Raphael Hythloday).

2 The Architectonics of Memory: On Built Form and Built Thought, Rodney Douglas Parker, Leonardo, Vol 0 No. (1997) pp 147-15

3 Ibid

4 Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes, Lefebvre, Henri, 'Notes on the New Town', September 1959 - May 1961, trans, John Moore, London Verso, pp 116. 6