In around 1999, I made a stupid decision. After a lifetime of wanting to be a doctor, I decided that it might not be wise to pursue it after all. At the end of my degree, I had the opportunity to segue into Medicine. However, it had become apparent that I was very good at putting a great deal of pressure on myself, to the detriment of other parts of my life. I also had a window into the profession via my mother, who is a surgical nurse. I glimpsed the toll that the stresses and strains of the job took on her colleagues. In retrospect, these effects could at least be partly summed up with the words "Welcome to Adulthood!" and not wholly specific to a career in medicine.
In any case, I decided that it was possible that being a doctor might make me unhappy and/or unhealthy. This decision was not the stupid one. The stupid one was thinking that a career in the Law would somehow be better.
I had very little work-life balance, partly due to the expectations and demands of the firm, but also due to my ingrained presenteeism. I was incapable of switching off from work, and worried about it constantly. I slept either badly, or like a dead person. And despite having found myself a niche, sciencey corner of the legal professional, I did not find the work fulfilling. It also quickly became apparent, that the job was not going to fit easily around a family. So I left.
I threw myself into something much closer to my heart - a PGDip in Interior Design* at Chelsea College of Art. I'm not quite sure how I got in - lacking, as I did, any sort of portfolio or track record in art or design. The course director was Peter Stickland, and at my interview, I remember having a great chat about Peter Brook's "The Empty Space"** and theatre, in general. I suspect this was how I wheedled my way in, as I later discovered that Peter had been part of the performance art group "The Theatre of Mistakes".
I was lucky to have Peter as my tutor. Under his hand, the course was a wonderfully freeing, wide-ranging, conceptual thing. I learned a lot about spatial design, but also about forming opinions and what invigorated me. It was a great palette cleanser after the dusty intensity of the law. It also gave me the confidence to try things, and I have been a slightly fevered (or frustrated) maker ever since.
In that first interview, Peter recommended "The Poetics of Space" by Gaston Bachelard and Akiko Busch's "Geography of Home" to me as pre-course reading. Bachelard was a phenomenologist, and his book a philosophical exploration on the experience of built space. Busch's book is a more modern take on the same arena of thought. The following passage from "Geography of Home" really resonated and became my Rosetta Stone, reminding me to look beyond the functional and pragmatic when thinking about homes and spaces.
Even before Spike smashed a friend's coffee table into a million pieces (sorry Chi!), I had a passionate dislike of glass tables, and Busch perfectly encapsulated the horrible, hesitant and nervous feeling they engender in me. Who can relax at a glass table?!
Most recently, a somewhat unsuccessful jaunt to Center Parcs reminded me of the power of the environment to invoke responses. On arrival, Spike had a visceral reaction to the "scary trees" amongst which the lodges of Center Parcs nestle. The forest*** is of young pines, with slender, uniform trunks stretching skywards, unencumbered by branches until some way up. I was interested that Spike had designated them "scary". His repertoire of narrative tropes is somewhat limited, so while it's possible that he has learned that forests or woods are "spooky", I felt that it was more likely to be an honest reaction to the trees. As an adult with life experience, and well-versed in folklore and culture, its difficult to have an honest reaction to anything or at least to separate an honest reaction from a curated one.
Whenever I see a clutch of tall, rangy conifers, my immediate thought is "Lychian". For many people of my generation, the symbolic blowing pine trees in Twin Peaks are imprinted on the psyche and will set nerves jangling. And well before Twin Peaks, there was Hansel and Gretel, which I always imagined taking place in some eerie part of the Black Forest. But I do think there is something inherently uncanny about certain types of conifer wood. They can grow in a peculiarly regular fashion which seems unnatural, and the waxy needles are weird.
I think the effect was exacerbated because the design of the site is very enclosed. You have no sense of your place in the world. All vistas are blocked by the bloody pines. Poor Spike. Even the lodge offered limited escape...check out the art work.
With his sensory dials turned up to 11, incredible and vivid memory recall, and his sometimes skewed perception of space, I think Spike might be very attuned to the psychogeography of places. And you may not be surprised to hear that trains have carved deep routs. At Center Parcs, Spike summed up his essential dismay at being literally and figuratively outside of his comfort zone with exclamations of "I'm in the "Special Fares Apply" zone!". A long way from what felt like home.
* As my fellow course mates will attest, "interior design" is a misleading name for the course, which in fact covers interior spatial design, not swags, paint chips and cushions.
** Virtually a set text for theatre makers, covering the potential of the empty stage and the evolution of performance.