Space & Place
Preface by Liz Renes
‘Space: The Final Frontier.’ The familiar opening sequence to the iconic Star Trek series resonates not only because of its mission ‘to explore strange new worlds’ and to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before’, but through its manifestations as a book, comic, television series, film franchise, and new language, it epitomises the relationship between pop culture and high art, fully embodying the concept of ‘interdisciplinarity’. Watching The Enterprise dissolve into a black canvas of stars, the vessel is not only symbolic of our general human curiosity with the Universe and its origins, but also a carrier and reminder of our fear that, when confronted with space, we are but small creatures looking for control amongst the chaos. In the general consciousness of the visual and literary, space has always represented a blank canvas onto which we as humans, and in this context as scholars, can project the space within our minds. This is particularly evocative of our very human attempt to organise the void; questioning and engaging with a topic that Foucault ultimately called the ‘anxiety of our era.’
However, a lack of innate structure presents a disputative approach to the discussion of space and place. How, as academics, can we comprehend a topic that embodies at all times a conflicting dichotomy, being simultaneously vast and contained, wild and controlled, embracing and intimidating? Spatial sociologists have long attempted to tackle the subject by relating it to social interaction. Foucault, Lefebvre, and Löw, for instance, have all explored the role of spatial relations and their influence on societal structures, contributing to Marxist theories on the increasing homogenisation of space. Postcolonial theory, as another major contribution to the debate, has attempted to understand the increasing globalisation of the world by critiquing how we use language (terms like ‘developing nation’ and ‘globocentrism’) when accepting or rejecting such heterogeneity. Many of the articles in this edition employ such forerunners and their theories as a core from which to explore specific sites, spaces, and places in a physical, literary, and visual context. Our scholars have presented us with unique and ultimately intensely engaging discussions on the topic, further contributing their voices to the vast and open void. Not only does this edition exhibit the same limitless possibilities as celestial space, but more importantly it encourages a varied critical approach to an enthralling topic.
As an art historian, my own concepts of space and place have always been grounded in visuals; looking for contrasts between positive and negative space, its containment or release, and how, as the viewer, such organisation affects my emotional and visceral response. Whereas space is something to be contained or understood, place seems more corporeal, representing the location of the body, or the location of objects that have specific relation to that body. However, when expanding this notion into a wider interdisciplinary approach, these two concepts become more amorphous and indistinct. Some of the articles explore this notion by presenting the idea of the space within the body, i.e. the mind’s space, or how place affects the internal body through its conveyance of a traumatic experience and its effect on our perceptions. In these instances, both body and space become an inseparable entity, blurring notions of space as an externalised void. As a collective, these articles question the basic definitions of, and wider human interactions with, space and place, presenting us with one final question: can we consider this topic to be a ‘final frontier’ for exploration or is it simply a dichotomous subject to be forever debated? We hope our scholars will take one small step towards providing answers.
A wide range of themes from the arts and humanities run concurrently throughout the articles in this edition: personal and national identity, space and place in/of trauma, as well as a wider revisioning and reimagining of space outside of these typical tropes. For example, in their discussions of trauma, Harriet Earle, Lia Deromedi, and Matthew Colbeck all present us with representations of internalised versus externalised space as a distinct separation between the visual and body location. Earle’s work explores the concept of ‘trauma’ as it relates to sequential art, with shock acting as a disruption to more traditional literary time/space narratives. Moving away from a visual reading, Deromedi’s representations of children in Holocaust spaces and Matthew Colbeck’s discussions of internal space in the ‘coma mind’ will oscillate with the corporeal and the intangible.
Deromedi’s discussion of trauma and history is an excellent companion piece to another work under the topic of ‘reappropriation’: Georgina Webb-Dickin’s reimagining of Berlin’s GESTAPO GELÄNDE as it emerged from Nazi occupation after WWII. These works together represent an evocative segue into another important overarching theme in this edition; that of the reimagining of space. Like Webb-Dickin’s discussion of the revision of sites in Berlin, Teresa Erice discusses the practice as it relates to early Medieval churches in Asturias, Spain, seeing it as a site of negotiation between the ideological past and the questionable future. Such concerns are also explored in a more historical and in situ context in Philippa Lewis’s discussion of the ‘Voyage au Salon’ and the use of travel imagery as it relates to visitor experience at the nineteenth century bastion of art exhibitions, the Paris Salon. Returning again to space in a more traditional, visual context – the gallery format – Lewis shows us how such space was seen as a symbolic and metaphorical attempt at understanding what would later form wider postcolonial concerns about the ‘homogenisation’ of society.
Our final articles examine human engagement with space as a way to create and discover national and personal identities. Three of these works will continue in a similar way to Lewis’s, discussing nineteenth-century concerns with understanding subjective space. Géraldine Crahay’s article on homosexuality and hermaphroditism in nineteenth-century French scientific writings, returns us to the main site of our identity: the body. She compounds the idea of space as an intersection, not separation, between the internalised and externalised worlds by examining scientific attempts at understanding non-normative sexuality through corporeal observation. Both Dominic Davies and Hsu Li-hsin will introduce us to the concept of literary identities and the exertion of control over unknown lands. Li-hsin discusses the idea of literary projection onto American space and how Emily Dickinson perceived it in terms of Manifest Destiny and divine right, whilst Davies transports us to Johannesburg at the turn of the twentieth century through Rider Haggard’s 1885 King Solomon’s Mines and its reactionary descendent, William Plomer’s 1927 Ula Masondo. Moving forwards in time to contemporary Latin America, Pablo Perezzarate discusses the way in which electronic music evokes ‘spiritual homelands’ in the collective imagination of its listeners, creating a sense of national identity across multicultural boundaries, again contesting our ideas of body and space as belonging to specifics of location, culture, and status. Continuing in this (post)modern context, Tim Wyman McCarthy’s work will broach the ever present debate on social media, specifically Facebook, and its affect on our identities through the creation of our ‘virtual selves.’ His work continues to blur the boundaries of space and place in their contestation of the physicality of site and interaction, whilst simultaneously bringing us full circle to a nineteenth-century discussion of his exploration of the flâneur.
Thus our collection takes us across time and space, allowing us to travel through historical periods, cultures, through the written word and its visual counterpart, through theory, evolution, and change. We hope this most recent edition of HARTS & Minds actively engages your collective consciousness as you ponder the interactions between space and location. For, to quote Lao Tzu, ‘The wise man looks into space and […] knows there is no limited dimensions.‘