We invited Swansea-based writer, artist and curator Rowan Lear to produce a piece of creative writing in response to her experience of i didn’t see you there:
Looking for Anne Deeming’s ‘i didn’t see you there’
By Rowan Lear
Until the scene becomes improbable
until you have the impression, for the briefest of moments, that you are in a strange town or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or is not happening, until the whole place becomes strange, and you no longer even know that this is what is called a town, a street, buildings, pavements…”
Georges Perec, Species of Spaces.
The gangplank of Temple Meads station deposits its passengers in a flurry of traffic. The daring among us dare to cross, darting between vehicles. The rest wait fidgeting for the all-clear. On the opposite side: one curved metal bar in an army of rigid railings, as if an impossibly strong child or canine has forced its way through. I’m looking for something out of the ordinary.
Electric-blue taxicabs converse with car horns. There’s a long pale patch where a stone wall has been repaired but not painted to match the rest. Past a building that once looked lost in time, a remnant of another city, caught in a web of circuitous traffic. Now shrouded in canvas and scaffolding, building-turned-advert, awaiting a new destiny.
A lemon yellow object frames the view. An artistic addition, but not the one I’m looking for. Fluorescent stickers posted everywhere, designed to be seen but not noticed. No railing is untethered by a bicycle. Everywhere I spot orders: Turn Right. Don’t Park. Pay Here. There’s always the possibility to turn left, park here, don’t pay.
A dishevelled house keeps a wary eye on the carpark opposite. It’s so completely out of place that I’ve never noticed it before. Something stuck, while all around moves and shudders. Does anyone live there? A plaque and a warning sign. The birthplace of a poet. This place is monitored.
Poppies populate one triangular patch of scrub; little shocks of scarlet. Paving ripples over the roots of brave city trees, upsetting the straight lines of the parking place. A discarded jacket on a metal bench: khaki in a cool, soft material. But this lost object is not for touching. Defiled by the absence of its owner, it will remain abandoned, an addition to the fabric of the street.
Some bins are gaping toothless smiles, and others have surprisingly ornate plastic patterns. A palimpsest of scraped stickers on a lamppost, most lampposts. Even concrete slabs aren’t homogeneous; each bears a unique mosaic of gum and scratches and spills. Not a structure after all: the street is a failure of uniformity.
Looking up. Looking down. Suddenly aware of the cracks in the pavement, and as always, instinctively step between them. Because a crack is not merely a gap in concrete, but in the surface of a city. Step once too often, I’ll fall through, look up at the façade and realise how thin it is.
Queen Square. Here, concrete is replaced by grass and loam and sand. In May ‘68, protesters in Paris shouted, “Sous les pavés, la plage!” – under the cobblestones, the beach. The paving owes its disorder to what lies beneath, the city owes its unexpectedness to my encounter with its cracks.
I didn’t see you there.