ICA: Institute of Contemporary Arts

The mediascape is a peculiarly experiential way of exploring a given space. The way it works is that you walk around the place, in this case St James’s Park, unlocking snippets of media (videos of that part of the park) as you pass previously positioned way-stations. Your route is tracked and the media unlocked via GPS, and the practically infinite routes through the park thus offer an unlimited number of mediascapes, each presenting the unlocked media in a different order and combination. Combine this with the choice of three differing musical accompaniments and there is the potential for each mediascape to represent a completely individual experience of the park.

The main interest of the mediascape is in the way it explores visual memory. It implies that the way we build up a mental picture of a place is not topographic but defined by incident. When I now try to picture St James’s Park, I see neither a map nor the view from a particular spot; I see the preening swan or the passing cars from Jackie Calderwood’s videos. This is perhaps the overriding impression left by the mediascape: a confrontation with the total subjectivity of our perception. Easily acceptable as a philosophical principle, it is much more disconcerting in a practical demonstration, not least because it highlights the impermanence of our mental picture. I suppose that if I were to visit the park enough times and walk through it along enough different routes, all these new memories would be overlaid until my memory of it become more objective and less linked to specific occasions.

It also implies that if we remember a place in terms of the incidental observations made there, a subsequent absence of those things would make it a different place in our minds. Since my memory of St James’s Park is now built around swans and cars, a park without swans and cars would, at least in my personal visual memory, no longer be St James’s Park. Perhaps it is this that explains the profound alienation we often feel when returning to a well known spot after many years. The incidental, superficial changes that we notice make us feel as if we have somehow landed in another place, not the one we knew and loved, but somehow another, occupying the same space.

And it is for this reason that a greater temporal dislocation would have been an interesting addition to the mediascape. The inclusion of videos from other seasons or, even better, from the time when the park was used to graze cattle, would have heightened that sense of subjectivity, of the fundamental unknowability of a place, which remains even after the park is forgotten. It is this, combined with the realisation that our places must die with us, that allows Calderwood’s mediascape to elicit a feeling of profound transience, a feeling that nothing, nowhere, will ever be the same again.