In Bristoler Chronik, Cliff Andrade, after 20 years, returned to his former Bristol home, and walked from there to his current abode.
In my audio walk (if that is the correct term), inspired by Proust’s idea that true recollection can only occur after a period of forgetting, I return to my former Bristol home after 20 years, and use a walk from there to my current home as the foundation for a rumination on class, identity, collective and personal memory and subjective consciousness.
People often ask me what my work is about, and when I say ‘everything’, the look in their eyes makes me feel like I have let them down; like they think I am being lazy (or pretentious) (or both).
But I am being earnest; when your work is an investigation into all the things that have combined to make you perceive the world the way you do – the subjective consciousness, to use the big adult words – then, yeah, everything in the world becomes your potential subject. It’s about everything.
Within that ‘everything’, for a myriad of reasons, I am particularly interested in class, childhood and place. And inescapably entwined with all this is memory. As time, unfortunately, moves in only one direction, we have no choice but to view our experiences through our memories: memories of places; memories of childhood; memories of that life-changing holiday; of that relationship whose scars you’ve carried into every subsequent one.
Of course, by definition, I can only talk from my own experience, so I try and pick out from my brain and turn over in my hands all the different parts that make me me – where I am from, where I grew up, who my parents were, where I live now, who my friends are etc, etc, and, crucially, not just think about THEM, but think about what influences me to view and interpret them the way I do.
But memory is not just personal. It is also collective and social, and I am equally interested in how that social consciousness affects our personal consciousness; in the memories we are asked as a society to remember and those we are asked to forget; and who says so.
There is Derrida lurking in the background here. A criticism often thrown at ‘Derrideans’ is that if you deconstruct everything, then eventually it dissolves into nothing. And I agree with that. But knowing, for example, that the notions of ‘English’ and ‘Portuguese’ are constructs doesn’t stop me emotionally identifying with both. And it is in that emotional arena that my interests lie.
What do we base our identities on? Why do we feel drawn to some places and uncomfortable in others? Why do we feel like some people are ‘our kind of person’ and others aren’t? What and where is home, and why is it important that we know this? Are all these things set in stone, or do they change, or can they BE changed, over time? Maybe they can be overcome altogether? These are key questions for me.
This is a lot to think about, and when I am sitting in my studio holding a pencil and staring at a blank piece of paper (I draw a lot, I hardly paint) I can feel overwhelmed. So instead, I often go for long walks, and I find the physical act of walking occupies the part of my brain which would otherwise censure me, allowing ideas and thoughts to move freely. This sound work (if that is the correct term) is an attempt to use audio to try and recreate this mental free flow of non-always-sequiturs. The walking is not incidental; it is key to the whole process. In fact, this work might be more about walking than anything else.
One reason for saying this is because when I set out for my walk I had no predetermined idea of what I was going to talk about. Everything in the work comes from things that came to mind as I strolled, a potion concocted from what I felt and what I saw and what I heard on that walk that day. Of course, I think of certain things because I am interested in them, but more importantly I think of certain things in certain ways because of who I am and where I come from. That is inescapable. What is not inescapable is to ensure we realise this. That is why it is important to ensure our voices are accompanied by others. A lot of my work is about that – about raising the voices of the usually overlooked or unheard, adding them to the conversation; looking at it from the other side, that is to say that a lot of my work is about challenging the authority of the single, dominant narrative. The single voice. But really it’s deeper than that. It’s about challenging every voice.
There are no conclusions in the sound piece (if that is the correct term). That is deliberate. Instead I want to give us things to think about – the voices of others might make us go back and reassess our own ideas. Like Dr Suse says in my sound piece, “talking is always the first step”. Making this work has given me new things to think about and has pushed my thinking forward in some areas.
In particular… I have long avoided, really, reflecting on the class dynamics I encountered at university. I think this was due to a fear that a lot of the discussions back then by those who did not deem themselves privileged were based on little more than sour grapes. But this process has challenged that. The question it has raised instead is one of an unreciprocated adjustment – whilst some groups worked hard to adapt to the realisation that the world was more than what they knew, others possessed the financial and social capital to not only find it unnecessary to do so, but to force everyone else to adjust to them. Given everything that is going on in our communities and in the world at the moment with regards to equal access to opportunities and minority voices and experiences, this is particularly pertinent.
This work has been highly influenced by the work of several others which are referenced and alluded to throughout the podcast. The first is Walter Benjamin’s essay on his childhood in Berlin, Berlin Chronicle. The title of my work is a direct reference to the original German title of Benjamin’s essay: Berliner Chronik. The second is Virginia Woolf, whose work to try and capture the experience of subjective consciousness through the medium of the novel is an ever increasing influence.
Of particular influence for this piece was Woolf’s autobiographical essay A Sketch of the Past. Speaking of the past, the ghost of Marcel Proust is present, if never referenced directly. And lastly there is the late W. G. Sebald. His novel Austerlitz is a key influence when it comes to thinking about the nature of memory and how questions about the past can colour our present. His novel The Rings of Saturn is a bewitching chronicle of the use of walking as the basis for a rumination on place, history, memory and thought itself.
In contrast to work I have done before, I thought this was the perfect medium to start bringing other voices into my work to contextualise, flesh out and challenge my own experiences and views. So this sound walk (if that is the correct term) would not have been possible without the following heroes.
Many thanks to Diana ‘freight train’ Burnaby for reminding me why we craved stairs.
Many thanks to Alice Rooney for helping me challenge the idea of the past as one monolithic, reference-able reality by revisiting the painful memory of when she flooded my house.
Many thanks to Economist and Comedian Dr. Susie Steed for lending her expertise to my musings over the housing crisis and my internal conflict over an ungraspable Britishness. A tireless campaigner for the demystification of Economics and for a wholesale reform of the way the subject is taught, her writing can be found in the Guardian and on Medium, and you can hear more from her on her new YouTube channel. Although on hold for the moment, she also conducts walking tours around the City of London on the history of the British Empire that we don’t learn at school and on where the wealth of the City really comes from.
Many thanks to Tom Smith for sharing his thoughts on the divine and for, as ever, not despairing at me for my lack of faith.
Many thanks to Nick Simon, James Greer and author Nicole Kennedy for taking the time to share their recollections of our university days. Nick set up and runs the website dprsd.co.uk, a valuable online resource to support those suffering from depression, including practical tips for self-care.
Special thanks to social historian John Boughton. His book, Municipal Dreams, published by Verso, is one of the most widely read and respected chronicles of council housing’s past and present. He runs a blog by the same name, a fabulous resource for information and analysis of social housing both in the UK and abroad. A good place to start in my opinion is with the entry about Vienna’s Alt-Erlaa, which provides food for thought on how social housing is done differently elsewhere and on how where we have ended up in the UK is by no means the inevitable destiny of all housing policy.
Goldsmith Street, to which he refers in podcast, can be seen on the RIBA website.
For the acting bits and quote reading many thanks to the skills and dulcet tones of Felicia Cleveland-Stevens, Sara Cameron, Roland Lyle, Rowan Shaw, Liz Bishop as Virginia Woolf, my German speaking Leute Riccardo Weber, Matthias Müllner and Alex Bradbury, and improv comedian Lora Hristova.
The quote by author Elif Shafak comes from a talk she delivered at the Royal College of Art in February 2019. Speaking of the RCA, none of this would have been possible without the Snowdon Trust, whose generosity and support allowed me the time and space to develop a lot of the ideas that then went on to feed into this podcast, and who continue to do great work to allow disabled students to access higher education.
Thanks to artists Jo Stockham, Finlay Taylor, Bob Matthews, Meg Rahaim, Harold Offeh, Helen Cammock and Mark Titchner, whose support at various points over the last two and a bit years has enabled me to get to, well, to here. And to my partner for looking after the little people with such selfless dedication whilst I wandered about on my derives.
Until next time.
Cliff’s article is the fifth in a series of the artists shortlisted for the Sound Walk September 2021 Awards talking about their work.