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CHARLES DANBY & ROB SMITH
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SWAMP QUARRY 2015

 

 

 

Quarry Ceiling Visualisation. Giclee print 9 x 8 cm

 

SWAMP QUARRY

Swamp Quarry is a text recorded for radio that was broadcast by RADIOANTI as a part of Artlicks Festival weekend 2015. The text was read by Sophie Buxton and recorded by Mike Booth. Text written and compiled acknowledging Anna Kavan, Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Italo Calvino, J G Ballard and Fairport Convention. It was a Danby Smith Production for radio.

 

 

 

... I have come back after many years. The old day is dead and the new is at its climax. The quarry is now a city and it has surely changed, above and around and perhaps for the better. The thirty five wings I have seen moving about skyward are those of kites and umbrellas. Between the recast overgrown and the new city there are people who believe they are flying. It is already an achievement if they can get off the ground, flapping their batlike overcoats.

‘Just walk in a straight line’ I remember saying. ‘I think, I think I am’ he replied. ‘Straight into that clump’ I continued. ‘It's ok Nan you're on fairly solid ground. Straight in, just go right in. Go straight in over that way. Turn to your right, your right. Into that clump there, directly in. It's ok, go ahead’. ‘So much of it is out of focus’ he called. ‘Well just keep going in’ I said, ‘don't worry about the focus. Just keep move... just keep advancing in as much as you can. How is the film holding out?’ There was a pause. ‘Head over that way’ I said, ‘there seems to be something, you're heading towards stickers or something. Over that way’.

Over that way and inside there were five shelves for each of the hexagon’s walls. Each shelf contained thirty five books of uniform format, each book was of four hundred and ten pages, each page was forty lines, and each line was some eighty words. There were letters on the spine of each but these I have found do not indicate or prefigure what the pages say. I can only conclude that the library like the quarry is unending. The idealists will argue that the hexagonal rooms are a necessary form of absolute space. In their dreams and ecstasy they summon and speak of a great circular book, whose spine is continuous, and which follows the complete circle of the walls of the quarry. But I have come to realise that their testimony is suspect and their words and motives obscure.

I move from the library, the library that is not part of this new city but instead a part of all new cities. The architecture of the curved kilns locates and describes in its perimeter each of many hexagonal rooms of the library. Its perimeter marks a line that I have seen chalk drawn on the cold concrete floor of a warehouse. These restored fragmented kilns hide not the library but another type of space I can not see yet. I push further into the swamp that sits deserted, distant and yet palpably present. The idealists in their dreams and ecstasy could not have dreamt of such a library, for this or any other quarry. Augmented and remote in its proliferation of exacting hexagonal rooms, I have seen this before in another space or another not space, material and present, invasive and evasive, held simply by a surface. The pages of books are now images and I can see them anywhere.

‘Which way?’ he asked. ‘Towards the puddle over there’ I replied. ‘I can't see anything’. ‘Well you… to your right, to your right, straight ahead, watch out for the stickers’. ‘All I’m getting are the uh…’ ‘That's OK, here get over here, this area here’. ‘My legs are stuck in here’. ‘That's OK’. ‘I think that there's too much...’ ‘Just pull, pull out of there’. ‘I really…’ ‘OK hold it a while then, try to pick up that body of water back there’. ‘Where is it?’ ‘uh directly in front of you’. ‘Ah’. ‘Go slow if you want, watch it, make an about face’. ‘An about face?’ ‘Yeah go back the way you came’. ’This way?’ ‘Yeah. ok. watch the stickers’. ‘Shoot into the density of it too.’ ‘Yeah I am, I am shooting straight ahead’. ‘See how much...’ ‘stuck’ I heard him say.

Stuck was a question that plagued my mind for many years, and it may have been that which made me return. I have said it before that this city of grass was founded on a stone plateau. This plateau, comparable to a high cliff, was no less significant than the walls. The white base did not disclose the slightest irregularity, the invariable walls seemed not to admit a single door. The force of the sun forced refuge to be sought in what was no more than a hole. A hole dug in a field. To its rear was a pit, and from within the pit a gap that sank down abysmally into the darkness. I became quarry to a labyrinth of chambers, each turned mercilessly into the next and into itself. I felt as if had lost my way, but there was no way to lose. The silence was hostile and almost perfect. There was no sound in this deep stone network save for that of the subterranean wind. I walked beneath the ground through a city of barb and barbarians parallel to that of the new city, that which rose in the dug and from the dug. And still I was lost and still I was stuck. But I had crossed a threshold and an architecture; hexagonal in darkness, rich in symmetries, and subordinated to the end. The place I imperfectly moved through, this new city, was an abundance of dead ends, inverted holes and invisible windows. Stairways clung airily to the side of the monumental quarry wall as if to match those of the houses and buildings of this new city. I emerged into a kind of square, or rather another shape. It was surrounded by a building of irregular form and variable height. As trait but not design it was an incredible monument, and I was held by the extreme age of its fabrication. I felt it was older than mankind, than the earth. The evening hour faded within the dwindling sun, I watched the daylight passing, precious freedom had been forfeited and I was lost to this grass plateau. I had become disorientated and it was time to return.

To return and to get there I proceeded through Corrine and looking south west I could see the low foothills. I crossed a cattle grid and crossed four cattle guards before reaching Rozel Point. The road forked and one road led to a locked gate. I travelled west crossing under the railway line twice. Following the newly constructed footway I continued to the site entrance. I proceeded in front of the houses to the turning point at the end of the cul de sac. Here besides the cattle guard was a fence but no gate. As I approached I saw an abandoned pink and white trailer (mostly white), a depleted army amphibious landing craft, an old horse truck, and assorted other trash. Standing at the base of the main escarpment I could see the whole of the new city in front of me, and looking to the left I could see the chimneys of six kilns. Beyond this the track formed a loop, and from this an overgrown and wild pathway rose steeply. Further on it levelled and cleared and reached a plateau.

Close to here and on the escarpment overlooking the new city I remember calling out to him, ‘watch out the reeds can cut a little bit’ and then saying, ‘clearing, head out to the clearing. 70 feet. Just sort of go out into the clearing, then just move to that clump on the other side. So watery here’. ‘OK’ I heard him call back. ‘OK I got the stickers’ I replied, ‘just keep it low’.’ Keep it low?’. ‘Yeah don't want too much sky’. ‘No, I'll try and get the top of them, how many feet left on the reel’. ‘Uh hundred’. ‘Hundred?’. ‘It says a hundred on there’. ‘I think it says ten’. ‘Yeah’. ‘What does it say’. ‘Nothing’.

Nothing was said following that. As I returned to the new city I saw repeated shapes in its architecture, I saw pictures hanging, and I heard the fragment of a song. My mind flashed with half-remembered names and faces but when I opened my mouth to speak I found myself dysarthric, tongue-tied, suddenly aware that the autumn had come like a circle or perhaps a spiral. Images unwound in front of me and folded once more into the new city, my imagining of the new city, the city of quarry and swamp, of hexagonal walls and hedges. All of this was the new city and yet none of it was also. These were my images, but how or to whom they belonged I could not grasp. They were images heard in the words of others, in books, and in dreams that had not yet found their way back to their origins.

Some years later, after I had returned on an enervating afternoon when not even a breath of on-shore breeze disturbed the dust, I sat resting in the shadow of the new city. With my back set against rough concrete I gazed with a phlegmatic eye down the surrounding aisles and at the line of doors facing me. Like the day before and like the day after I had left the quarry dunes early and walked down into the new city and its blocks. As I would do for days to come I restricted myself at first to walking the perimeter aisle, then slowly I moved amongst the buildings as if trying to flush some invisible opponent out from a hiding place. Soon I and he would be completely lost, and I realised that whatever my attempts to return to the perimeter I always found myself once more in the centre. Years before the new city, and from deep within its swamp, I had heard it said that the swamp quarry was a state of mind. The truth of this had only become apparent to me two or three weeks after my first arrival. Despite the quarry dust and the few anaemic plants, the entire landscape was synthetic, a man-made artefact with all the associations of the vast system of derelict motorways. Yet since the moratorium on atomic landfill it had been abandoned, and the wilderness of container trucks, towers and blockhouses ruled any attempt to return it to its natural state.

It was during the moratorium that the ice arrived. I remember deciding that I wanted to describe the landscape before the memory of it faded. Each day I wrote a little about my surroundings and a lot more on the other subject. There was nothing else to do and I would have been bored without this occupation. It became an absorbing interest and kept me busy for hours. It was exceedingly cold but I remained warm having organised a daily supply of logs. There was no fuel problem for the new city lay close to the great forest. But day by day the ice crept over the curve of the earth, unimpeded by sea or mountain. Without haste or pause it was steadily moving nearer, entering and flattening the land, and filling craters from which boiling larva had once poured. To think of the ice coming nearer all the time was disturbing, but for the present the new city remained open, and occasionally lorries came and went. Increasingly my sense of unreality became overwhelming, eventually I noticed that a strong colourless light was making everything outside as clear as day. My amazement increased when I observed that this extraordinary light revealed details not normally visible to the naked eye. When it snowed lightly the complex structure of each individual snowflake appeared in crystalline clearness to me. I looked round for familiar buildings and towers but they were no longer there.

I awoke the next morning into bright sunlight. The desolation and emptiness of the new city, and the absence snow and any local fauna, was emphasised by the huge sculptural forms of the target basins. Separated from each other by the narrow isthmuses, the lakes stretched way along the curve of the quarry atoll. On either side, sometimes shaded by the few plants that gained precarious purchase in the cracked cement, were roadways, camera towers and isolated kilns, together forming a continuous concrete cap upon the island, a functional megalithic architecture as grey and minatory (and apparently as ancient, in its projection into and from time future) as any Assyria and Baylon. The excavations had fused the quarry sand in layers, and the pseudo-geological strata condensed the brief epochs, microseconds in duration, of thermonuclear time. Typically the swamp quarry inverted the geologist’s maxim that the key to the past lies in the present. Here the key to the present lay in the future. The new city was a fossil of time future, its housing and towers illustrating the principle that the fossil record of life was one of armour and exoskeleton.

In defence it was in August 1968, a year before the event, that I heard a radio broadcast that caught my attention. It was supplemented by discussion and an interview, information that ultimately proved to be quite scant, but it claimed, through conceit, to faithfully reproduce a nineteenth century audio recording, that had in turn been found some years before at the site of an old quarry. I made it my intention to visit. The new city has enveloped the old quarry and over the years I have come to return many times to this place. Each time it unravels in pathways more hidden and surprising than before, and I, as hooknosed wander, burrower gossiper, and quester after secrets, continually attempt to make good my pledge to indulge in the truths and recollections of its present.