I’ve had a go at an exercise that many have attempted; to adapt Rosalind Krauss’s already heavily adapted Klein 4 group to describe and develop a language for a set of conditions of practice for which, perhaps, the existing language u lacks something; perhaps a specificity, or a discipline specific ‘flavour’.
These are fragments – which to be honest won’t make much sense without their original context – written as a brief section for a paper which, in part because of the inclusion of this section, got a bit of a critical mauling at peer review. Quite rightly; these pieces are very undercooked. They still are undercooked but by setting them out here I hope to be able to come back to them later, think about them differently, perhaps even have another ‘proper’ go at writing them up.
Figure 1. [main image] Performance in the Expanded Field (After Rosalind Krauss’s Klein Group in Sculpture in the Expanded Field). Alessandro Zambelli, 2018
Recent, less militaristic interpretations of the functions of Iron Age hillforts have emphasised their social role.[i] These interpretations understand the hillfort instead as the locus of complex collective actions, and later as a locus also of Massey’s ‘plurality of trajectories [and] simultaneity of stories-so-far’[ii]
St George’s Hill is a communally constructed landscape which sits somewhere between Rosalind Krauss’s categories of ‘landscape’ and ‘architecture’. Krauss’s project in Sculpture in the Expanded Field was nothing less than to ‘reconstrue the foundations of what art practices were and were not and what they could become.’[iii] Creating tensions, dialogues and absences between otherwise familiar categories of architecture, landscape and sculpture, defining by implication new categories of ‘not-landscape’, ‘not-architecture’, ‘axiomatic structures’ and ‘site construction’. But there emerged from this strangeness the beginnings of a language that made sense in the face of new landscape and installation art practices. In particular, it made legible works by, for example, Mary Miss, Robert Morris and Robert Smithson, for which descriptive language had scarcely yet developed. Once available this language became useful for describing a range of interdisciplinary artefacts or artefactually-inflected landscapes and is, for the purposes here, essential when trying to understand how the intertwined histories and narratives of St George’s Hill relate to, in particular, the extreme lack of presence, albeit for different reasons, of hillfort and Digger dwellings, but also the dominant, though inaccessible (and so somehow also absent) Ravenridge.
One particular combination/opposition set up by Krauss which, it seems to me, has particular pertinence on St George’s Hill is that of landscape-architecture which she describes as a ‘complex’:
At St George’s Hill landscape-architecture constructions reinforce and adjust the natural forms of the hill. Both Diggers and twentieth and twenty-first century developers, as I shall go on to outline, have used the landscape-architecture-enhanced topography of the hill as context for their buildings.
With the waning of defensive interpretations of Iron Age hillforts has come a growing emphasis on broader ideas of enclosure with emphasis on ‘studies [that] have considered enclosure as part of the wider environment,’[iv] that hillforts need to be seen ‘in terms of the specific manifestation of a long tradition of marking special places by enclosure with origins in the Neolithic’.[v] Neither Winstanley nor any other contemporary commentator makes mention of the strange, as it must have seemed, ancient forms in the landscape. Perhaps those forms were so like the landscape itself that the hillfort became hidden in plain sight, indistinguishable from their context of natural forms; somewhere between Krauss’s landscape and architecture as the only extant archaeological sections through the site (figure 2) alongside recent photographs (figure 3) begin to show. The quasi-natural appearance of the residual hillfort ramparts, ‘a swelling in the earth, which is the only warning given for the presence of the work’ as Krauss describes Mary Miss’s Perimeters/Pavilions/Decoys,[vi] suggests less an architectural intervention, more a kind of artefactually inflected landscape in the sense that Krauss meant it, in attempting to categorise and create a milieu for those artistic endeavours characterised by being neither ‘landscape’ nor ‘architecture’.[vii]
Massey reimagines this neither-nor state as a version of Bernard Tschumi’s ‘undecidability’ where, ‘space is indeed “undecidable” in Tschumi’s sense, but that characteristic does not result from the superimposition of surfaces but from the spatial configuration of multiple (and indeed complex and structured) trajectories. Not the mutual interference of (horizontal) closed structures, but intertwined openended trajectories.’[viii] The undecidability of contemporary functional and societal interpretations of, in this account, the system of hillforts in the UK and more widely in Europe brings them, I would argue, into Krauss’s inventory of traditional ‘site-construction’ artefacts, amongst which she lists, ‘labyrinths and mazes’, ‘Japanese gardens’ and the ‘ritual playing fields and processionals of ancient civilisations’.[ix]
If this hillfort does indeed fall within Krauss’s category of ‘site-construction’ this would appear to be a good fit for what we find generally at hillfort sites; an artefactual landscape inflected by the commoning tendencies of waves of inhabitants and the weaving-together of their histories and narratives. Perhaps, then, we can account for the Diggers’ act of occupation of St George’s Hill in a similar way within its own nexus of associated activities and contexts. Whether in its more existential form on seventeenth century St Georges Hill or as part of the ‘Occupy’ movement in front of St Paul’s Cathedral in 2011, these acts of occupation may be thought of simultaneously as ordinary acts of inhabiting public space; no more remarkable than sitting in a square eating a sandwich at lunch time, and radical, performative commoning interventions in contested urban spaces.
If, following Krauss, we take the category of performance (as opposed to the category of spatial making outlined in Sculpture in the Expanded Field) then it’s context, in the way that for Krauss landscape is the context of architecture, is the ordinary, shared, customary routines of bodies in space. I will use Marcel Mauss and Pierre Bourdieu’s term ‘habitus’ for this category.[x] If habitus then is our baseline condition – the everyday ‘generative principle of regulated improvisations,[xi] – then the extreme, mannered, performative implication of this is theatre, that ‘thickness of signs’[xii] as Roland Bathes had it: performers performing, more or less unambiguously, for an audience who through their ‘double awareness of reality and pretence’[xiii] have chosen to witness that performance. Figure 1 is my expansion, following Krauss, of this set of relationships.
Ravenridge is also then the performative gathering together of fragments; client briefs, development legislation, histories, contexts, materials and technologies. Not only future- facing, as architectural design is often lazily assumed to be, but an act of design and construction performed in the present.
I would argue that it is these sets of spatial, temporal and performative tensions which make St George’s Hill such a locus for the manifold practitioners of these activities.
Certainly, the remains of hillforts have attracted artistic responses for example, an exhibition in 2013 staged by the Hayward Gallery[xiv] but in particular landscape walking art practices such as those undertaken by Walking the Land.[xv] There have also been re- enactments or memorialisations, or perhaps more accurately re-occupations of the original occupation by the Diggers, most recently in 1999.[xvi] The Performance Klein Group above suggests that ‘occupation’, lying between habitus and not-habitus, can be understood therefore as the ordinary act of dwelling in extraordinary environments or circumstances.
Here, between the Mole and the Wey, instances of the trans-European Iron Age, the English revolution and twentieth century neoliberal property acquisition co-exist. Here, Tarrant sited a ‘seam of partition’ at the confluence of his Kraussian ‘site-construction’, I would argue, between ‘habitus’ and ‘non-habitus’, this practice of cross-temporal occupation. Although Dawney, Kirwan and Brigstocke maintain that, ‘the promise of the call to “occupy the future” does not lie in techniques for rendering the future co-present, but instead comes from an attunement to forms of “time without me”’.[xvii] Yet on St George’s Hill it seems to me that just like the past, the future may indeed be co-present; not simply as a location for persistent acts of building but also forms of living; shelter, enclosure, commoning. Enclosure can be welcoming and inclusive as well as threatening and exclusive just as acts of commoning can be generous as well as misanthropic. Dawney, Kirwan and Brigstocke ask ‘whether the commons can be extricated from the language and assumptions of neoliberalism, notably that of the necessary interdependency of commons and enclosure’.[xviii]
Figure 2. ‘Sections through the Ramparts’ in: Eric Gardner, ‘The British Stronghold of St. George’s Hill, Weybridge’, Surrey Archaeological Collections, relating to the history and antiquities of the county, 24 (1911).
Figure 3. Eroded ramparts at St George’s Hill. Photo; Andy Burnham, 2010.
[i] James Forde-Johnston, Hillforts of the Iron Age in England and Wales : A Survey of the Surface Evidence, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1976); Leslie Alcock, Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain Ad 550-850, (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 2003); Ian Brown, ‘Beacons’ in the Landscape: The Hillforts of England and Wales, (Bollington: Windgather, 2008); Mark Bowden, Introductions to Heritage Assets: Hillforts, (London: English Heritage, 2011).
[ii] Massey, p. 12.
[iii] Rosalind Krauss, ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, October, 8 (1979). and
Richard Marshall, ‘Retracing the Expanded Field [Review]’, 3:am magazine [online], (2014).
[v] J.D. Hill, ‘Hillforts and the Iron Age of Wessex’, in The Iron Age in Britain and Ireland: Recent Trends, ed. by T. C. Champion and John Collis (Sheffield: J.R. Collis Publications, 1996), pp. 95-116. [no page no.] quoted in: Brown, p. 37.
[vi] Krauss, p. 30.
[vii] Ibid. p. 38.
[viii] Massey, p. 113.
[ix] Krauss, p. 38.
[x] Marcel Mauss, “Les Techniques Du Corps,” Journal de Psychologie XXXII, no. 3-4 (1934); Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
[xi] Outline of a Theory of Practice, 78.
[xii] Roland Barthes, Critical Essays (Evanston Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1972), 262.
[xiii] Marvin Carlson, “Psychic Polyphony,” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 1, no. 1 (Fall 1986): 39.
[xiv] Nicholas Alfrey, Joy Sleeman, and Ben Tufnell, “Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-79,” ed. Hayward Gallery (London: Hayward Gallery Publishing, 2013).
[xv] Stuart Butler and Jacqui Stearn, “Solstice Sunrise Walk,” Walking the Land: connecting art, landscape and community [online] (2016).
[xvi] “1999: Diggers 350 – St George’s Hill Reoccupation,” The Land is Ours, http://tlio.org.uk/past-camapigns/diggers-350-st-georges-hill-1999-reoccupation/. On the 350th anniversary of the Diggers’ occupation a group organised by The Land is Ours marched from Weybridge to a site on St. George’s Hill they claimed was the site of the Diggers’ encampment. Initially allowed through the gates they also set up camp but were eventually evicted.
[xvii] Dawney, Kirwan, and Brigstocke, Space, Power and the Commons: The Struggle for Alternative Futures, 18.