In 2005 Phoebe Porter relocated from Canberra to live and work in Melbourne. That experience generated this body of work. It was an experience she came to define as being about connectedness: about finding her way in a new city, as well as staying in touch with the place she had left.
With map in hand we can find our way from A to B. But location is not only about streets and pavements. It is about identity and our inner emotional life as well. Relocating, one is transformed from a local to a stranger, from being in the centre of a network of friends to being anonymous. The reassurance we are given on maps as we enter a town, or emerge from a train station, that ‘You are here’ confirms a place and a time, but not the how or the why. It may have an ironic cosmic ring to it at times, but the personal and emotional element is necessarily absent.
Porter’s Location Devices offer a metaphysics of transit. To devise, she notes, means both to plan or design and to dream or imagine. All are equally pertinent to making a new city one’s home. What but dreams prompt such moves? Harry Beck’s famous London Underground map of 1933, from which her objects take their cue, came eventually to organise the very city it mapped. It shaped the way people experienced the city. Porter builds on this personalisation:
“I decided to use schematic maps as a metaphor for networks, direction and belonging – for developing a personal route through life.”
Transit Necklaces 2008
Aluminium, titanium, stainless steel
Image: Andrew Sikorski
In cartographic style, let me propose a key to understanding these works. Porter’s titles form the primary set of four reference points: Connected, Transit, Express and Location Device. These are all resonant of physical travel, by foot, road, rail or air.
Ingeniously, the jeweller’s devices from which the necklaces are constructed enact these functions on the body. Porter comments that as she was making these works she was aware that “…there is an interesting relationship between the way we simplify geography to understand a transport network and how we simplify ideas, memories, and information to understand our place in the world.”
The linking mechanism – Connected – uses ball bearings and is multidirectional. We are, I suggest, linked to such things as place, time, work and friends. These ‘links’ are the kind of defining choices that shape our lives. There is, however, some flexibility in the way we maintain these connections. Consequently, the links allow the pieces to move with the body.
The linear elements – Transit – take us from one place to another. In Porter’s neck pieces, these can be personalised by connecting them in a variety of ways. In a similar fashion, our lines of transit are determined by ever changing things such as favourite places, commitments, habit and efficiency of movement.
Clarity of purpose – Express – is the hallmark of Beck’s schematic map. His system has been adopted around the world, and not only for rail travel. The circular nodes, which broadly speaking represent relay points, quantify distance or progress. The movement through these nodes may be of blood, of electricity, of trains or of a necklace around a body.
“I love the idea that the same drawing could represent any type of network: an electrical circuit, a computer network, the transportation system, a network of friends or colleagues”, says Porter.
Ease of passage is often coded: for example the daily ticket, eligibility for concession, priority status. We carry such ‘tickets’ on our person, ready to declare our legitimacy. Colour is frequently a marker of these distinctions. The colour blue, for instance – Location Device – refers to the process of creativity for Porter. She explains:
“I was particularly moved by a scene from William Kentridge’s Stereoscope, in which usually invisible lines of communication (connections between people) are drawn in cobalt blue, shooting from the telephone switchboard out in all directions across the city.”
Location Devices Installation Detail 2008
Stainless steel, urethane
Image: Tatjana Plitt
Location Device Brooches 2008
Stainless steel, urethane
Images: Tatjana Plitt
Blue, used in Location Device, is therefore the colour of telecommunication and is, with mobile technology, an exponentially growing, more intricate network. Red remains the traditional, symbolic colour for denoting the blood that courses within our bodies along that internal arterial network. Yellow is, happily, the colour of London’s Circle Line, the closed circuit mirrored in Melbourne. Colour has an additional role when working with aluminium or titanium, because through anodising the metal’s surface hardness is increased.
Porter’s clip-on Location Device is, for me, the opposite of the GPS systems that locate you with unnerving, dogged accuracy anywhere on the globe. With this jewellery – with adornment – you locate yourself in the network of your own particular and individual life: your allegiances, achievements, status, and predilections.
Note: all quotes from the artist are from correspondence with the author, January – May 2008.
Location Devices Exhibition Opening 2008
Image: Tatjana Plitt