Your consciousness is homeless and itinerant for quite some time in a significant physical journey. And you must build it its home, or its redoubt. That redoubt is specific to the journey. And like a tortoise’s shell the redoubt accompanies you on the journey even as it grows. Its construction is excruciatingly frustrating and failure-ridden. Accept this. Construction of the redoubt is the journey.
Arrival takes place much later cognitively.
Every striking happenstance you find fanciful about the journey is not enduring. It will never be yours. What it leaves in your mind is like a scintillating orgasm, embers hissing at urine, dead, desirous of conflagration, needing new wood, fuel. It’s gone. Twas. Already.
The form of the redoubt you envision is a solipsism. It is the little pig’s straw house. The form of the redoubt you expect to encase the journey is flawed, the incomplete imprint of something impossibly parallel and exterior. It is the little pig’s wood house and it is rotten. It was grown long ago and it is not yours. You cannot make a tree.
You can make a brick.
The redoubt must be physically constructed. It is the little pig’s brick house. You can only construct your own redoubt. Others can move into the redoubt but they will not know what to do with it. That is beautiful. They may construct their own redoubt within or upon yours.
Construction is a representational process. The process utilizes representation. Its goal is not to perfect a representation but to make concrete your consciousness.
Beginning the journey is relinquishing yourself to ineptitude and rootlessness. Accept this.
You think about translation of experience into exteriority and recall Michaux. “This book is an exploration. By means of words, signs, drawings. Mescaline, the subject explored… as for the drawings… they were done with a vibrating motion that continues in you for days and days and, though automatic and blind, reproduces exactly visions to which you have been subjected, passes through them again.”
This is not a prescription for journeying. You may have a sneaking suspicion that there is a distillation within this practice that defines a method of physically watching yourself arrive upon yourself. This is your consciousness constructing a dwelling outside itself that it can appreciate.
You are carrying a small canvas purse full of fasces of colored pencils & markers & pens bound in elastic bands, phials of ink, safety scissors—acceptable for air-travel—, graphite pencils in a little tin pencil-case with a sharpener, powdered graphite, an assortment of adhesive tapes—especially transparent double-stick—, willow charcoal, and a stack of roughly cut postcard size hotpress watercolor paper. There may be other things in the purse. Pencil shavings and sand. After visiting Fantoft stavkirke you acquire a book of matches.
You sit to faithfully represent a vista or a structure.
The early investigations of the journey are simply documentary.
You struggle for this to not be the case—every time, in every beginning you want to feel like armored Athena is leaping onto the page—but struggling through faithful documentation is necessary.
The journey is operating on a distinct time scale.
The geologic and the architectural are enduring through the journey.
Yes, they receive new washes—that bizarre arctic twilight lingering, or the way fresh air filters around the morning’s outcroppings once upon disembarking from the plane—coloring your perception, but they do not alter the physiognomy of the object.
Accept the things you cannot change.
Testing your own changing perceptions against these enduring benchmarks is the visual metric of one’s experience in a journey. Monet did this with Rouen, or with the haystacks. However, he was painting his perception of these ephemeral washes altering the objects rather than how they were altering the subject, him.
In the disingenuous confidence of your first markings on the watercolor paper occasionally a discovery is made—if you accept these discoveries at face value you’ve drowned then and there in the Sognefjord, it is 4000 feet in depth, you continue your journey but it is painted with nothing but the dark water you’ve accepted—, but you have, at this point, more to put into the conversation than to take out of it. Yet those facets you bring to the table are alien and dragged from elsewhere. They may be vestiges of previous representational journeys.
The journey is not a colonial endeavor. Your imported vestiges must be regurgitated and purged. They can’t remain in your vocabulary or you will never arrive.
For some time then—really this is the majority of the journey—you are exploring a range of expressions tethered to discrete moments in time and space. This is called exploration.
It is not enough to experience. The expressions of exploration manifest in distinct types of markings—their calligraphic geometry, their medium, & their distribution—and methods of working—masking, blurring, appliqué, burning, scraping, & on & on (try this: place a fragment of brick from the streets of Bergen in a small sealed plastic container with rainwater to see if it either softens the brick enough to draw with or colours the water enough to paint with)—and the bizarre union of marking and method manifesting strategic correlations to place and time. These correlations are not willful. They are the desperation of representation. They arrive miraculously.
If they aren’t miracles you don’t want them.
Allowing places in time to present the necessity of singular representational strategies becomes an exhilarating process. It can be seductively so, such that the richness of bespoke experience can seem to stand on its own as a fully-fledged presentation.
Although even the most refined strategy is a documentary inheritance, don’t forsake it because it is not exactly yours. These representations are merely the graphic threshold you are constructing to access the place on the terms it has provided for you.
The journey is through the portal of the place and into the context of your own consciousness. The moment of your arrival at this threshold is, like the mastery of a language, difficult to pin down objectively or precisely.
You sit to consider a vista or structure and without consciously accommodating your new practices—without receiving them in situ—all of the strategies you have developed in your journey are finding a role in your expression.
After buildings & alleys & squares & other constructed surfaces, the unchanging cliff faces across the water, out the picture window of the small summer house built into the cliffside, just below the farm hamlet Skjerdal, begins to embody something that seems familiar.
The process for understanding the splashblocks built into the cobbles below downspouts and the way that mildew & staining tapers out from them toward the curb by inscribing small depressions & canals into the thickness of the paper with the sharp corner of a piece of brick and allowing the suspension of graphite in water to pool there and evaporate over and over until a patina has arisen, and understanding how with that strategy you can concurrently recall the cover of Darkthrone’s Goatlord album, this process suddenly emerges in the execution of staining on the rock faces of the cliff across Aurlandsfjord above Undredal.
But even this is not the true redoubt. Reaching this threshold is only the establishment of the language that allows you to speak anew in a purely native expression. You can stop here with satisfaction if you’d like. You have arrived. And the threshold is a precipice that is comfortable to rest upon with a sense of achievement.
Beyond that threshold is a strangely tangible immateriality. The influence of the physical world evaporates leaving the precipitate of your consciousness.
The redoubt is you falling through space.
This is a practice that is reliant on impulse—but an impulsiveness that is refined—to execute the afterimages in the nervous system and the fluid application of your strange practices.
These are explorations of pure expression.
You are sitting on the train from Bergen to Oslo, through the glare of the Hardangervidda snowfields, nothing but the small blank card of watercolor paper is on the tray in front of you, a small purse of various media is wedged between your leg and the armrest, and you summon, not exactly the cliff faces across the fjord that served as the threshold armature, but a rewoven fabric of that image, improvisational, untethered from those desperate urges of invention.
The construction is surpassing expectations of fidelity to the image.
This construction is personal, yet foreign. Impossible to render in a vacuum that does not include the journey.
John Trefry is an architect and writer in Lawrence, Kansas.