The idea of the Future Machine mobile app is to create a form of ritual by spending some time visiting a ‘special place’ where you can…
‘Take a moment, to face the sun, to face home,
the Earth, to sit or stand. Breathe, listen.
Take care, wonder.’
Whilst building the app an issue has arisen about the relationship between these places that are special to us, and home. This is partly a technical issue for Robin, wrangling with mobile maps and Unity (the software that the app is made in). Partly conceptual – or rather about what home means to us, what home and special places are.
Particularly under a lockdown.
What happens if you can’t go outside?
…such as this description of life under lockdown without a garden, in a flat with only a lift to leave the building, where social distancing is impossible. Then maybe the only special place beyond home is the sky. The view from your window, whatever it is. A tree with flickering leaves, branches swaying and crackling. The weather passing through. The places outside.
In this case, we are considering what it might mean to take a journey, power the ‘future machine’ (which is done by movement whilst holding the phone), whilst literally staying in place, ‘at home’. But what about the other journeys from home?
What happens if your home moves?
Luckily during this lockdown, even though we are living on a boat we were told that until last week we couldn’t move. We have been able to stay in place on the river in Tottenham Marshes, which now feels like home. The other boaters, birds, fish and trees our community and family. We have also been able to build a relationship with a special place, that me and my boyfriend call the magic circle.
We stay on the river, but it’s never the same water below us.
I am learning from the river and the water birds. When the lockdown started Mr and Mrs Coot opposite us were building their nest, getting ready for their babies to arrive. Two weeks ago, the same day that a moped was set on fire in the woodlands, next to our magic circle, the coots left their nest. Mr Coot returns regularly on his journey up and down the river, checking his territory, sqwauking and squeeking and batting his wings at smaller birds who go near the old nest. Eventually after thinking Mrs Coot had left him in disgust at his bad nest building found her tucked in the reeds further down, near the two Ash Trees. Nesting there. I read that coots can build up to nine nests and then they select which one they will lay their eggs on. The one we thought they would nest on was actually being used as a ‘platform’ for courting and bathing.
Yesterday, as the water has gone down considerably in the drought and heatwave of what is expected to be one of the hottest ever years on record, the nest opposite has been revealed in all its immense glory. The swans have decided to take it over. Mr Coot has accepted the fact graciously if not sqwaukingly. The swans are rearraging the algae, enlarging the base to fit their large white oval bodies, trimming the branches of the willow above to fit their beautiful long necks, and are now settling in. It is a shame we wont still be here to see the cygnets being born, although maybe we will see them on the way back upriver, when we can return in 2 weeks time.
What happens if you move home?
Does your relationship to a place change when you are no longer a local? When it is no longer your home? When the community no longer sees you as theirs and the familiar becomes nostalgia, when us, you, them, there are seen anew?
After 25 years of living in Nottingham, although I still commute to my studio from London, I no longer properly live there. The Future Machine lives in my studio and before the lockdown I rented a room in a friend’s house for the few days a week I work there. Here has become there. Since the lockdown started I haven’t been able to return. It is no longer home, although the walk from my old home to Christ Church Gardens and the blossom tree is still in my mind a walk from home to a special place.
What if, more than moving home from choice, you become displaced?
Torn from home, left without an anchor, or rudder? How do you maintain your connection to what was sacred? How does the World, the Earth, wherever you find yourself next become home? How do you seek a special place, rediscover something sacred, create new rituals and relationships to place and community and plant new seeds to help you grow and thrive and feed yourself (and family if you have one)? The grandmothers kidnapped into slavery hiding sacred seeds in their hair. My family, my boyfriend’s family all ended up here, close to these marshes, seeking a safe place, trying to find a new way to thrive. Nutritionally, metaphorically, spiritually, emotionally. So that we could find a special place here by the woods in a pandemic lockdown.
What if you are home, but you are not able to feel at home?
The place that was familiar and safe has changed. The people are no longer your neighbours and friends, the world is against you, you are not allowed to be, to breathe – the final words spoken by George Flynn this week before he was murdered by police. Unable to walk freely and safely, to be outside. What if outside is war, outside is dangerous and you have to tread carefully wherever you go?
What happens if your home or place is destroyed?
Last week the Juukan Gorge caves were blown up by an Australian mining company. This cave is sacred, on all levels. It held evidence that this place was home for Australian Aboriginals since the last ice age. The guardians of the caves remain, but the connection to their ancestors, to this land is lost. There is discussion about the ‘artefacts’ that held some of the evidence, were protected, “to preserve significant cultural heritage artefacts, recovering approximately 7,000 objects”. Is it ok to keep these now in a museum and say the heritage is protected? The byeline on Rio Tinto’s website is “We produce materials essential to human progress’. There are no words for this loss.
Here on the marshes, as near many rivers and canals, parks and large roads now in the UK, people live in tents. We came across one today, a camping area complete with bbq, but not a camping holiday or a teepee. Someone living in a tent on the edges of urban and nature. We’re all neighbours, here, meeting at the water tap, toilets and showers – when they work! All of us trying to find a way around not being able to have a home in a city where the reality of home has become unreal, impossible to so many.
Our magic circle was destroyed. There was a murder investigation here on the marshes connected to the burnt out moped we discovered on the edge of the woodland. A helmet was found in the tributary river, under the green bridge next to our boat. A shooting on someone’s doorstep, a 27 year old man killed in early evening in Finsbury Park, tragically a case of mistaken identity, who knows the back story?
The destruction spread to our place, here on the marshes. Police, vans, tents, portaloos, divers, drones. They dived in the rivers looking for the gun. Used our boats to stand holding the ropes for the diver scouring the silt below. Then the cutting started, the bushes, plants, our foraging neighbour‘s favourite ‘Lord Hogweed’ all hacked down. The nesting birds, butterflies, bees moved on. They didn’t find the gun. Just a lot of hidden rubbish now exposed.
They cut down our magic circle. Raised it to the ground. Gone are the ribbons tied to the dog rose bush with dates and names on them. The brambles arranged in a circle. The beautiful pink roses and blackberries coming into flower. The birds soaring, singing and settling. The pillow-like bees and the blue, yellow, white, white and orange butterflies.
Life not considered.
Something still remains in this place that was once a magic circle, now dead brambles and dust. I returned this morning and saw the dog rose left with one flower. Yet, still something ineffable stayed in place, a tingle of something in my bones, a memory, an excitement for regrowth. Something bubbling up from below, something shining from above. The moon reflecting the sun on a perfect blue sky day.
We will try to consider, in the app, all these ways to travel from something like home, to something like a special, sacred, ineffable place. Or at least see what we can discover from a Future Machine that tries to understand home, place, ineffability, ritual and change.