Love Letters – Let Me Take You There

I like to think that someone, perhaps a number of people, have traveled to the field in Calderdale central to Paul Rooney’s ‘Let Me Take You There – A guide for a field in Calderdale.’ The piece starts with instructions on how to get to the field and the work was exhibited in Artranspennin03, so presumably this live mode of viewing was encouraged during that exhibition. However I saw the work at Site Gallery in 2004 as part of a joint exhibition of work by Paul Rooney and Susan Phillipsz. Since then I have also listened to it online. You can access it through the Artranspennine03 website.

To my mind it is successful as an artwork where you travel only in your imagination to the snowy field depicted in the work’s only image. This image is paired with a monologue audio piece, listened to through headphones. The audio loops and diverges to cover numerous topics, but always returning to the field and its image. It gives a detailed description of the photographer Charlie Meecham taking the featured photograph, as recorded by a Granada TV documentary, and conveys a strong sense of both the cold, crisp day and the process of choosing and framing a section of the landscape to depict.

I love the idea of creating an audio guide for a field. It’s a place that, notwithstanding the location of of the battle of Culloden (where I know you can listen to an audio guide), is unlikely to be a tourist attraction. This field is one of many in the Yorkshire/Lancashire hinterland, general and yet – as we hear here – specific. We are told that Meecham’s image was used on the cover of an album by the band Joy Division and about poems by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath written in this locality, evocative of its atmosphere.

I enjoy the sense of there being a logic to this artwork, a kind of puzzle to how the disparate stories are connected but one that I can’t quite keep up with. As well as referencing events directly linked to the field and its image, the narrative uses leaps of association. The snowy scene reminds the narrator of a diary entry about Trotsky’s last train journey; the photographer’s blanket recalls a blanket used by a singer at a gig (by Paul Rooney’s erstwhile band ‘Rooney’) who shouts out words to a Russ Abbot song ‘Atmosphere.’ Snow is compared to the icy sound of synthesizers on a particular Joy Division track or to to white sheets of Sylvia Plath’s hospital bed.

We are told at the start of the guide that some of its themes are: winter, the photographed moment – it’s frozen time, and the rebirth of spring. This along with the theme of atmosphere, gives a tenor to all the stories and how they are told. I like the detail, the texture of the telling. It’s at once quite a sad work, where we are repeatedly reminded of death by war and by suicide, and an optimistic one that describes creative ventures – a band, songs, poems, photographs – that can come from small beginnings to give substance and meaning to many people’s lives.