A contribution for ALTELIER PUBLIC at GOMA
In an era of factories and furnaces there was a potter who lived in an industrial town built in the bottom of a steep valley. The potter was a small man with reseeding curly brown hair and a thick moustache. He wore a grey woollen cap, a collarless white cotton shirt under a dark green waist coat and a pair of hobnail boots.
One day whilst collecting wood for the fire the potter came across an overgrown patch of old common land looking down on the factory chimneys that were towering up from the valley below. The whole area was a tangled knot of ivy, bramble and thorn bushes – gnarled, twisted and seemly impenetrable.
With his bill-hook in his hand he began to hack at the thorn branches – grasping at the thick ivy stems and wrenching them out by the roots. Eventually he revealed a skeletal form of a tree with charcoal black bark. Carefully he pruned back the surrounding ivy and thorn branches, shaping a perfectly round hole in which to frame the tree within the clearing. As he stood back he saw a diffused glow of autumn sunlight shining through the round opening giving it the appearance of a circular window amidst the dense vegetation. Somewhere in the valley a factory bell rang out.
Winter passed and the patch of land awoke into a green oasis bursting with new life and bird song.
The man noticed the branches of the black barked tree had not grown, and thinking that it was dead, he contemplated cutting it down. When the following day he returned with an axe to chop down the tree, to his amazement he found that overnight it had budded to produce many beautiful white flowers. The air was heavy with a sweet and intoxicating perfume. By the end of the week the leafless tree was supporting a number of bright red fruits suspended in the trees black candelabrum. Hanging from the branch tips like vivid orbs they shone against the backdrop of a creamy smog oozing from the smoke stacks below.
When the townsfolk saw the potters work, as if possessed, they began grubbing at any of the weeds, clearing more and more space until the whole common ground became one garden.
Several years passed and one warm late summer’s day the town’s guild society was holding their annual summer fete in the town hall. The hall was of a modest proportion but built of fine sand stone with thick oak beams spanning the roof. The society members sat on simple benches of rough-hewn dark wooden planks. A blonde moustached man stood tall to address the audience; dressed in mustard corduroy trousers, a towelling shirt rolled up to his elbows and a bright gilded neckerchief.
He began by praising the textiles, pottery, basketry and various pewter and beaten copper vessels which were on display. He spoke warmly to the townsfolk with a proud voice, confident in his self-taught knowledge of arts and crafts.
The speaker then came to tell the story of the how the town’s new garden came to be. Having carefully noted down what he wished to say in order to articulate the story of the potter and strange black tree, he glanced down at his notes on the lectern and took a deep breath to begin. But as he attempted to speak he was surprised to find that no sound came out of his mouth at all. Instead there was just a hollow feeling inside his chest. Quickly looking down at his paper again which, was now thumb-pushed against the lectern he glanced at the opening line of a poem and decided to start the speech afresh. Taking in another deep breath he felt his diaphragm tense as he tried to breathe out his words, but still no sound. His voice was trapped somewhere inside his body.
He took a step backwards, trying again and again in vain to get the description that was in his head out of his body. The passion of the words he was trying to express began to boil up inside him and he found that he was performing an incomprehensible array of hand and arm movements in front of the crowd. As he looked up, half smiling, he became aware that he was starting to laugh, at first lightly, but soon uncontrollably. Looking around he saw that the audience were laughing too. Deep in their bellies the whole hall was laughing.
Earthenware and copper vessels began falling off display tables, smashing and crashing on the stone flags as folk bumped and shook around the hall.
Still laughing wildly the speaker attempted all manner of rapturous movements as means to propel some words at the audience. Through his contorted and abstract gestures he still knew inside what he wanted to say.
As the main hall hummed with oscillating noise somewhere in the back of a hall a door was opened and high up on the other side of the valley a bell rang out. It would have been heard if it had not been for the laughter within.
James McLardy 2012
ALTELIER PUBLIC, GOMA was part of Playable Spaces. Playable Spaces grew of a programme of events, exhibitions and presentations to recognise play and creativity as something that happens in all the cracks and gaps of day-to-day life and in all the opportunities children and adults can carve out for themselves.