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Four ways to go from A to B, by Merryn Gates

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Four ways to go from A to B

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.”

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.”

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.

Merryn Gates

June 2008

Note: all quotes from the artist are from correspondence with the author, January – May 2008.

KEY

LINKS PATHWAYS SYSTEMS MEANING

place commitment adornment yellow

time habit electricity blue

work efficiency transport metal

friends favourites blood red


GENERAL ASSEMBLY_RE SPECIAL EDITION– IMAGE CAPTIONS

General Assembly Brooch RE01

Blanche Tilden and Phoebe Porter (Studio Hacienda) 2022

Aluminium, glass, stainless steel

85 x 30mm

Image: Andrew Sikorski


General Assembly Brooch RE02

Blanche Tilden and Phoebe Porter (Studio Hacienda) 2022

Aluminium, glass, stainless steel

85 x 30mm


General Assembly Brooch RE09

Blanche Tilden and Phoebe Porter (Studio Hacienda) 2022

Aluminium, glass, stainless steel

85 x 30mm

Image: Andrew Sikorski


General Assembly Brooch RE14

Blanche Tilden and Phoebe Porter (Studio Hacienda) 2022

Aluminium, titanium, glass, stainless steel

45 x 45mm

Image: Andrew Sikorski


General Assembly Brooch RE19

Blanche Tilden and Phoebe Porter (Studio Hacienda) 2022

Aluminium, titanium, glass, stainless steel

45 x 45mm

Image: Andrew Sikorski


General Assembly Brooches – RE Special Edition 2022

Blanche Tilden and Phoebe Porter (Studio Hacienda)

Aluminium, titanium, glass, stainless steel

Image: Andrew Sikorski

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