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12 South Union Street: Norman ’18 in New York

I spent my co-op in upstate New York in the town (or village, rather) I grew up in before I moved away at the age of fourteen. Though I have often returned to visit, it wasn’t until now that I returned to my former house. My family has owned it all this time and was renting it out before we recently decided to put it on the market to sell. This left a pretty small window of time during which I would be able to get reacquainted with the house, and it just so happened to perfectly coincide with co-op.

Of all the places I have lived, most I have not been able to revisit. And I always seem to be a little too close to my past, which made this experience quite intense as my memory and imagination collided in a place so reminiscent of what it used to be while simultaneously being beneath my feet right now in the present.

I came here, to 12 South Union Street, to create a portfolio of my photographs and videos, as well as to make a new video related to my time growing up here. As you can see, my co-op was very much centered around the concept of place, which prompted me to sign up for Brooke’s class Sound, Sight, and Sentiment: the Phenomenology of Place. 

We started the course with chapter two of Place: A Short Introduction by Tim Cresswell, which I had a fantastic time reading and pondering. One idea that I soon found myself coming to terms with was from page 37: “Places are never finished but always the result of processes and practices.” I came to 12 South Union Street with the fanciful idea that this house was stuck in the past and that I would be able to join it. For my first few weeks here, I was talking to the house a lot. Asking it for a lot—begging, really—for a truth, for a new understanding, for something. But these walls and ceilings are a lot wiser and a lot calmer than I am, and they know a different sort of time than we do. And so, instead of expecting something from the house and constantly asking for it, I just sat with it and moved within it. Since then, there’s been no stress of needing something that was never actually there. Because the house was never stuck in the past, only my past in my head.

Once I was able to free myself from the idea of having to make my time here in this house somehow resemble what it used to be, I could make it into something new: a different place. And I have found this new place incredibly surreal.  This is due to a number of things, including the very temporary nature of my living and settling in here (it was always only a small amount), me being alone for so very much of the time, and having such freedom with how I can structure my day and spend my life here. A beautiful time it has been, but very much in my imagination. And that brings us to the ultimate question: is “place” so in the mind that this same house can be what it is right now and also what it was 8 years ago? Or is it only the tangible aspects of it: these walls and floors and wires all bound together?

This is what I was working my way through with the creation of Vignettes One and Two (see below). Both videos are of me within a very clearly defined, very limited space (the window box, the door, and the radiator). But these spaces are also imagined. That stick, that door, that radiator: I put them there. I thought them up, and I made them into a space I couldn’t get out of. I made those physical objects into a new space, a new place.

It is with that that I come to my conclusion: yes, I am projecting this idea of “place” as more than a tangible and time-constant thing onto 12 South Union Street, but I also couldn’t do it without these walls and floors and wires to help me.

Vignette One:

Vignette Two:

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Charlotte Norman is a current Media Arts major at Antioch College in Ohio, USA. She works in video, photography, sculpture, and uses each medium as much for their process as their final product. Both raising questions and reframing them (for herself as much as you), Charlotte enacts her ideas of body//sex//place//memory with herself as metaphorical, and often physical, subject.

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