Notes from reading
Highmore, B (2002) Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction London: Routledge
and on visiting
‘Polytechnic’ at Raven Row, Artillery Lane, London (16th October 2010)


Aesthetics are often assumed to belong to High Culture, but in fact, even their etymology (aisthesthai ‘perceive’ by the senses) betrays their affiliation with the everyday and the business of how the world strikes the body on its sensory surfaces, of that which takes root in the gaze and the guts and all that arises from our most banal, biological insertion into the world[1].

A problem arises when we try to represent the everyday because the kinds of attention that are available are severely out of step with the actuality of the everyday. Many modes of representation are reductive to its heterogeneity: how often is the particularity of the everyday lost as it is transformed in the process of description and interpretation? […] What is lost […] is the very ‘stuff-ness’. The archive is an example of the negotiation required between two extremes: on the one hand an unmanaged accumulation of singularities, and on the other a constrictive order that transforms the wildness of the archive into tamed narratives. Representing the everyday is a battle between representing the microscopic (the everyday) and macroscopic (society, culture etc), although even in using ‘the’ rather than ‘a’ for the everyday, the microscopic begins to become macroscopic, with its own ‘title’. (Although we could see the definite article ‘the’ as a more particular, therefore microscopic, determiner than ‘a’.)
Some modes of representation might be perfect for the everyday, matching its rhizomatic qualities: stream-of-consciousness writing and film might reflect its flux, non-structure and randomness. Collage, montage and surrealism too. 




Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller’s Monument (above, and currently at Raven Row) is a fractured, flowing account of a memorial in Postman’s Park, London, and of the ordinary people it remembers. These people – Sarah Smith, William Donald – gave their lives in acts of heroism: “Drowned in the Lea trying to save a lad from a dangerous entanglement of weed. July 16 1876”. Hiller has photographed and wall mounted forty of the park’s memorial ceramic tiles and installed a park bench before them in the gallery, on which the viewer can sit and listen to her non-linear ruminations on death, identity and heroism.
Cordelia Swann’s non-verbal slide show with music Mysteries of Berlin (Raven Row, and below) also offers a montage of thoughts and unexpected juxtapositions. The images are without text or explanation, and are all taken from magazines, books and films depicting Berlin, rather that on a visit to the city by Swann herself. In this way, a part of the everyday we constantly encounter is represented: the experience of places we have only visited vicariously.  Mysteries of Berlin stimulates confusion, assumptions and the feeling of being allured or frightened. In this, Berlin is a particularly resonant city, a large part of it being ‘off-limits’ and thus only experienced second-hand during the Cold War.  But the work stands for something larger: the experience of building our own mental montage of something wholly or in part foreign. 

Cordelia Swann

Another interesting take on ordinary life is Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip, which forms a historical survey, but in the mode of a montage of photographs and newspaper clippings. In this way Lesy collides two contexts (research survey and montage/collage) much in the way they collide in everyday life.

A mode either selected without consideration of the everyday’s nature, or in deliberate contradiction of it, might also be effective and reflect the everyday’s disregard for appropriateness. (In this case, a strict archive or framed and separated images would be possible.) Ian Breakwell’s Diaries (some of which are at Raven Row) provide an interesting example. While days are separated, clocks constantly referenced, and images duplicated in grid formats (all ‘at odds’ with the rhizomatic nature of the everyday), many of the images are collages that pull in the outside world, in all its mess and particularity, handwriting scrawled on top like prominent thoughts or sounds. In this way, Breakwell’s mode of representing the everyday simultaneously contradicts and reflects it. Given our propensity to map, time and manage life, combining mess and order is perhaps the action most representative of the everyday an artist can make.




Ian Breakwell

Modes that investigate the aural, the olfactory or the haptic of the everyday are also effective, and remind us of the ‘sensory’ (as in all of the senses, without an ocular-centric or verbal bias) inherent in the aesthetics of the everyday.  


[1] Eagleton, T (1990) The Ideology of the Aesthetic Oxford: Blackwell
images: my own photographs of the artists' work