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Reflections on City

Although I was born in Auckland, my parents shifted north when I was a baby.  My earliest memories thus, are of paddocks and gumboots and a river flowing with earthy water.  It wasn’t until I was 18 that I moved back to Auckland to attend university.  This time the transition took several years to accomplish.

For the first few years in Auckland I went home as often as I could, missing the taste of rainwater, the view from our kitchen window, and the brightness of stars in the blackest of skies.  I well remember the feeling of returning to the city, especially the lump of melancholy that knotted my stomach as we crested a particular hill, from which the view was of buildings laid out as far as my eye could see.

While I relished the opportunity for reinterpretation of self that was possible in the city in a way that it wasn’t back home, this adventure did not come without a price.  Like many people I know, my 20s were an intensely paradoxical existence, where liberation warred with repression; experimentation with fear.  Throughout this, the city was a backdrop of indifference or vitality, depending on my mood.

Over time I adapted and grew to enjoy Auckland.  I developed routines, favourite places, favourite people, but never lost that yearning for quiet, open spaces.  Although Auckland did become a home, I was never totally committed.  Perhaps I never lost that sense of incongruity for a home that wasn’t particularly chosen, and in fact was reluctantly constructed out of an rural-urban push; one fate of growing up in a low socio-economic area.  Maybe it was this need to keep Auckland at arm’s length that kept Colin and I in the suburbs for 15 years.

Brisbane on the other hand, was most definitely chosen and I think this has impacted significantly on my experience.  We’re living in an inner city apartment, admittedly on a quiet street, but with all the excitement of the city just around the corner.  We’ve both been surprised by the sense of community we’ve developed here, with our favourite bar and music venue only a few minutes walk away, and the array of cafes, markets and shops that make up our regular haunts.

We often see the same people at the gym day after day, the same people sipping a beer on a Friday night, and these micro-interactions gradually grow to provide constellations amongst chaos.  Some of this familiarity is aided by sociable types who probably wouldn’t think to call themselves community developers.  The managers at our apartment building are a case in point.  They put out a quarterly newsletter, coordinate a tenant quiz-team at the pub around the corner, organise deliveries of vegetable boxes every Monday, and have installed a 3-hole mini-golf course in the grounds which is the focus of regular Friday drinks.

It’s a bit chicken-and-egg, but I think that connections to people and places grows familiarity which grows home which grows connections to people and places.  Anyway, that’s one way that I’m choosing to interpret these photos, as a picturing of being in and of the city.

Of course, the complicating element is that this home is also ambiguous.  You only have to notice the sparseness of our apartment to sense our reluctance to become rooted.  But the photos say this as well; capturing reflection can also be read as an attempt to integrate self in place, at the same time as the mirror provides only a perspective of that self.  Reflection captures, while simultaneously taking you out of and away: faux-authenticity.

And that thought alone might just be my cue for a tasty gin and tonic, to join me on my rented couch with my laptop growing warm on my legs on a Sunday afternoon – at home, in my home, at least for now.


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  4. Cain, Trudie

    Loving your latest blog – sits alongside some of the thinking that Carina, Chris and I have been doing. But you have done it with such eloquence!

  5. I like the term “community developers”. I guess there should be more of a celebration of these people. The ones that encourage people to go out and enjoy their patch of the world and to enjoy it together.

      • Kerry

        It was a public holiday – Labour Day – so I hardly worked at all. You didn’t answer the question! Kerry

      • The second reading of the photos draws on the psychoanalytic notion of the mirror-stage, when the emerging subject perceives an independent self for the first time reflected in the mirror. However, this image of self is projected from an external source (the mirror) not from some inner core of identity within the subject. In Lacan the mirror stage refers to the entry into language, where language is the signifying system that allows the subject to articulate identity for the first time – but again, language is external, so identity is always marked by a fundamental lack. I was trying to use this idea to produce a more subversive reading of the photos: where in Simmel they were about integrating a sense of self in the city, in psychoanalysis such integration is impossible, so the photos of reflections are more likely to be an ironic picturing of lack and trauma, in this case the fruitless attempt to seek meaning and self-assurance in a new (or indeed any) environment. Which do you prefer?

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