‘The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognised poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility.’
Michel de Certeau
The history of the city is littered with footpaths – trajectories of good will and intention, they are designed to guide the human body on its route from here to there and facilitate the best way forward. Footpaths regulate the spatial use of the city, they provide us with safe passages to navigate its edges and thoroughfares. They organise our mobility through concepts of the orderly and the placed.
Footpaths are of that special breed of infrastructure so visible that we don’t really see them. This invisibility is a product of the successful civilising power of the city, but David Clegg refuses this code. He asks us see them otherwise – as zones that lead to the elsewhere of experience, to the fragile ground of the lives they carry and the possibilities of time and space beyond the prescribed continuum. In Clegg’s work, the footpath is not just a means of passage, but a point of deviation and departure.
In failurespace, Clegg continues his exploration of the spaces between the known and the unknown. His photographs of footpaths take us to ground level, to the familiar stretches of pavement where we make our way as individuals, but where we also get lost in the crowd. The seemingly random shots of pedestrian space casts light into a transit zone – a localised point within a network of pathways made knowable only by our acts of passing through.
We can see the footpath and hear its activity, but the relation is not continuous. The stillness of the photograph is offset by the noise and clatter of the soundscapes – the hammering bell of the pedestrian lights, the dropped cup, the high heels spiked with intent and direction. Clegg’s juxtaposition of soundscape and photograph asks us to move between the place of the footpath and the unknown – and perhaps unknowable – spaces beyond it, disorienting us from the co-ordinates of sense offered by vision or language.
Transcribing a path between these realms, Clegg makes a nomadic poem from the voices of others. He tunes our ear to the brief intimacy of the subjective utterance amidst the sprawling sound of the city’s consciousness. These variations on the public voice are comforting in their familiarity but the fragmented identities are unsettling. They are as much indices of the absent subject as they are a record of the intermittent nature of our public lives. Like the disembodied footsteps, the voices displace the footpaths of Clegg’s city, marking the spaces where things fail to appear and words are spoken but no-one arrives.
everywhere else but here
The footpaths from Clegg’s first iteration have led to walls, corners and thresholds. Pushed up against the surfaces of the city they make the sense of place harder to reach. Sounds echo and reverberate off the streets in a random set of beats, hums and human noise. In these smaller spaces you can still hear the pedestrian lights telling us it’s safe to walk, but now I’m not so sure. Now, there are people running.
I imagine Clegg tuning the city on a radio dial, picking up human frequencies like stations. Voices come and go as cars and birds do. No-one stops for long. Someone calls out, someone agrees. Everyone is talking to someone else, somewhere else. Everyone is having a conversation.
I think of the people whose voices pass by. I wonder whether they are tuning in now online and find themselves by surprise. I wonder what it would be like to hear your own voice unexpectedly like this. Would you recognise yourself – one amongst many, out there in public? I think of them trying to remember in private – where they were, who they were talking to, why they were there.
There is no sign of them in the photographs now. Before there was a foot or a hint of activity, but now the space of the photograph is abandoned and left behind. This sense of departure makes the gaps in the sound all the more spacious. The silence between each iteration is like a momentary void – a hole in consciousness where experience gets lost.
I am beginning to distrust the photograph. I think it tries to seduce me into a false sense of security. Its quiet presence seals over the gaps in sound, saying ‘it’s ok, everything will fit together, look there is ground beneath your feet.’ The photograph tries to locate sound but sound just wanders off. It wants to restore stillness and silence, make language cohere, sit still, record, narrate – but language is not listening. Language goes off following every nuance, every tune and bird call, everything that sounds like it, but isn’t.
Language has no truck with the photograph.
I have begun to see the photograph as the stoic parent of this wandering schizoid child who constantly displaces it, ruins its attempts to say ‘here we are, there you go, we better get your lollies’. I want to rescue it from its abandoned place but can’t. Clegg’s footpaths walk between this stillness and this trouble, – never reconciling them, always keeping their banter alive, letting meaning run everywhere else but here.
‘there is always something there to remind me’
In recent debates about the archive, much discussion has been directed at the significance of missing information. What is left out of an archive and fails to be represented has become as much a focus of inquiry as what is put in. Concerned with processes by which we come to know and remember our past, artists and writers have charged the spaces and materials left outside of these processes with the power to dismantle or disclose the workings of authority. Although much of this project of ‘countering’ has been about questioning hierarchies and providing alternative routes to history, it has also been about the limits of what is knowable at any given time and what cannot be contained by the archival impulse or gesture.
The more time I spend in failurespace, the more I become aware of this sort of uncontainable material and the pressure Clegg brings to bear on the idea of the archive. As a record of public activity, Clegg’s method is archival but it is always disrupting its own demands and fragmenting any notion of a cohesive or knowable public space. With each iteration another layer of sound and movement is added that challenges the containment line of the archive a little further.
In the third iteration, Clegg has moved away from opaque, hard edges towards the transparency of windows and light. Looking upwards there is a sense of flight and breakable surfaces now blur the boundaries between inside and outside. The windows of towering buildings reflect what is outside but tell nothing of what they contain. The pop song soars over the surrounding noise with its melody but falters and breaks before falling into static. Clegg’s archive is a fragile organism, surviving only by the persistence of its trace elements.
I am beginning to see failurespace as an archive of failed experiences – a collection of moments that have exceeded our capacity to register them as experience or that have failed to register in the present at all. In this sense, it seems to be an archive of what we cannot grasp in the present and is always, already relegated to the past – a testament to the incomplete nature of experience at any given time.
Rather than seeing this as a negative gesture, I see its fractured components as part of an alternative organising principle that harnesses the power of missing information to create new pathways. In this sense it is perhaps a method that is not about creating public art as a fixed space of public information, but rather one that taps into a radical sense of a public in – formation, and this seems key to both its disruptive power and creative potential.
I like the challenge to knowledge and recognition that failurespace fosters and its resistance to the requirements of visibility and accessibility that we associate with public art. The only thing I find troubling is that I cannot visit the city now without hearing the pedestrian bell telling me when to stop and when to go. It is a sound that haunts the terrain of failurespace with its regular beats and demand for conformity – a sound I hadn’t really heard like this before.
letting the noise in
Clegg casts his net wide catching signals in the atmosphere, vibrating intensities and occasional words still cutting through the din. The sound field has expanded again, picking up frequencies beyond the range of the human ear. Consciousness is amplified and returned to us as static. There is high pressure now on the idea of place, a more immediate sense of a boundary being pushed.
It is as though Clegg has opened all the doors of the city, and let the noise from outside in. It’s coming in through the grids and the window frames, through the trees and the locked gates. It’s scratching along the streets, intruding in the space. The noise is at times intense and unstable, but its presence is fragile – an anxious mix of crossed, accidental and mis-aligned connections, interrupting us en route.
In this last iteration, I sense that failurespace is less about those gaps between the known and the unknown, and more about what we do know, or what is available for us to know in the present moment- but which we cannot contain. I had thought of this as the outside or elsewhere of experience, but I now think it is perhaps more about the moment of collapse than the boundary. The unsettled relations between the photographs, sound-bites and words seem to point more to a sense of fallout, the remains of an overburdened present rather than any gesture towards integration or seeking it as a the whole. Certainly the present is vulnerable and we are vulnerable within it, but Clegg wastes no time lamenting the fact – his strategy seems directed at re-distributing what’s left of the present along new material and immaterial pathways and seeing where it goes.
In his use of fragments, and his kind of rough poetics of containment, Clegg’s persistent challenge is to the question of our connectedness and our co-habitation within our city spaces. Are our cities cages or networks? Do our footpaths entrap or connect us? How do we connect to the spaces beyond our grasp, the life that goes on around us but to which we do not belong? These spaces where the noise comes in displace us and question our desire for the city to contain us, protect us, tell us who we are. The static in Clegg’s work seems to be about both the ambiguity of the messages being sent from this space, and an anxiety about us as the site of their reception – there is no assurance here that the message has got through.
In Clegg’s spaces failure is a gesture towards the infinite combination of connections and disconnections in our daily life and the reducibility of none. He does not offer a way out, or any way to recuperate those lost moments, or to solve the inherent anxiety in these positions. Rather he simply records these tensions that inform the contemporary cityscape and asks us to recognise ourselves within it. Failure is a space of vulnerability in Clegg’s work but it is also a gesture towards the indomitable, ‘fearless’ truth of the present – ‘…failure is always in the here and now. Failure is absolute this-worldliness. And this is its chance.’
Eliza Burke, 2011
 de Certeau, Michel (1984) The Practice of Everyday Life Trnsl: Steve Rendall University of California Press: Los Angeles p. 93
 Muller, Hans-Joachim (2010) ‘Failure as a Form of Art’ in Le Feuve, L (ed) Failure Documents in Contemporary Art. MIT Press/The White Chapel Gallery, London. p 200