Grass in an expanding field: sensing the unmapped in Concrete Island

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    Ballard’s complex evocation of the spaces of Concrete Island (1974) belies the simplicity of the structures that surround them. Before the construction of the Westway in the late 1960s the huge motorway intersection was shown as a smooth plastic ribbon laid atop the grittiness of run down and densely occupied 19th century housing of North Kensington. The spaces between were not considered. But Concrete Island celebrates this disappearing domain by tracing out fragments of its history, drawing an archaeology, but also expanding the ways that architectural spaces may be understood by paying attention to their sensual qualities. This paper examines the ways that the spaces of Concrete Island can be understood in the context of Rosalind Krauss’s concept of the expanded field, and suggests that considering the novel as an example of the expanded field helps us to pay attention to ‘spaces between’. Situated at a very specific moment of change, in the arts and in technological advances, Ballard looks backwards and forwards in time, and questions the stability of time and place. By taking de Certeau’s understanding of the detailed movements of pedestrians in the city as analogous with writing, I seek to develop a way forward to the production of drawn responses that acknowledge this expanding field. My argument focuses on Ballard’s metaphorical use of tactile, material qualities, demonstrating how rapid changes in the environment may be felt through his representation of the grass that thrives in between the giant structures of the Westway and M4 motorways. By reference to historical and contemporary writing on the psychogeographic affects associated with walking through the urban environment, I reveal how Ballard tells the story of a destabilised understanding of place that is, all the same, responsive to human intervention.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)31-47
    Number of pages17
    JournalLiterary Geographies
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2016

    Bibliographical note

    © 2016 Sue Robertson. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License


    • expanded field
    • mobile practices
    • neglected landscapes
    • multi-sensory design


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