Sometimes when I see an empty space, I like to imagine what would happen if it was filled with concrete, like a Rachael Whiteread sculpture, what shape would the concrete be when it dries and gets extracted? I’m not sure I’m likely to find out too soon, I’m told mixing concrete is back breaking work, and there’s only so many back alleys and window frames you can fill in before someone gets miffed. I find empty spaces poetic though, and I’ve never quite figured out why. Perhaps they’re spaces of possibility, already pregnant with potential to be used, filled with noise or silence, warmth, cold, sanctuary.
Honor Ash’s zine OUT/WITH avidly documents empty spaces and liminal non-places encountered in Norwich, London, Berlin, and Dallas, and it makes me feel some kind of way. Whittled down from 300 images saved from Honor’s Instagram over 6 years, curated into this publication to represent what they describe as “That Vibe” (capitalization their own). The first image and the zine’s cover depicts what may or may not be a shop sign, its letters chaotically spray-painted over. The sign is centered in the photo, even as it can now only communicate its own illegibility through its obfuscated language. All that remains is a lack, a “should” that is unfulfilled. Yet this is the point of interest, unreadable disused signage, a piece of urban decay in passing, a small moment which bears an absurd self-contradiction. Each of the zine’s following 35 pages carries the same befitting stark format, a single photograph framing a poetic moment of hauntological emptiness in urbania. With no people in all but one of the images, there is no sense of time being frozen, nor of any time at all: perhaps the bus window has always been fogged up; perhaps there have always been rose petals on the floor of the tube. The result for me is a pervading feeling of serenity and solitude throughout.
The photos are arranged non-chronologically, matching visual correspondences between image pairings across each spread. Sometimes obvious (a faceless billboard with its rows of light tubes and electrical innards exposed and dead, set against a sunset-depicting Mercedes-Benz Arena screen dominating a cityscape in midnight darkness), sometimes more intuitive (an elevated train station walkway and a large stack of newspapers both sharing a right-angled corner and a sense of holding aloft). It’s tempting to read the pictures as couplets, the zine a pamphlet of poetry. The only text is captured in public signage as incidental subjects within the photographs (themselves examples of unintentional non-internet alt lit: TO THE SHOPS; FALLING FROM OR THROUGH THIS ROOF COULD RESULT IN FATA), but the visual couplets convey a spatial poetry manifesting amidst the built environment. It’s also tempting to read a narrative into the zine, as if this project is the culmination of a 6 year dérive. More likely, these photographs document spontaneous moments of deviation in between passages of commuting and socialising, asides to unseen and unrelated wider narratives.
This work reminds me of several artists whose Instagram feeds depict urban emptiness and absent human leftovers in a similar way, like Matt Calderwood (@mattcalderworld), or Luke Hart (@sculptureinpublic) who photographs things in public that look like sculpture but aren’t. I also think of Anu Vahtra, whose exhibition Completion Through Removal quotes one of Gordon Matta-Clark’s anarchitecture cards, speaking to the use of emptiness as a tool for shaping space and one’s perception of it, for recognizing situations as poetic. I think that OUT/WITH captures “naturally-occurring” instances of this in the urban environment, and in doing so presents a psychogeographical response to the Anthropocene world and the problems it raises, its empty spaces left by unfulfilled futures.
Honor has a joyously varied practice, to which OUT/WITH is a deeply satisfying and alluring addition. The found poetic signage alone continues an established pattern of decontextualizing words, and sometimes removing letters from language entirely to recombine them into words which carry no prescribed meaning, creating new understanding of the function and affects of language. Such manifestations include a maze of hyperlinks, poems, and images (a hyper-poem?) which can be found on their website, and a sentence of invented words live-tattooed down the length of their spine. They have performed live interactive spoken-word pieces and poetry, and sometimes they perform dance interpretations of Richard Nixon’s resignation speech as 114-Volt.
OUT/WITH is available to read as an e-publication here, and is also accessible on their website alongside more of their work at hnr.fyi. Their Instagram is @out___with.