Introduction

Yes, it was a good year they agreed, as they prepared their separate ways. A very good year, as far as one could tell.

Cruising at 35,000 feet, smooth and quiet, save for the barely audible drone of power. Eyes closed, the mind falling abstract. Neither of us had ever been to some of these places - Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel. He had been taken to see the Canadian ballet in Niagara Falls, but that didn't really count. Put figures on it and the world seems manageable. The circumference of the earth is approximately 24,900 miles. The distance from Lima to Bucharest is 7,445 miles. (The total carbon emission resulting from a flight between these two cities is 2,789 lbs CO2.) Karachi is 3 hours ahead of Minsk. The population of Mexico City is 8,836,045, compared to Gothenburg’s 494,806. But Paris (2,142,800) was bigger in his private mental world than Shanghai (18,880,000). Please don’t ask anyone to choose between information and imagination.

On arrival much was achingly familiar. Cameras had prepared the ground in advance. The language, the currency, the weather and the food: thankfully, these were all pleasingly different and reassuringly difficult in their own ways. Qualities and quantities were equally demanding of new responses. What was expensive at home was relatively cheap here, or vice versa. Different rules of social etiquette and politeness also had to be negotiated. Too many pleases, or too few. The humbling status of “tourist” had to be accepted. And underscoring it all was the fact that the eyes were being asked to do something new. Seeing, knowing and understanding had to be recomposed.

Euclid’s nightmare: surrounded by centres, is it possible to remain at the centre? All these faces, all these voices, all these statements and opinions, explanations and interpretations: where is the sense in it all? The sense, let us freely admit, is still on its way, may never arrive. That’s the beauty of it all. If we already knew, there would be nothing to learn.

Yes, it was a good year, they agreed: a very good year. For the sake of friendship perhaps they silently consented to look upon it as if it were a tangible and monolithic thing, measurable and quantifiable, some thing to be communally inspected, a thing with a verifiable beginning and end. But inside each of them it was a different story: it was a vague and shifting apparition, a complicated and ambiguous feeling - and it might not be over for some time yet. It might be hard to represent, almost impossible to fully comprehend.

John Calcutt
Acting Programme Leader