How do we locate ourselves in the built environment? In her book The Lonely City, Olivia Laing identifies the paradox of urban living, in which the saturation of strangers gives loneliness a ‘particular’ flavour and with it enables a particular sight: ‘Cities can be lonely places, and in admitting this we see that loneliness doesn’t necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability, for one reason or another, to find as much intimacy as is desired’ (2016). The subjects of Laing’s study include Andy Warhol and David Wojnarowicz for the reasons of their art but their sexuality too; cities enable intimacy through a liberating density but in the same breath dissuade it, through the reality of density — isolating apartment life.
To investigate this paradox, I photographed cats, a symbol of permanent, urban aloneness, from my first-storey windows in an Australian suburb. I aimed to locate myself in space through fixing moving objects — the photographic method being one tried and tested way to pin objects in space and time — and have organised the objects (cats) into an essay that describes the space’s boundary, moving from one window, around the space and back. In photographing cats, also a symbol of queer boundary-crossing, I aim to show how each element of living alone in a built environment contains its own paradox: the cats are used to describe a boundary, rather than crossing one; the photographer observes the cats from a limited vantage, but also shapes material to define perspective (e.g. the artificial choice to exclude dogs or people, which of course I also see from my windows). According to Laing, artefacts that emerge from the lonely city include ‘things forged in loneliness, but also things that function to redeem it.’
Laing, O 2016 The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, London: Canongate