I went to the car park because I wished to live deliberately

“By the end of January,” The Scotsman writes, “it’s essential to be back in Edinburgh… where Nicholas Bone’s intriguing performance company Magnetic North stages a version of Henry Thoreau’s Walden, one of the most famous essays ever written on the idea of self-sufficiency and human harmony with nature.” The set has been designed by Sans Façon.

[Image: Photograph ©Richard Barnes. More info at Magnetic North].

What blows me away, though, is the suggestion, in the image, above, that one could build a kind of personal retreat in the middle of an underground car park.
You’re fed up. You want to be alone, to spend some time getting to know your own inner tendencies, how you react to things free from the influence of others, what you think about when you’re not at work or out drinking with friends or consumed with constricting deadlines; you want to sit alone in the emptiness, surrounded by nothing, implanting yourself there in the void, all deliberate solitude and meditation.
But you don’t go to the woods.
You don’t go out to some canyon somewhere. Forget nature.
You build a cabin in an underground car park and you eat canned spinach.
You’re the only one there. Sleeping at night is almost literally sublime: the whole place roars with unseen machines, ventilation flues droning at all hours. It’s like living inside a resonator, a whorling microclimate inside the earth, cavernous.
No one knows you’re down there.
No one’s ever parked this far underground.
Like the grain of sand that becomes a pearl, you know you’ll someday re-emerge, psychologically transformed by that encounter with stale air and concrete.
In Walden, Thoreau famously wrote:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

But what Thoreau didn’t have was a good underground car park – that modern solitude of slanted floors and cold air.
Car parks will be the catalysts for our future evolution.

16 thoughts on “I went to the car park because I wished to live deliberately”

  1. The image immediately reminded me of photos that I have seen of the cabin the Unabomber owned in the Northwest.

    When he went to trial they put the cabin on a truck and shipped it to where the trial took place- the cabin was installed in a warhouse or carpark, just like in the photo.

  2. That is the Unabomber’s cabin. It’s a photo of it that Richard Barnes took. It’s sitting in storage, in Sacramento, held by FBI as evidence during his trial.

  3. yes – interesting to use this image – I wonder if the adaptation will be as good as the photo by Barnes ?

    It appears that the posting author was not aware of what the image really was of – too bad.

  4. Damn i can’t find the news article. But after the dot-com bust and before the housing madness in the bay area. A man paid for a monthly parking spot in san francisco, he then placed a plastic shed in that spot and had his belongings there. The guy was not homeless but a decent hard working guy who just couldn’t afford the rent. He would go to the laundromat a few buildings down to clean his clothing and i think he went to the YMCA for showers.
    Needless to say after a few weeks goes by and hes evicted since the lot isn’t zoned for housing.

  5. let’s not forget thoreau was talking about self sufficency while at walden, yet not actually living it. he was sponsored. just like these modern artists are. it’s an academic exercise vs anything close to reality. any farmer’s blog would be many steps closer to that goal.

  6. Your students must be thrilled…! Have they all dropped out yet?

    Seriously, though, the course sounds fun – thanks for including me. Let me know how it goes! Tell them to leave lots of comments…

  7. Thanks for this education and sharing … never ceases to amaze e what is unearthed

    Some related works that may interest you by antipodean artists in the Helen Lempriere National sculpture award from 2001

    Claire Healy – Formica Tower

    The cul-de-sac of dreams is a utopian vision custom built to your needs. With a vehicle of domesticity in geo-synchronous orbit, 80 centimetres above sea level, it is an adventure with all the mod cons of home.




  8. 1) I was just talking to a professor at U of W in Seattle about this. They’ve had problems with people living in the massive parking garage beneath their university. They now police more tightly. They really don’t want people living down their. Parking is just too precious.

    2) Having lived near Walden Pond and frequented it I should point out that Thoreau’s cabin was not far from the railroad labor camp and a clay works. In the winter, the lake was an ice works, with ice exported as far as London. A more modern analog might be building a cabin in one of those light industrial districts. If nothing else, you will live deliberately.

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