Et in Arcadia Ego

by Richard Monahan

Et in Arcadia Ego
Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego Et in Arcadia Ego


Artist's Statement by Richard Monahan

Reading can be a very subjective experience. Each word in a sentence cannot convey precisely the same meaning to each reader, but is distorted sometimes by personal experience. As a reader this means that you might emphasise one aspect of a text to a disproportionate degree of importance, so that it towers over and distorts/subverts meaning. The re-creation of text in this way results in the process of reading being as much a portrait of the reader as it is the author. The missing link in communication, the gap between intention on the part of the writer and reception on the part of the reader, offers nuance to the reading experience, allowing the world created by the author to be fully inhabited and accepted by the reader. It is within this space that I have created this map.

With subjectivity at the heart of an approach to building a map, and before having ever visited the town itself, I knew that the emphasis of the composition would in some way reflect the idea of a town trapped between two bodies of water. When I made the trip to Aberystwyth the experience of water was intensified. The steep beach results in waves that seem to crash almost into the town itself, eating it up fraction by fraction, and it rained fairly constantly. This defiance of or submission to geography, the role of the elements in the book and the situation of Aberystwyth on the edge of a land, all combine to give the reading experience a sense that we look down, God-like, on the action as it is played out. With an air of benign but futile hope, we see that the players in this game are each ultimately and fatalistically wrapped up in their world, wrapped up in a sequence of events that are doomed in the face of the greater turning of the earth and movements of space. The smallness of human endeavour and the underlying existentialist tone that pervades the book, drew me to consider Sospan, the ice-cream seller, as central to understanding the story. His motto, Et in Arcadia Ego, positions Sospan as apart in this first story, and in this sense a friend to the reader. I have placed him looking out to sea.

If the sense of looking down on the story established a schema for the map philosophically, it also provided the structure for the drawing technically. The use of parallel perspective enables a positioning of the viewer over the action, but close to it also. So the town is brought towards us, before a reversion to a more conventional perspective for the background. The use of drawing as a medium was also useful as it displays the history of the process; displays the trying through time that is core to what creativity is. In this sense it was important that the map was a map not only of the story, but of the hand-made making of the map as well. I wanted the map to be demonstrably a map of physically and mentally figuring something out, where flaws are not effaced, and where process vies with illusion. This approach allowed me a freedom of expression to create a map that was not entirely readable in the sense of navigation, the reason for a conventional map. This map constantly revisits its own process and its own sense of being an object. In doing so it is able to create a tension between the book locations and the subjective experience of re-constructing an idea from text, through a process of interpretation, and through to my consequent attempt to re-communicate via marks on a piece of paper.

There is a tragi-comic seam that runs through the whole of Aberystwyth Mon Amour. It dwells upon the idea of the end of the line. The story exists on the edge of a land where isolation has developed a curiously separate place to other places, like a land forgotten or only just discovered. There is a point in an interview between Jon Anderson and Malcolm Pryce, where Malcolm tells of a village near Aberystwyth with a bus into the town, but not one to get people back. This is characteristic of the tone of the novel and of the air of mystery and eccentricity that seems to be an inevitable part of the experience of living in Aberystwyth. During my visit, the story of the escaped Lynx broke in the local paper, and it seemed to me a fitting contemporary monument to the book, an acknowledgement that the town constructed in this series, if very different, is still alive and well.