I have a certain rule for myself to stave off sentimental aches and obsessive melancholy. I am prone to these turns all year round, but they become acutely annoying in the winter months. It’s mainly the cold weather. I don’t like cold, the sharp stinging snap of wind, the icy claw-scrapings in between my shoulder-blades. An inescapable chill induces tension, pensiveness, a sort of nervy repose.
Even so, I am usually in good spirits but as I said I am obsessive. I am given towards over-analysis and over-observation, two qualities that induce brooding even in the best of circumstances; they have become akin to birth defects in the never-ending rancid robotrip of 2020.
But like Thoreau, if Thoreau had been an wryly aging townie in thrift-store leather rather than an obstreperous mess of neck hair in a swamp, I take almost inexpressible joy and solace in walking. I doubt he would have approved–he followed woodland streams, I follow rails of rusted iron; he found ecstasy in an ‘impermeable and unfathomable bog’, I find the sublime in concrete overpasses shaking with the roar of big machines. The same internal qualities that make my life difficult in any situation demanding easy-going social interactions–obsessiveness, interiority, a love of the strange and minute–make walking through a city an unparalleled act of religious devotion; I grasp at the numinous through mosaics of cigarette butts and cracked asphalt, I hear holy cantatas in the rush of passing cars and the low lonesome bellows of passing trains. I put on my headphones to wander through the streets at evenfall and the city is cacophonous with the music of discarded things.
If you love to wander, as I do, you will find the blurred notation of this composition on almost every surface of bare concrete in this town: ribald words, vague entreaties, vulgar doodles. One can never step under the same rail-bridge twice. Concrete is implacable but the stories it tells are ever-shifting; they crowd and supersede and comment upon each other, a Krylon collage spooling into eternity. Or at least until the concrete itself crumbles or some excessively weary or earnest city employee orders it all painted over.
Athens is no cinematically gritty urban landscape, though certain parts of Chase Street would like you to think so. The rail-bridge off Pulaski is my favorite place in town, but its chaotic walls, rotting rail ties, and piles of empty Taaka bottles are unlikely to grace the pages of a $200 coffee table book published by Phaidon anytime soon . But I adore the usually sloppy, sometimes surprisingly sophisticated, cheerfully ad-hoc, and often downright ugly terrain of urban art that our streets and deplorably detritus-filled rail bridges have to offer. Industrial spaces are clearly artificial, but these drips and smears of ribald mischief and introspective creation make them so dearly human.
I am biased, of course, I love creative vandalism, the good, the bad, the exquisite and the absurd. A few months ago I walked through the central Texas suburbs where my parents reside and contemplated how a city, even one as idyllic as Athens, doesn’t prepare one for the cleanliness and quietness of the true burbs, their enervating and profound stasis. Serene and sepulchral and nothing out of place, a crepe myrtle in every yard, all the windows in the brick facades are only for show, they don’t actually open.
Like Thoreau I would prefer the swamp to the manicured lawn, a place only suitable for going through. I walked under a bridge and looked around, an isomorphic surface of pale unmarked concrete, without words or color or even a discarded damaged something or other, unbroken and inert. I finally spied a sole scribbled tag on one column, a bit of lonesome écriture in a place so mute. I knew it wouldn’t last long, that this suburban law-breaker’s mild act of defiance would produce no vibrant and rambling back-and-forth–no vignettes of community were going to be erupting on these well-maintained walls.
There’s a spot on the Pulaski rail-bridge that has somehow survived for years despite all the intervening contributions; usually new words and images are quickly subsumed and replaced with new ones, and this is why I like to photograph it all the time. It’s a small missive of gratitude rather than a grandiose urban masterpiece: ‘Thanks for the cans of blue.’ As this brutal and baffling year comes to an end, it’s a sentiment worth remembering, and treasuring–even at its most shambolic and ephemeral, art is about community, and we are blessed to live in a community that cares deeply about art.
I am sentimental, to my very aching center. I wouldn’t want to wander through any other streets, in these strangest of all days.
– Katherine Klimt
Photographs © Katherine Klimt
Categories: Kat of Typographies