Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Bench

51°27'54.51" N   0°05'27.49" W

This post has been inspired by a poem written by Rosie Miles. Rosie is studying for a literature MA and the programme includes sharing her writing with visual artists, who are to produce work in response. Rosie sent me a selection of poems, including one called 'Bench (for Kate Etheridge)'.

Kate was a friend of Rosie's who died young from a brain tumour. A group of her friends collected money to have a bench engraved in her honour. The narrator of the poem describes sitting on the bench, tracing the inscription with her fingers, thinking of Kate. The poem brings out the tactile qualities of the bench, still very much there years after Kate's death.

                                              "...As yet you're not
           defaced, and ten years on you're part of what
           lives, grows, belongs here in this place...."

Reading the poem I was very strongly aware of a sense of the solidity and presence of the bench, and the absence of Kate. I often look at the inscriptions on benches in parks and wonder who these people were, people who loved the park so much, and who were loved by those who chose to commemorate them in this way. I found that the bench was in Ruskin Park in South London, not too far from where I live. I thought it would be interesting to visit and document the bench, to sit on it and explore it and the space it was in, to place it in my mind and on the map. I wanted to explore the sense of the solidity of the bench, to see if it was there still, while Kate, whom I never knew, was- where?

So here is the bench made in Kate's memory. The little film clip above was taken stting on the bench, trying to capture a sense of being there, while the stills below document the bench as it was in August 2011.

Scenes of life on the bench - the spider's web

Evidence of other visitors
I have located the bench on Google Earth and have attempted to post these pictures to Google Earth - I didn't realise until I started that it takes up to four weeks for pictures to appear. I will update this post when/if they appear. In the meantime you can find the bench for yourself by plugging in the coordinates at the top and bottom of this post.

So here is the bench, and its surroundings, and the inscription to Kate from her friends. I have explored it, and I have located it fairly precisely on the map. But where is Kate? Who was she? What did she look like? We will probably never know much beyond her name, her lifespan, and that she was much loved. So what does the Bench symbolise, to you or to the people who loved Kate? I suppose this work, like the poem that inspired it, is about love and loss and what remains.

I don't regard this as a finished project but as work in progress. I want to visit the bench again, in winter and in spring, and take some more pictures/film footage. I hope to get a recording of Rosie's voice reading the poem, and ultimately to put the stills, audio and film clips together into a single piece of footage, ideally linked to/from Google Earth. 

I've not tried to make work in response to a poem or piece of writing or music before. I've found it a very interesting and stimulating experience and expect to try it again. I look forward to finishing this project and am grateful to Rosie for sharing her work with me and giving me this opportunity.

51°27'54.51" N   0°05'27.49" W


  1. Hi Eileen,

    It does seem to be a popular response when somebody passes away to have something permanent made or built in their name. Unlike a gravestone, the nice thing with benches are they are often in places where living people like to be, beauty spots, a local park or on a favourite walk. It is lovely her friends chose to do this and also write a poem. I too read the names and wonder about their lives and what happens to them. It sounds a wonderful collaborative project.


  2. Lovely. Especially finishing with the bench co ordinates, that is wonderful.

  3. Visiting at the suggestion of Gilly at Camera Points Both Ways....
    A lovely idea to be inspired by a poem, and a bench, and wonder about the person so dear that friends chose a bench to visit and ponder her with, to give her "a place" in a beautiful spot.
    I would have like to read the poem.
    Gilly suggested I visit this post based on one of my own. A friend's husband recently passed. My completed photos moved me to think and write about her and my interpretation of what her emotions might be. Visit if you like. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and images. I like the one with the spider web best.

  4. As the poet whose poem invited Eileen to undertake this piece of work documenting Kate's commemmorative 'Bench' I'm very moved by this post and the images and film. I had no idea you lived so close to the actual bench, Eileen, and somehow responding to the literal bench has added a whole other dimension I didn't expect at all. Thank you.

  5. A very thoughtful project Eileen which, to me captures the essence of the poem.

  6. Eileen, thought of you when I saw this post here:
    It seems a fabulous collaboration project and I think the deck of cards idea is really nice.