Paul Carter’s new book is a protest against the dumbing down of imaginative thinking. It champions a common reader who resists being patronised, and who is hungry for a deeper understanding of the places we live in – how they came into being, and how, if their creative origins are remembered, they can be changed for the better.
Carter has a long-term interest in the poetic mechanisms of colonialism – mapping, naming, marking – and in this book he presents a critical philosophy of placemaking that recognises the historical burden of our ‘designs’ on the world. He transforms this into a new language of drawing, writing, and choreographing places into being. This, unlike its colonial predecessors, preserves the possibility of meeting, of something un-prescribed happening.
The key to this is what he calls ‘dark writing’: the elemental marks, historical traces, place associations, and other phenomena that shadow our positivist history of placemaking. But to take agency over our places, we must also relocate our thinking, as this will determine where and how we arrive. The place of Carter’s own thinking – situated, poetic, dynamic, opportunistic, and evolving in the laboratory of professional collaboration – complements his notion of ‘material thinking’. This approach respects the intelligence of circumstances and performs in relation to them.
Disregarding the disciplinary stand-offs that endure in our institutions, Dark Writing moves with ease between historical geography, continental phenomenology, major public artworks he has co-designed, a radical reappraisal of the Western Desert Painting Movement, and a survey of ‘dark writing’ in tomb art, photography and handwriting. But Carter’s goal is clear: to free our senses to occupy public space differently, not as passive spectators but as mobile bodies creatively endowing our environment with meaning.
Paul Carter’s many books include the acclaimed The Road to Botany Bay, The Lie of the Land and Repressed Spaces. He is Creative Director of Material Thinking, a placemaking research and design studio, and is currently designing a public space project in Darwin.