Writers invent and evoke worlds of the imagination, but they also play an important role in constructing and defining the identity of the real-life, physical places they write about. The increasingly ubiquitous Iain Sinclair is one of a number of contemporary British authors who have established reputations for their writing about, or inspired by, the physical fabric of London and its history, and he has even been credited with having some responsibility, through his books, for the current rediscovery and commercial redevelopment of large chunks of east London - notably the Spitalfields area. In his talk at a 'secret' location in Spitalfields on Sunday, he described how he translated words into film images in his latest project, a multi-faceted collaboration with visual artist Rachel Lichtenstein.
The books and papers found in a room over the Princelet Street Synagogue in Spitalfields, occupied by one David Rodinsky until his mysterious disappearance in 1969, have provided the source for Lichtenstein's walk, 'Rodinsky's Whitechapel', presented in an artist's guidebook commissioned by Artangel as part of its Inner City series. Sinclair's involvement has been as co-author with Lichtenstein of a book, Rodinsky's Room, published by Granta, which unravels the story of Rodinsky's life, and as author of another publication, Rodinsky's A to Z London: walked over by Iain Sinclair, alternatively titled Dark Lanthorns: David Rodinsky as Psychogeographer. This is a pocket-sized account of Sinclair's experience retracing with a video camera three key walks in different areas of London outlined by Rodinsky in a strangely annotated A to Z found in the room.
On the four Sundays of June, Sinclair's films are being shown at three different secret sites in Spitalfields on the itinerary of Lichtenstein's Whitechapel walk. Following a talk by Sinclair about the films, the walk itself is enacted by up to 50 ticketed participants equipped with maps. The walks Sinclair selected from Rodinsky's A to Z vary in character: two are suburban and dreary, one from South Woodford station to Claybury Hospital, and another around Dagenham, while the third, from Liverpool Street Station to Regent's Park, is full of obvious architectural landmarks and historical content.
Sinclair's idea is that by following the routes traced on the A to Z with his camera he can reveal and communicate a physical embodiment of Rodinsky's personal narratives. He can then use the films as a means of 'carrying Rodinsky's design ... back to the sites he had nominated, so many years ago, in his Whitechapel homeland'. The films are grainy, badly-lit and full of background noise, imbued with a certain portentousness which parallels Sinclair's literary style. Sinclair's own image is ever- present. In the end, the project is not really about Rodinsky at all, but about an abstract process of mythologising place.
Note: tickets for the remaining two Sunday events are sold out.