Mike Pearson is a Welsh theatre artist. Bubbling Tom was a project for which he returned to the village he grew up in, in rural Wales, and walked around it with family, old friends, and people he had known as a child. He reenacted and told stories of memories and events which took place when he was between the ages of 6 and 7. Of the project, he said: ‘This is the square mile of childhood, the intimate landscape of our earliest years, that terrain we know in close-up, in detail, in a detail we will never know anywhere again.’1

This intimate knowledge of a place is a common and too often unexamined feature of our early lives. Childhood often allows space for boredom and time is unstructured, so the proportions of importance are different there. A small patch of ground, one tree, one railing or another feature completely insignificant to the adult eye, can take on central significance in the geography of a child as the meeting point, the fulcrum of an imaginary game, or the site of a legend among local children. It’s not even necessary to live in a place for a long time, as Pearson did, to have this experience. It’s more of a feature of the time of life. This ‘intimate landscape’ can be somewhere we lived for just a year, or a few months. When recalled in adulthood, it has a mystical feeling, of another lifetime.

In September 2011 I moved from a market town in Hampshire, going 430 miles up the M40 to Glasgow, to enrol at the Glasgow School of Art. Six months later Glasgow’s biennial began - Glasgow International - and I wandered around my new home with a pink A3 map, dutifully ticking off venues and figuring out for the first time where art actually was, besides in books.

Trongate 103 was a complex on Argyle Street (one of the less salubrious of Glasgow’s many high streets, but rich in history, and a place I spent more and more time over the my 7 years in the city), home to ten or so cultural organisations, with the legendary Transmission right next door. Next to Transmission, part of the complex, was Street Level Photoworks. I wandered in one April day, map in hand, and saw Growing up in the New Age, a photography series by Marjolaine Ryley. It’s stuck with me - small square photographs of fragments of interiors which don’t necessarily explain each other but do suggest lives lived. Ryley’s photographs do exactly what Pearson’s Bubbling Tom did - they mark out the square mile of childhood.
1. Mike Pearson, ‘Bubbling Tom’, in Documents of Contemporary Art: The Rural, ed. by MyVillages (Massachusetts: The MIT Press and Whitechapel Gallery, 2019) p116.