In every city there is something which is the quintessence of the humdrum. Something so well-known that never registers. Something so familiar that can neither scare, nor reassure us, merely passing noiselessly right in front of us but not succeeding in getting even a casual glimpse from us.
Most probably it is something which we see every day: a balcony across the street, the exact same pothole on the road, a neighbour’s TV aerial, rows of parked cars, the white lines of the zebra crossing, a cab mirror, blinds in a window, the bedroom curtains. If these were our belongings then their presence would be comforting, but since they are not, our gaze does not rest on them. It passes them quickly by, or rather pretends to. Just like everything else which seems to be completely uninteresting, so with these fleeting glimpses of our everyday world: they carry an imperceptible anxiety. So imperceptible that it escapes, hidden in the folds of an oft-seen curtain, in the reflections cast by the light onto the cars around us, or into the darkening garishness of a distant everyday view seen every day from the same old window. It is a minor anxiety, seemingly humble: it does not seem likely that any great drama is waiting to unfold in the quietness of a familiar side street, or in the indifferent traffic of the busy high street we cross hurriedly every day.
And yet, the material springboard for our most frequent day dreams is this collection of seemingly indifferent images. At those moments when time is lost, and space and our body become one, the routine and everyday sensations that the city can offer us gain in strength and can then liaise between us and little unexpected revelations, or they can bring a mild awaiting in play, or carry forgotten odours and sounds.
The city, our city, maybe every single city, is the setting of a harsh everyday life. Our gaze is compelled to attempt its taming. We are compelled to become familiar with it. It is constantly demanded of us that we banish what is threatening, unexpected and unknown from what we expect to come to pass. The future must first become a repetition: we know how to recognise what will take place, we know how to put it in perspective by comparing it with what has already happened.
And yet the matter for our daydreaming can be shaped by all these things, which are so well-known as to be indifferent, so well-known as to give the slip even to the continuous anxiety of recognition and appropriation. The matter for our daydreaming is not imported from far away places, it is not astonishingly beautiful, or radiant, or multi-coloured. It is the humdrum colour grey which our waking and our sleeping dreams expose to us, unexpectedly different. A bright grey, a grey with some small, warm brushstrokes of green, yellow and brown. A grey in whose opaqueness are reflected little warm moments of the Other, of the Could Be, of the Once Upon a Time.
Perhaps there is some sort of resemblance between the grey mass of a motor car and plasticine, which we used to squeeze all the time when we were kids. After all, our plasticine was grey more often than not. Entranced, we would combine all the different colours, hoping that some new and unpredictable one would arise. A futile task. Our gluttony would almost always turn our lust for colour into grey. But still, that boring little ball, grey yet malleable, could go on to become the stuff of which our handmade dreams were made of, the material of our imaginative and temporary constructions.
Can this everyday grey become the wondrous raw material of our little daydreams, like the plasticine of our childhood? Perhaps the city surrounding us does not so much neutralize our attention, but rather it stimulates it surreptitiously, as it conceals our seemingly humble doubts in the pliable material of everyday life. Perhaps this grey material, indifferent yet ever present, becomes malleable because our doubts are always open to stimulation. This is not the sort of material that lends itself to sweeping commentary; common or garden daydreaming is as fleeting and humble as creations in grey plasticine. But it is daydreaming that gives shape to the ability of our gaze to look at things afresh. In this way, our gaze is taught that nothing remains forever in its place, that nothing is known beforehand and that nothing is a repetition of itself.
Maybe great dreams are born in a similar way. Quite unlike fireworks, which merely reveal other, probable worlds in the middle of the night, but more like a pale streetlight which illuminates the street and shows it to be something entirely different. One only has to redraw the shade, or redraw the faces, or redraw the vague outlines of things, or even merely redraw the balcony on the other side of the street... a painter of grey who can knead all the colours that grey contains within itself.