Reading to the empty space; a story about home and belonging, 3rd iteration – proposition for a living archive
Cross Arts + Books: Future Feminist Archive exhibition, 2015
Reading to the empty space; 1st iteration: This work began with a reading to the empty space from Alexandria – El Iskandariya, a story about the search for home and the nature of belonging. This was done with the knowledge that those who would hear this reading would be some distance away, in another city, another country, or another time. Fragments from the story were read at particular points in the space. This was done as a first gesture, a way ofbreaking the anonymity of the space. Each place was then marked with a white square which signalled the site for a work to be installed. (Articulate Project Space 2012)
2nd iteration was a video and accompanying documentation of the performance which was sent to Lodz where the video of the readings was played and heard by and audience for the first time. (Lodz, Poland 2013)
3rd iteration (2015) is an archive in which photographs of the performance are exhibited in Future Feminist Archives show but small interventions in the form of collages have been added to the photographs in order to give another order of information about the feeling or association that the space contained during the readings.
The proposition here is that an archive can contain not only reference material that was not included in the original work but also an added element. In this case collaged photos infer something that was not physically present in the performance but suggest instead the psychological and emotional feeling in the space at the time. The archive becomes then, not a static revisiting of the past but, an open invitation for renewal.
At regular intervals the photograph on the top shelf will be replaced with another from the pile below.
Acknowledgements: Peter De Lorenzo, Sue Callanan, Articulate Project Space, Laine Hogarty, Private Bill White and my family, the Zacaropoulos family.
History of the work:
This work began with something I saw and shocked me, in Paris, in the autumn of 1989.
… a woman lies on a stone step in the shadows of an arched doorway. Everything that surrounds her is stone. She is wrapped in a blanket with an orange and a baguette at her feet. It is a scene in greys and browns except for the piece of fruit which is bright yellow. The woman does not move yet her body rests in a state more of repose than of death. The whole thing has the appearance of an altar.
It was an image that haunted me and produced several bodies of work. I came to understand that it was not only the individual woman who was at risk but also her feminine voice that was ‘unhoused’. At the same time I came across a Sumerian poem of 4,000BC which echoed the same feelings. My own family’s story is one of continual migration and in an age where large numbers of people are fleeing their countries of origin the question of home, on more than one level seems to be a fundamental question.
Me the woman he has filled with
Has filled me the queen of heaven with
Tell me where is the city in which I may live.
I, who am your daughter, the hierodule, who as
your bridesmaid –
Tell me, where is my house.
The bird has its nesting place, but I – my young
The fish lies in calm waters, but I – my resting
place exists not.
The dog kneels at the threshold, but I, I have no
There is an ambiguity in the nature of language. Between the written and the spoken word lies a space and it is in this space that a specific meaning is created by an individual. But a single voice belongs not only to an individual; a community or a nation may also speak as one. It was with the issues facing us in this moment, socially and globally, that the words were chosen for this work.
Window Alexandria; perspex, 2012
Here four window slats are covered in perspex which forms a central square within the overall frame. Each section bears the name ‘Alexandria’ cut out of it, so that it is the light which allows the name to be read. As the light changes so too does the colour, tone and clarity of the writing, until at night it is no longer visible. The negative then becomes positive when the light shines. The name, Alexandria, is written in four different languages, Greek, English, Persian and phonetic English. The idea here is that a place may exist in different forms. If there is more than one way of writing/saying it, there is more than one way of seeing/finding it. The appearance of the name varies, depending upon the time of the day, thus it also references different points of view.
University of Canberra Library: PhD pp 239-359 (large file)
The search begins in the classical skies
Both of the artworks, Constellations and The garden take the form of small painted pieces of paper pinned to the wall. The pins, without which the image collapses, are important because they represent not only the ephemeral nature of what is there but also the feeling that this is not the only possible solution and so the solution is also a question. The question is one of the possibility of coherence as well as what has been left out. The structure or plan within which the fragments sit is mapped out with black thread. In the black and white piece the thread is removed after the fragments are in place. The structure, which resembles a simple cross section of a house, is then implied.
the search continues in a garden of texts
The yellow piece, The Garden, uses the same shape but inverts it. Here the thread remains. The shapes for these plans are derived from the Egyptian symbols which name the twenty one regions through which the Egyptian boat of the dead has to pass on its way to “heaven’. The words ‘where is my house’ and ‘ tell me where’ come from a Sumerian poem 5,000 B.C. dealing with exile and belonging. In the yellow piece titled, ‘The garden’ the search travels through metaphorical notions of the garden. So I began with the idea of a garden in the desert, a walled garden, where a section of the house protects and separates an internal space from an external infinite space. Here the garden mediates, negotiates. It becomes a second permeable skin through which we breathe in the outside, infinity in small amounts. The first garden, Eden, is also the beginning of desire and exile. The name which appears in the top left hand corner of the work heralds not so much a place as a moment in time.
Texts in ‘The Garden’: The work begins with a quote from Michael Ondaatje’s: The English Patient, (a text whose primary themes question the nature of desire and redemption). ‘ … the desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones …’. The quote becomes an image, it becomes the ground of the work — a pale yellow ochre wash on a white wall.
The words in printed Courier typeface are all first person quotes. ‘tell me where‘, is a continuation of the Sumerian poem in which Innana searches for home. In this piece home is framed not in terms of physical location but in the texts of others. Home is only ever a transitory thing, something that happens when we cross the paths of those who have journeyed the same way.
The words in hand painted Gouache are third person quotes: ‘the book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,’ Kafka’s statement, is also a question: is this the problem, our common indifference, a kind of original sin? And is the book as axe, the answer, the agent of connection, a way through to redemption. In The Garden the text is both image and voice. ‘ please water the peonies,’ can be seen not only as first person voice but it can also be seen as a path through the desert.
The installation begins with a reading to the empty space from El Iskandariya — Alexandria, a story about the search for home and the nature of belonging. This is done with the knowledge that those who will hear this reading will be some distance away, in another city, another country (the work was made in the knowledge that a video and other material would be sent to the Documentation Festival in Lodz). It then becomes a kind of displaced reading – so the emptiness of the space isn’t emptiness, it contains a voice that seeks to connect to the space around it and there is a listener, but the listener is distanced just as we are when we leave home or are dispersed, then the voices that we carry within us seem themselves far away. Fragments from the novel are read at particular points in the space. This is the first gesture, a way of breaking the anonymity of the place, which has its own character and feeling. And so a relationship begins.
Each place where a reading occurs is then marked with a white square, which in turn signals the site for a work to be installed. In this way the act of reading gives the writing physicality as well as providing a structure for installing the works which now have a specific location. This installation seeks to extend the concept of mapping from the two-dimensional wall to three-dimensional space – the space through which we walk and in which we exist
In this instance the architecture provides a starting point for installing the first work, which is a ‘window’ comprised of a sheet of paper with a rectangle cut out of its centre, and placed in the archway a little beyond the stairs, where there might previously have been a wall. A second paper window is situated some feet away. It renders the space in between tangible and creates a double frame in both directions. During the day the light shifts across the adjacent wall whose emptiness glows white contributing to the feeling of a volume, a cubed space with its own presence rather than a simple passageway. The window in the archway is made of paper rather than wood or some other construction material. This makes it closer to a kind of thinking process, drawing in space, and drawing for me is very like writing; not only is writing a line that takes up different shapes that become words but drawing is also something which articulates and connects points in space and points on a surface, very much the way ones seeks to move from one place to another or from one thought to another.
The image of a window, internally lit at night, projected onto the wall. A wooden shelf replaces the window’s real ledge and supports a candle. The image only exists while the switch is on and the candle is lit. The work juxtaposes the real and the imagined. It is an oneiric image, Bachelard’s daydream. It is an image which seeks to engender memories of home specific to the viewer. Ephemeral and transitory, composed of light, it is about a moment, about seeing.
My interest in language lies in its potential for resonance. Words are not only objects of thought but they also exist in the physical world-they are heard,seen and felt.The way a word looks affects our interpretation similarly when placed within a physical space words lend to their surroundings a particular tone. There is an ambiguity in the nature of language. Between the written and the spoken word lies a space and it is in this space that a specific meaning is created by an individual. But a single voice belongs not only to an individual; a community or a nation may also speak as one. It was with the issues facing us in this moment, socially and globally, that the words were chosen for this work.