M other Tongue

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Memory fragment from ‘walking a word’ 

English text:

I hear my mother’s voice as I write the names of the streets on the long white wall, not repeating the names, because she never went to Paris that place in her heart where everything was perfect, but singing softly. It is a call, something like the call to prayer I heard that day in Luxor at twelve noon as I opened the head-sized window for air and what the air brought with it was an impossible familiarity for I had been in Egypt barely a week and yet I felt that I had known that call all my life. It was a sound I could only have heard in the womb where they say some sounds are amplified through the watery fluid. The body calls mother to child, child to mother. So it is that pull I feel now in writing and hearing the French names that she would never have spoken. I wonder too about the dead among whom she walks. Perhaps it is something in the tone of those the city calls its own, some given a plaque bearing their achievements. Again, as I scrawl the instructions for walking the word Où I note that my writing becomes smaller and my attempts to control the wayward slants remind me of her, of that C19th. calligraphic script taught to all convent girls as if the regular and disciplined rhythm of the strokes was intended to keep the beat of their hearts and minds in check. The O’s were the shape of their days and nights; g,j,p,q,y,z were letters that dipped briefly below the horizon line only to return swiftly. while d,f,k,h and l, slanted forward returning swiftly to a steady meridian leaving the search for freedom elsewhere. I wonder now, if this search for home is also not a search for freedom, the freedom not to belong in any one place. Is that the restlessness of my generation–the children of those who left their homeland for a better world and were content with their sacrifice. But it is we their children who watched them suffer the perilous journey to another life, we who saw some grow and prosper in the soil of a new land while others, though living, died for lack of sustenance.

French Text:

J’entends la voix de ma mère en écrivant les noms des rues sur le long mur blanc. Elle ne répète pas les noms, parce qu’elle n’est jamais allée à Paris – ce lieu dans son coeur où tout était parfait – elle chante doucement. C’est un appel, quelque chose comme l’appel à la prière que j’ai entendu à Luxor ce jour-là à midi en ouvrant la fenêtre de la taille d’une tête pour avoir de l’air et ce que l’air apporta avec lui était une impossible familiarité car j’étais en Egypte depuis à peine une semaine et pourtant je sentais que j’avais connu cet appel toute ma vie. C’était un son que je ne pouvais avoir entendu qu’avant de naître. On dit que certains sons sont amplifiés à travers le liquide aqueux.Le corps appelle: la mère à l’enfant, l’enfant à la mère.C’est ce que je ressens maintenant quand j’écris et j’entends les noms qu’elle n’auraient jamais prononcés. Je songe aussi aux morts parmi lesquels elle marche. C’est peut-être quelque chose dans le genre de ceux que la ville appelle les siens, certains avec une plaque portant leurs exploits.De nouveau, en griffonnant les instructions pour marcher le mot Où, je remarque que mon écriture devient plus petite et mes tentatives pour contrôler les inclinaisons capricieuses me font penser à elle, à sa calligraphie du XIX° siècle enseignée à toutes ces élèves de bonnes soeurs comme si le rythme régulier et discipliné des traits était destiné à freiner les battements de leurs coeurs et de leurs esprits. Les O étaient la forme de leurs jours et de leurs nuits; g,j,p,q,y,z étaient des lettres qui plongeaient brièvement sous la ligne d’horizon juste pour remonter promptement, tandis que d,f,k,h et I, penchés vers l’avant puis revenant promptement à un méridien solide qui laissait la recherche de la liberté quelque part ailleurs. Je me demande maintenant si cette recherche du chez soi n’est pas aussi une recherche de la liberté, la liberté qui n’appartient pas à un seul endroit.Est-ce l’inquiétude de ma génération -les enfants de ceux qui ont quitté leur terre pour un monde meilleur et qui étaient satisfaits de leur sacrifice-.Mais c’est nous, leurs enfants, qui les avons observés subir le voyage périlleux vers une autre vie, nous qui en avons vu certains pousser et prospérer sur le sol de leur nouvelle terre tandis que d’autres, encore en vie, étaient morts faute de subsistance.

 

Walking a word

 

Walking a Word is fundamentally a work of drawing, a performative act made with the whole body expanded into everyday life. It is my body walking/drawing the word où on the shared ground of the 5th arrondissment in Paris. The word où refers to the question – ‘where is home’. Three walks spread over three separate days in the same location repeatedly ask the same question as if there might be different answers to be found. Each of the walks takes a particular shape– o, `, u, ¬¬¬–shapes that together spell the word ‘where’ in French. The city itself offers (and obstructs) more than one possibility for walking these shapes.   In this work the word où is used as a hinge between two modes of being. One a pragmatic reality, the common act of walking in a public space in which we share the ground with others, unknown to us; the other, language, a constructed reality integral to the body, spoken or written on a page.   The first performative act is the act of walking, the second is the act of writing the narrative fragments that grow out of certain moments in the walk, on the wall of the space (another shared ground) during the process of installing.   This project is not unlike a rhizome (a growth mechanism in nature where roots spread horizontally rather than vertically and new shoots arise from nodes formed along the way. The characteristic of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entry points.) The act of walking the question ‘où’ is full of points of intersection, visceral experiences triggered sometimes by totally incidental events. These might be seen as nodes relating to a web of lived moments past and present, all of which exist on one plane and which in this instance give rise to small strands of writing. Past, present, fictional and ‘real’ events are placed here side by side. (Some of the written fragments presented are from a fictional text, also set in the 5th arrondissment of Paris, which takes its roots from ‘real’ situations (WW11, Egypt) in which a woman explores her contested origins.)   As a migrant child growing up in Australia, born in Egypt of Greek and Lebanese parentage whose home language was French, (though no one in the family was French), the search for home and the nature of belonging has been an open question in which the answer has not been fixed. Sometimes it is found in the voice/text of others who have come the same way, at other times it resides in competing places, in habits, sometimes in a borrowed language that floats irrespective of place. This is the subject of the present project, the third of three projects on the question of home and belonging. The first, Points of Departure involved the writing of the novel Alexandria-El Iskandariya set in Egypt and Paris and the reading of written fragments to the empty space of Articulate. The second project, Reading to the River, proposed that home could be found in certain voices/texts of others. It involved a number of performative acts in which passages from a French text (The Curved Planks-Y. Bonnefoy ) in which a mythical child crosses the river in search of home, were read to the river Seine (Paris) and Parramatta Road (Sydney). In this last project the question asked is whether ‘home’ can be found more intimately in language, independent of place. Place then functions as a gathering point, a site of multiple entries and departures.   This work also arises from my experience of visiting Paris in which the first day or so always involves a kind of déjà ‘vu’ (in this case ‘heard’) and a surreal feeling of intimacy with total strangers who speak the language that only my family in Australia spoke to me when growing up. The search, now, is more pressing as I begin to lose words in French through the death of aging family members but the emotional need for particular and sometimes forgotten words remains strong.

Photo: P. De Lorenzo

 

Walking a Wordis fundamentally a work of drawing, a performative act made with the whole body expanded into everyday life. It is my body walking/drawing the word on the shared ground of the 5th arrondissment in Paris. The word où refers to the question – ‘where is home’. Three walks spread over three separate days in the same location repeatedly ask the same question as if there might be different answers to be found. Each of the walks takes a particular shape– o, `, u, ­­­–shapes that together spell the word ‘where’ in French. The city itself offers (and obstructs) more than one possibility for walking these shapes.In this work the word is used as a hinge between two modes of being. One a pragmatic reality, the common act of walking in a public space in which we share the ground with others, unknown to us; the other, language, a constructed reality integral to the body, spoken or written on a page. The first performative act is the act of walking, the second is the act of writing the narrative fragments that grow out of certain moments in the walk, on the wall of the space (another shared ground) during the process of installing.

This project is not unlike a rhizome (a growth mechanism in nature where roots spread horizontally rather than vertically and new shoots arise from nodes formed along the way. The characteristic of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entry points.) The act of walking the question ‘où’ is full of points of intersection, visceral experiences triggered sometimes by totally incidental events. These might be seen as nodes relating to a web of lived moments past and present, all of which exist on one plane and which in this instance give rise to small strands of writing. Past, present, fictional and ‘real’ events are placed here side by side. (Some of the written fragments presented are from a fictional text, also set in the 5th arrondissment of Paris, which takes its roots from ‘real’ situations (WW11, Egypt) in which a woman explores her contested origins.)

As a migrant child growing up in Australia, born in Egypt of Greek and Lebanese parentage whose home language was French, (though no one in the family was French), the search for home and the nature of belonging has been an open question in which the answer has not been fixed. Sometimes it is found in the voice/text of others who have come the same way, at other times it resides in competing places, in habits, sometimes in a borrowed language that floats irrespective of place. This is the subject of the present project, the third of three projects on the question of home and belonging. The first, Points of Departure involved the writing of the novel Alexandria-El Iskandariya set in Egypt and Paris and the reading of written fragments to the empty space of Articulate. The second project, Reading to the River, proposed that home could be found in certain voices/texts of others. It involved a number of performative acts in which passages from a French text (The Curved Planks-Y. Bonnefoy ) in which a mythical child crosses the river in search of home, were read to the river Seine (Paris) and Parramatta Road (Sydney). In this last project the question asked is whether ‘home’ can be found more intimately in language, independent of place. Place then functions as a gathering point, a site of multiple entries and departures.

This work also arises from my experience of visiting Paris in which the first day or so always involves a kind of déjà ‘vu’ (in this case ‘heard’) and a surreal feeling of intimacy with total strangers who speak the language that only my family in Australia spoke to me when growing up. The search, now, is more pressing as I begin to lose words in French through the death of aging family members but the emotional need for particular and sometimes forgotten words remains strong.

Photo: C Grech

Photo: C Grech

 

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Four mirrors and written panels alternate directly in line with the eight mirrors  on the opposing wall

 

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The viewer is reflected in the mirrors on both sides of the space, multiplying reflections and echoing the possibility of other oeneric selves.

 

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The alternating written panels are part of the performative work. Each panel takes two hours to write on the wall of the space which is a shared ground just as the walk in the 5th Arrondissment was also a shared ground of another kind. It is intended to continue the notion of activating the space and giving a continuity to the performative act of walking the work ‘ou’, that occured in Paris, as opposed to representing a past action in photographs. Each panel contains fragments that pertain to the question of ‘where’, ‘ou’ is my home. Some are memory fragments that occured in a specific place on the walk (called nodes) and these are indicated on the map of the walk. Some are street instructions for walking the word ‘ou’. Others indicate places in the world where french is still spoken and the last is the poem in french and English by the poet Yves Bonnefoy ‘called the ‘Curved Planks’,’Les Planches Courbes’ in which a small boy seeks out the ferryman in order to cross the mythical river. This poem was the subject of the previous exhibition.

 

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Remembering John Berger

Drawing for John Berger 1926-2017.

‘the dead put our songs into their pocket of silence and then the silence changes, it’s no longer one of distance but of closeness, a shared silence’

The quote is taken from ‘here is where we meet’, a series of short story/biography/political musings by John Berger.

 

'the dead put our songs into their pocket of silence and then the silence changes, it's no longer one of distance but of closeness, a shared silence'

 

 

Some years ago I arrived at the proposition that a real, lived space exits in which home can be found not in a specific geography which has been lost but in the voice of others, in the sound/tonality/texts of those whose whose ‘paths’ have crossed a similar terrain. For me, John Berger, who died earlier this year, was one of those voices. He spoke about power relationships, about dislocation, migration, connection to the earth and to one another bringing together mind and body in a borderless/phenomenological manner.

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Articulate Project Space: December 2017     Photo: Peter Murphy

 

 

 

 

‘between words…’

'i want to glide into the space between words between glances, into the space of a butterfly's wing'

‘ i want to glide into the space between words, between glances into the space of a butterfly’s wing ‘

‘Reading to the river’

 

 

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Seine 2015

 

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Sydney 2016: Installed video of reading to Parramatta Rd.

 

In this work a series of readings constituted two performances. These were documented in the form of stills and moving images. The readings were composed of short fragments, some autobiographical, others not. A memorial poem, a work by the French poet Yves Bonnefoy, and a series of remembrances were read at different times of the day in one place- the river Seine. Another performance, this time on Parramatta rd. repeats the Bonnefoy poem (in English) which searches for the home of art and poetry. The documentation of these performances was used as the basis of an experimental project that aimed to see what happens when different systems of representation are used to explore one work. This project shares the subject of ‘Readings to the empty space’ (Articulate 2012), which was about the nature of home and belonging, but extends it to a meditation on loss, memory and the personal as a fractal of a larger community.

The performance in Paris was a lament for a moment that is gone, for the loss of a homeland that never was and can never be retrieved. The moment of performing is also past but by including it in a real space as part of a current experience the past becomes part of the continuous present.

 

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The intention here is to bring the past performances into the present by splitting the still and moving images. so that they are projected onto ordinary objects and materials that share the space and ground of the viewer, thereby extending the moment of performance and including it in an ongoing conversation with the present.

 

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ALEXANDRIA

 

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The images projected here are old family photographs of Alexandria, Egypt.This installation is a memorial both to Alexandria, a place of dreams, and to the members of a family no longer alive. Though Egypt was home our language was colonial French.   Reflections on the family’s migration to Australia form part of the readings to the river Sein-e (Sein–meaning breast in French). In this instance the French language is ‘home’ as it was the link between Alexandria, Sydney, and an imagined centre- Paris.

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Seine 2015

 

FELT AND WORDS

 

 

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In Memoriam

 

The day is crystal, the sky, an autumn blue– free of obstructions

Is that how it was for you passing from one state to another

Did the air tremble at the gap it had to fill. Was there a moment when you

wondered where you were,

And in that second before, the air touching your lips more and more gently–

where were you,

And a second later when your breathe had ceased–where were you

And in the black night when the boatman dipped his oar into the silent water –where were you

And when the vessel passed through the last gate, was your heart as light as a feather

And when you went in search of Love, did you find her

 

And now, when the counting of days begins,

Where are you, Now?

 

 

 

‘Where’

 This piece titled,  ‘Where’ exists in two parts: the first, shown here is a visual work; the second, a prose poem yet to be exhibited.  Both are a meditation on loss.  The W shaped by four fluorescent lights represents both image and word. It is the first letter of the word where but it is also the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for water. The image of the boat printed on silk, changed and worn by its successive reproductions, represents the Egyptian boat of the dead. (The original   is to be found on the coffin of Kus-tep in the British museum.)For the ancient Egyptians the dead passed through several gates on their journey to the afterlife.  At the last gate the goddess of Justice, Maat, transformed herself into a feather and in order to pass through to the afterlife the heart of the traveller had to be weighed as light as a feather.   This is a memorial work for my Egyptian uncle, Edward Alexander Zacaropoulos.


This piece titled, ‘Where’ exists in two parts: the first, shown here is a visual work; the second, a prose poem yet to be exhibited. Both are a meditation on loss. The W shaped by four fluorescent lights represents both image and word. It is the first letter of the word where but it is also the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for water. The image of the boat printed on silk, changed and worn by its successive reproductions, represents the Egyptian boat of the dead. (The original is to be found on the coffin of Kus-tep in the British museum.)For the ancient Egyptians the dead passed through several gates on their journey to the afterlife. At the last gate the goddess of Justice, Maat, transformed herself into a feather and in order to pass through to the afterlife the heart of the traveller had to be weighed as light as a feather.
This is a memorial work for my Egyptian uncle, Edward Alexander Zacaropoulos.

Adjacent to

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Mixed media 87x190x50cm

Mixed media 87x190x50cm

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

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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.

 

1. Alexandria

1. Alexandria

 

 

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3. Photo with colage of sea

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4. Sitting facing wall

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5.walking out of the kitchen with woman above stairwell

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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

      dismay,

Has filled me the queen of heaven with

        consternation,

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

         are dispersed

The fish lies in calm waters, but I – my resting

        place exists not.

The dog kneels at the threshold, but I, I have no

 

                         Inanna- Sumer,4000BC

“what now”

A single voice

A single voice

A single voice

A single voice

 

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.

 

‘The search for home and the nature of belonging’ – 2002 -2012

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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)

Constellations

The search begins in the classical skies

Constellations (full view)

Constellations (full view)

 

Constellations (installation)

Constellations (installation)

 

Constellations (detail)

Constellations (detail)

 

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.