Author Archives: Chantal Grech

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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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.

Vinyl, string 286x25cm

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.

 

INSTALLATION

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?

 

 

 

“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.

 

‘a single voice’

A single voice

A single voice

a single voice

a single voice

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.