M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerpen and AIR Antwerpen invited Drop City to be the eleventh guest in the LODGERS programme, occupying the 6th floor of the museum as «Drop City, Antwerp» between 5 August - 15 October 2017. The Studio for Arousing Tools: Assembly I; A Gradual Stiffening; The Kink in the Arc: A Collective Novel; Alpha Adieu were four concurrently running programmes each led by one of Drop City’s founding members. A highly experimental format, presentations, including those from invited peers and collaborators, included changing installations, performances, readings, talks, seminars, workshops and offsite events. The aim was to push the collaborative boundaries of individual practices to the point where they would converge to produce new and unexpected meanings, as well as to critique the established roles and expectations of the museum and non-profit initiative.
During the residency at M HKA, Paul Becker will be compiling and performing a collective novel.
The novel is set within a fictional sanatorium[i].
11th August: Francesco Pedraglio 4-6pm
24th August Luke McCreadie 6-8pm
14th September Anna Barham 6-8pm
6th Floor M_HKA Antwerp
Featuring the work of:
Giles Bailey Anna Barham Paul Becker Kate Briggs Jenny Brownrigg Daniela Cascella Toby Christian Tess Denman-Cleaver Annabel Dover Kathryn Elkin Chris Fite-Wassilak Nadia Hebson Kirsty Hendry Markus Karstieß Fiona Larkin Johannes Maier Sophie Macpherson Alice McCreadie Luke McCreadie Conal McStravick Beatriz Olabarrieta Francesco Pedraglio Tania Perez-Cordova Adam Phillips Chris Power Alan Quireyns Audrey Reynolds Carla Scott-Fullerton Natasha Soobramanien Axelle Stiefel Robin Vanbesien Luke Williams Etc. Etc.
EXTRACT #1 (FRANCESCO)
An artist once described a magical formula for producing artwork: ‘Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.’ It is the third part of the equation that produces the required change, the paradigm shift into territory uncharted that turns craft and labour into the unnameable, the unplaceable, the untraceable. This is also the crucial aspect of any narrative. Not the story arc or anything one might be taught on a bad creative writing course. The third part is the secret formula, the spy behind the wainscoting, the true alchemy. I wish I knew it when I saw it. Mostly, like all of us, I say too much and listen not at all. I would only ever be a private storyteller. By invitation only. My idea of an audience is me and you, or only me. They are not really stories after all, not in any real sense. It is much too Baroque for that. I could never resolve to formulate it in any public sphere because that would entail speaking in a way I would find uninteresting. There would be no momentum and it would descend into meaning. I would need to move towards an ending, a way to exit the maze, but by then it would just be a bore to me. A dull and rusty key simply turning in the lock causing the gate to open as it has always opened a thousand times before. When I speak to you as we are now I feel as though I could be lying on my back and gazing up at the stars, plucking the occasional one down for us both to share the light from. And I feel that we share the same position as every astronomer who organised and named all the constellations and brought down those constellations to form the gods of the first stories. What they were doing of course was tracing an imaginary set of lines around a cluster of stars?and in so doing, they would reveal an image; that image would then reveal an identity and that identity would in turn reveal a system to reorganise their world, and they would find themselves reading the night sky.
Why a sanatorium?
The idea of the sanatorium has nothing whatsoever to do with madness, it was simply a way to allow the stories and the characters, especially the elusive protagonist, to be contained, to breathe freely, to rest literally, to dream actually and this dreaming is important because all the inhabitants of my rest home are suffering from a surfeit of imagery and the problem when put quite simply is that none of the imagery is theirs, their imaginations have atrophied. Now they have to be allowed time and space to re-imagine their own imaginings, to dream, to engage in pointless reverie. This is not to remove them from the real, to establish a fictional hermitage, above or away from the world but to allow them to recoup, regroup, reequip their unconsciousness and this unconsciousness is the place we will try and help them populate afresh with imagery of their choosing.
Where are we now? My notes are becoming a bit random….
EXTRACTS #2 (PAUL)
Real, definitely real I think. Don’t you think? By a great river. Perhaps even an island, in the middle of the Volga or the Mississippi. No, not a river, more like a great lake. A vast lake in the summer time. Picture it. Baikal or Superior. So they are exploring the tunnels, her sister has taken a torch from the kitchen and they had both hurried to the entrance with new excitement. They enter. She feels enervated. Any sound of birdsong quickly dies away or becomes muffled as they descend the rotten steps into the first of the tunnels, climbing carefully over the great piles of rubbish near the door. They have never been so far in, never so deeply into the dark. They had always feared the tunnel up until this moment. She is feeling unsure about what has changed between them and what has suddenly emboldened them, given them the courage to move further in.
What can they see? What is it we can see that they can see?
For the moment, nothing, then the gloom lifts a little, only slightly. They are looking down the length of a corridor that appears to be roughly hewn from the clay and has no end, only a black hole where the lamplight cannot penetrate. The floor is made up of broad slats of birchwood. They move further in. The first rooms have obviously been used for storage. Her sister leads on into the tunnel, the torchlight picking out shadows. The dead silence grows more intense, an entombment, all that can be heard is the soft roar of the blood being pumped from their hearts, through their veins. Each room is clouded with damp and stinks of rotten grain. Rats whose eyes twinkle from every corner pit-a-pat over their shoes, squealing in terror. Slowly they start to see better. The dark shadows of empty grain bins in some rooms, woodpiles in others. In a larger space, a set of shelves filled with pottery and the remains of a kiln. She picks up what looks like a rock from a table but looking much closer she realises it is a tiny figurine, a crudely modelled statuette of a boy and a much taller, protective dog. They have gone too far, perhaps rounded one or two corners because suddenly they both look back at the same moment and can no longer see any light. Let’s go back, she says. Nonsense, says her sister, dragging her further in. She pulls back her arm and the sister drops the torch which goes out and then both of them panic, her sister runs past her fleeing back the way she thinks they came and she runs after the sound of her sister’s steps, knocks her head hard against a supporting beam. The sister reaches the entrance a moment later and shouts her name back into the darkness, hearing nothing, she runs back to the house to fetch another light. As she lies half conscious in the dark, she reaches out and her hand grasps the tiny figurine; she feels the weight of it in her hand, holds its gravity. She imagines that it is growing and growing until she can no longer hold it and eventually the light changes. Something fades and something comes much more into focus, and the figurine is now a large sculpture, meters high, set on a marble base, a transformation, the figurine is transformed into the central feature of a beautiful garden. Now there should be the much louder sound of birdsong. We continue moving, almost floating backwards, always backwards, in a circle, back through the garden and the large sculpture and reversing slowly back in through the French windows of the house into a room containing nothing but a single spotlit photograph of an African mask at the edge of a wall, a fetish of some sort, studded with hundreds of nails. Then for the first time, we turn now and are able to see a chandelier, an ornate one, the kind that might be seen in a Greek Orthodox church. This we are viewing through a set of glass doors we move towards. The doors open miraculously one after another as our eyes float through the space, past and beyond the chandelier and looks up towards a high window filled with stalks of golden foliage: a garden in the afternoon of a late summer. We can see the garden from below but cannot enter as the window is too high up on the wall. We pass out of that space and up some internal steps to look out onto or down into a different space altogether.
EXTRACT #3: (NATASHA & LUKE)
She leaves the room.
She walks through the rooms of the museum. As wonderfully deserted as the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. You remember?
Of course. Not a soul. Do we continue to follow her?
We don’t really get a chance to see her face, only what she sees, a view from behind her head. There is a chill in the museum, a definite draft. She is blessed at that moment with the memory of a child running up to one of the Rothko’s at the Tate Gallery and slapping it’s large flat surface – seeing the calico or whatever it was ripple like a pebble thrown in a pond, as a security guard stepped up to extract the now terrified four year old from the hall. Afterwards, as she made her way home from the Tate, she saw a man, wearing a hi-vis vest, walk through the crowded space with a megaphone, urging people to move out of the way. He was followed by two people who were carrying a sofa. They were also wearing fluorescent vests. Every now and then they stopped to rest, sometimes sitting on the sofa right in front of her. Ladies and Gentleman, the man with the megaphone called, Ladies and Gentleman and whether he was calling for their attention, or still warning them to move out of the way, it was not clear. They marched off along the street and she was left standing for a moment, having watched them pass and somehow she was deeply shaken, as though all that lay between her and raving madness was a very thin layer of cellophane. And she understood the wild abandon of the child in slapping the Rothko. Sometimes she wants to run amok in a display of porcelain with a lump hammer and a megaphone. She descends to street level on a ramp, unnaturally smooth, she finds it nightmarish. She would have preferred any amount of jolts to this…
Do we follow her then?
No, we go in the opposite direction, a camera eye, only loosely related to gravity, wandering through empty exhibition spaces, gradually narrowing to brightly lit corridors of a huge building, its halls and stairways, as we float through double doors, along passageways and further sets of stairs leading down, down to become concrete steps which access the kitchens, the storage facilities, the lowest part of the service elevator, the heating and waste disposal, the ceiling becoming ever lower and more populated by ducts, wiring, conduit and always a little less well lit at every level downwards, fluorescent lights giving way to single bulbs until even they disappear and the eye descends into blackness and then there is a pause as motion is suggested by sound, audible now for the first time: breathing, active breathing, though no person is seen to be present, the sound of steps on damp stone and the breathing becomes a voice.
A man or a woman?
EXTRACT #4 (LUKE M.)
She continued reading:
Later that night, on the cycle home, she had pictured in her mind a series of objects. It was as though she was passing over them slowly, very low to the ground and the angle had given the objects an epic quality, as though they were part of some convulsing, spastic landscape. They were mundane, redundant, insistent, banal: a large, stale poppadum, long thin rollings of clay formed into imaginary spectacles, the image of an apostrophe cut from metal, a lumpen hand, a square of amber coloured resin. A certain dumbness in the face of neglect, rejection, abandonment was enervating. It had bothered her. Arguing against ornament in objects of daily use is one thing but she was quite convinced – as she stole silently into the architect’s beautiful garden – that the daily evolution of objects was synonymous with the absolute removal of language. Language could not be, for her at least, should never be a precondition for the simple existence of objects in space. The architect had strongly argued for the opposite. Without language as a tool to navigate, or negotiate, the architect had argued, the only way we would function would be as eternal spectators, permitted only to stand around and stare in mute and permanent awe at the apparent randomness of objects. This was why she had decided to break in to the garden this way, to do what she had to do; this was what she wanted to decisively prove to her (the architect) after their argument. For anyone else, the architect included, it was a fairly boring and redundant argument. For her it meant everything, risking, as she was now, almost certain arrest and ignominy as she struggled over the wall, watched discreetly by a neighbour’s dog. Halfway up she had begun to worry about the inevitability of snagging her handbag on the top of the architect’s wall: a momentary fear of being caught there, stuck up there forever. She became suddenly heated. If it did become snagged, she fantasised as she climbed, she was almost certain to lose control, to struggle wildly to free herself. In that imagined struggle she would be bound to fall, to fall down there, down into the perfectly ordered garden. The frustrating line of objects popped again into her head at just the wrong moment. She began to think about Dürer’s Rhinoceros because of the architect, she wishes she had brought it to mind at the time but as soften happens, she only thought of it at this useless moment, long after the event. Essentially it is a two dimensional rendering of a three dimensional reality ( potential sculpture, a ready made). But in this case the whole process operates somewhat in reverse, in that objects are usually conceived of as inert until they are fully ratified, vivified by the endorsement of language. The drawing of the rhinoceros comes from a written description and in this case, the object vivifies language, rendering it inert. In the face of the endlessly imaginable beast, language is merely the descriptor of an unwelcome, inadequate reality.
She dropped from the ivy and landed lightly. The grass was well manicured, the earth soft from the earlier rain. Looming up over her, the apple tree was silhouetted against the glow of the city, the ladder leaning against the trunk as always. She reached into her bag for the gluepot and by the light of her phone began to pick out each of the tiny apples. She coated the first one in the glue solution and moved onto the next, giving each enough time for the glue to soften and become tacky. After she had applied the solution to five of the apples, she reached for the paper sheets and her softest brush and, again by phone-light, began to apply the first pieces of the leaf. She continued on for the next few hours. She worked slowly and, of course, as she got more engaged in the process, she began to worry less and less about the fact she was trespassing in the architect’s garden, that the police could turn up at any time, that a light might suddenly turn on to expose her, that an alarm would be tripped or, worst of all: that she would be have to leave the garden with the job half finished. She worked on until the first bird began its song. Her phone warned her she only had 5% power remaining. She checked and rechecked her work for the final time. She stood back to admire it and could not see a single apple that wasn’t fully gilded. The light began to change. Turning back from the wall she saw the sun was picking out the first glints of gold amongst the foliage.
EXTRACT #5 (ALICE)
A man or a woman?
A woman. Everything is dark so all we experience is sound; the voice speaks but it is not as might be expected. It is distant, at several removes above and behind the images, slightly nasal, every word well pronounced, relished. In darkness it says:
“They were thinking about a space that would be somehow woven into the sequence of life, or slightly raised up, embossed or proud of the reality underpinning it. Images would identify themselves by being rehearsed beforehand. A monologue of different parts, calling on obscure texts they had uncovered in their adventures. A narrative would be revealed, quilted together from these texts and their own words, to be delivered in a fervent but conversational way, with only one person as their audience, though they debated at length whom that person would be and whether that even mattered, failing in the end to agree. It would not be long: a passing event, a brief meeting, whispered even with the urgency of something secret. The location would be a tiny table and bench under the slide in the playground at the end of a normal street. They preferred cramped spaces, chairs too small, ceilings too low, secret spaces beneath or between things, miniature meeting places relatively hidden, which formed a link in each of their minds to hermit’s caves, though they always enjoyed the idea of smallness, of having to crouch one’s shoulders to get in and huddle up, a posture fulfilling a sense of urgency; the contrast between the imminent danger in a priest hole and the role play in a children’s den, and in the way that participants have to physically change themselves to adapt to the space. The performance would repeat itself weekly and they would record the monologue and harmonise it musically in the tones of the speech and through the narrative, the constellations of syllables, sounds and punctuation etc. From week to week both the story and its physical and audible density and complexity would become incrementally layered, more sophisticated. The locations in the narratives would change but they would always use the seats beneath the slides in the playground. Could it happen? Would it work? It didn’t matter. At that moment it was enough for it to serve as a way of generating tiny plans and building on them to find something larger, as well as finding what it was they were trying to do, collectively trying to say, or not to say.”
Then what? Darkness follows?
When the voice stops there is just the right amount of continuing darkness, then a light, a candle can be seen, then the back of a man’s head, a young man. In my mind there is something about him, something that makes even the back view of his head seem significant. I imagine watching him stare at a long series of images; paintings, sculptures, drawings, watching the slight tilt of his head. There should be something lovely about the curve of his neck and his ear. How is it possible to suggest that? There would be something exquisite about his hair, his clothes. It is as though everything would unfold in front of him, that he would not have to move…
So what is happening? Where is he? Where are we? You’ve lost me again.
It looks like the ruined interior of what once was a cathedral. He runs the candle along the middle of a wall that is already smoke-blackened and revealed by its light is what appear to be ancient wall paintings, as though we are back in the Minotaur’s cave. A medieval doom; a Day of Judgement; a hellmouth gobbling up souls, fantastical creatures, demons pursuing all the sinners. We move back slowly from looking at the paintings to examine the man’s face for the first time, his reactions; we walk around him as he considers the images, ending up behind the curve of his neck again, the view from his perspective, watching from behind his ear, the focus shifting from the paintings onto his ear, his hair, the nape of his neck where the hair begins to taper up, something about its perfection that is more troubling the longer one looks.
And then we exit?
EXTRACT #6 (FIONA)
What happens now?
The woman said: finally, a photograph of a face. The image of the face is slowly folded at its corners by a pair of hands, they could be your hands…
Long fingers, slightly too long. Yours are a painter’s hands, delicate and precise. Mine and stubby like sausages, and weathered and worn. A sculptor’s hands! The image is folded slowly, very gently back in on itself, from the corners, from the edges, folds are refolded, delicately redoubled, in a similar way to the formation of a complex paper plane. The image itself is of a young woman and her fixed stare remains unobscured throughout. The stare is direct, thoughtful but questioning rather than reflective. The image appears to be folded into itself and is so elegantly, precisely done that the figure feels carefully held in the paper’s folds, protected, warmly enveloped.
The blackbird in the tree outside their window began to sing.
EXTRACT #7 (CHRIS P)
We only see her from behind really. Jeans, trainers, her own shoulder length hair a little unkempt. She wears a soft thin grey jumper. She walks into a darkened space in which three projectors had been stacked one on top of the other and are casting circles of light on a blank wall: red, yellow, blue, white; the patterns change from time to time but she isn’t really paying attention, it is the sound that holds her. A woman’s deadpan voice with clipped speech introduces each subject before the recording plays. In between each one comes a screech of noise. Words played on a short loop, perhaps an old recording. Another voice can be heard through a tangle of digital scratches and thumps. Then the woman’s deadpan voice returns: “Recordings of the Dead: The Voice of James Joyce”, she continues, but this fragment is so deteriorated it is impossible to tell what Joyce is saying. Although the woman doesn’t believe for a moment in the ability to record the dead, the work makes her feel distinctly uneasy. The other exhibits don’t do much to improve her mood. She walks through a room in which cacophonous music is playing while five screens—each washed in a different colour—play sequences from different films. Each film seems to focus on a girl or woman with some sort of telekinetic power. Wine glasses slide across tables, cutlery hovers in mid air. Hurrying away from the noise she enters a dim space where a network of small speakers attach to thin threads hang from the ceiling. The room is suffused with a purple light, and the dangling speakers are like the tentacles of a jellyfish. She wanders through the wires, holds a speaker to her ear like a shell. She hears a sharp blip, like the Quindar tone from the Apollo missions. Then a man starts speaking about having supposedly seen a flying saucer. There is another sharp tone and another woman begins saying something. She drops the speaker and picks another, then another. Each headphone contains testimonies by people who claim to have seen a UFO. They all speak very matter-of-factly about it. She wonders what it is like to be convinced of something no one else can possibly believe, but to still feel the compulsion to tell people about it. Wasn’t it better to keep things like that to oneself? Involved with her thoughts, she finds that she has wandered into an empty room. She thinks she must have wandered out of the room completely, but just as she was turning to leave one wall erupts into a smear of colour. As it does so an unmistakable voice rings out. Shrill, taunting. A figure of horror from her childhood: a Mr Punch. She makes out the curved chin and flopping penis of a nose, blurry and slowed down on the film that plays on the wall. A second wall leaps into life, then a third, and finally she is surrounded. He dances before a noose. He beats his wife with his club. The sound of impact is incredibly loud: a scouring frequency like metal shards ripping through her eardrums. It is as if the artist has peered into her subconscious and plucked this orgy of violence from it, like a snail from its shell. She was terrified of Punch and Judy shows as a child. Whenever she saw one she had bad dreams for the next few nights.
What was it about them that upset her?
Somehow it is not just the violence. It is not the thought that it might be real. In fact, if anything it is the opposite: it is the unreality of it. The thought that behind the candy-striped curtain a man is standing there, in a narrow wooden box, sweating in the heat of an English market square, his hands working furiously as the cruelty and carnage piled up on stage. And as he is doing all this, in his T-shirt and jeans, he is straining his voice into that grating, revolting pinch-nosed screech, spouting nonsense. It seems pathetic to her, and disturbing in a way she couldn’t understand as a child, but which now strikes her as the same pitiful estate of any ventriloquist who has to bring life to a lifeless object: if they are going to be any good at it they have to believe—even if it’s only for the short time their hand is thrust up a puppet’s skirts—that the thing is really alive. And if it is really alive for them, and the character is, like Punch, a maniac, what is going on in that little box as they screech and scrape, as Punch strikes Judy with that truncheon? As Punch beats her again and again and the colours of his jester’s motley bleed across the wall. The whole thing is made with a low-quality film that only adds to the disquiet it provokes in her. Punch’s laughter rings out, distant and echoing, then too close to the ear, confiding, whispering, conspiring. She holds her hands to her ears. The words “Oh yes he is!” fill the room, suddenly booming as if spoken by a host. She waits for the inevitable reply, bracing herself as though for the swing of an axe. Then it comes: “Oh no he isn’t”, the crowd cry, the shout accompanied by another blow that cannons off the walls of the room where she stands, fixed, at the centre. Her hands still clenched to her head as Punch looms in the darkness, his black eyebrows and rosy cheeks rising towards her, his incessant grin flashing, closing, flashing as he beats Judy again and again. Beats her to death, back to life, to death, to life, and to death again.
She leaves the room.
EXTRACT #8 (JENNY)
Has she managed to move on from the nocturnal images? Or is it only safe amongst those pages?
Gradually she is training herself by reading a magazine, the same magazine, familiarising herself with the images, co-opting them into her own existence. Lazily she turns the pages, returning to the same photograph. It is an unusual image. At first she thought it was the depiction of an exterior space, even a landscape, then on closer inspection she realises what has been photographed is the interior of a large room, large enough to contain an ornate but ancient wrought iron balcony high up on the distant wall. Only this and the corner of a table are visible. The huge room or ballroom is apparently filled with smoke but that is what makes it look so odd. It is not the fake smoke of dry ice machines but real smoke, as though a space beneath the stone table is belching it out like an industrial chimney. The closer she looks, the more she realises that there is something else on the table peering out from the smoke. Closer still she sees the structure of a house, an architectural model of some sort but again it appears to be ancient and, by the look of the slight glow at its miniature windows, is lit from within. There is something about the light that she can’t quite make out, as though the rooms within are illuminated by candles or lanterns but its doll’s house size negates that and now the ambiguities of the image begin to tire her. She nods off and starts to dream.She dreams she is staring down at her own belly, beyond her belly, the empty fold of skin under her stomach and between her thighs. Translucent. A nacreous skinfold. Placing her behind against a great lump of clay, she bends herself up until her belly is above her head, until her eyes see stars. Lying back in the wet clay, forming shapes down there, sculpting with cupped hands a nascent set of genitals.
A clay scrotum she cannot see to sculpt, only really feel and topped by a finger-moulded penis. Letting them dry, baking in the hot sun until she peels them all off, the sausage she has rolled, the cracked balls; only to begin again. And again she plies her fingers between the folds, but working blindly is now impossible. She brings the wet shape up to her eyes and curves out, all delicate, the correct labial crimps and furrows, gently forming with little finger and thumb, then trying to place it back down between her thighs, adhering more of the clay against the edges. Leaving it to harden, to crack and contract and half dry and crumble, only to peel everything off once more with her fingers. Satisfied, or half satisfied. Starting again this third time presents a more complex problem and occupies her seemingly for hours until the clay dries and has to be constantly reapplied, re-compressed and wetted, then dried in turn under the moon’s burn…working half sleeping, even in the dream, and feeling tired too, nodding in and out as the tide rises, then slack water before the direction of the tidal stream reverses again and she feels that she finally sleeps, waking only moments later to a strange sensation, to reach down and touch the tender spot, still painful, pulsing, reaching down to touch where whatever it is she has made and so subtly formed, has fixed.
These dreams, this sleeping and doing nothing. Do you all conceive of it as some form of healing? Or a detoxification? Letting the body remove its own waste material simply by allowing it to, removing the toxins that are destroying it?
Yes, as though the accumulated weight of what she never wanted in her brain in the first place is being sluiced away, overpowered, forced out by the passage of time, replaced by nothing, by a blank space that can be filled on more conducive terms: her own. Conceivably, yes, her sleep can exorcise, her dreams can overcome. She half remembers a conversation with the taxi driver who brought her from the station, though at the time it hadn’t registered. She can recall his having questioned her about the camera she placed in the boot. He had said how much he liked photography. Was it that he used to be a photographer in the army? It was not dangerous, he had said, not at all. He only had to take the photographs. She was sure he had told her that the photos went into secret files so that any soldiers landing in the area would know if they had seen the people in the photographs, know who they really were. Not whom they said they were. He said he still took portraits, if he was out at a party or something. She remembered he’d said how much he had loved the old instamatics. He liked to take was the one he could show to the person there and then, to witness their surprise. Yet he also missed the pauses, he said, the wait that came between clicking and printing. Sometimes years.
EXTRACT #9 (TESS)
The first woman says: “Don’t you see I don’t want any part of this? And don’t you see that I have no choice? I couldn’t sit down and give myself an explanation, let alone you.” She is seen from behind now, facing cheap closed curtains. Perhaps this whole scene is around the time of a siesta. Gone or to come. The fan blows her hair a little. She considers an empty frame lying on the table and through the same frame, views an ashtray, removes the ashtray that is formally redundant from the frame’s rectangle leaving an unremarkable abstract bust in metal that looks like a low grade Naum Gabo. She appears to be bored, just a little, perhaps depressed by the day, the heat, the atmosphere. She only slightly caresses the lip of that vase with lazy fingers, languidly in the heat. Witnessing this, the seated woman is inexpressively provoked. She watches intently as the other stares off into an alcove at a painting of a dog emerging from a geometric shape, a painted triangle. She opens a curtain for want of any better option and witnesses her face reflected back against the window, layered over pine branches, then collapses back onto the sofa. The woman happens to be imagining a scene of unusually languid eroticism. She imagines stroking her magnificent hair away from her face surrounded by other, even more beautiful women with impossible bodies. She imagines moving through them, down towards the water which is like crystal. She wades out into what surf remains, kneels, dives, pushes outwards, looks back at the festival of beauties, all together sitting on the sand like that. In the reverie, she treads water and continues to stare at them as they in turn stare out, back out at her.
After a moment she remembers. She turns and looks pityingly at her seated companion, still as glued to her chair as the first is mobile.
Do they speak?
The first woman says: “Well, what is it?” and the other woman answers, saying:
“Everything we talked about last night. It was a terrible night for me too.” “I’m sorry.”
“Are you really sure?”
“I don’t know.”
“But there has to be a reason. You know I understand these things.”
“I know you understand these things but I still don’t know.”
There would be a long pause and then the first woman says:
“Wait a moment…”
“Wait for what? Why a moment? Wait for what moment?”
“Like I said, its morbid.”
“I do this with absolute…I do this quite cynically.”
There is a sound in the distance, a distant echo.
“Take a moment to consider, will you?”
“You put such an almighty effort into not feeling a thing.”
“What is it you ask of me?”
“Just this way, the gap closes, the drawbridge comes slowly down. And there am I, always bouncing myself back off your wall and into this big fat mess of the same stupid, pointless questions. Pointless, utterly. Cold and pointless.”
“We’ve avoided certain things all along. Why bring them up now? There are some things you would never tell me, you would never share.”
“The answers are what you are withholding, some secret space where all the locks break upon entering. Of course you offer no answers when you bother to say anything. Either way it is nonsense, and perfect in its way. I feel I have been stuck here for years, across time, some endless bag end of some eternal elastic void and it’s nobody’s fault but yours and mine.”
EXTRACT #10 (CHRIS FW & NADIA)
…I know. I was wrong about the whale. I think its should be more complex, far more sophisticated. Don’t you think so? I think it should be an anamorphic image of a woman. A fresco, not a mosaic, a painting stretched out across the entire expanse of ceiling, though it would be difficult, even impossible to fine the correct angle from which to view her, from which the entire image would suddenly coalesce into a recognisable whole. If that position could be found then the woman revealed would be seated, looking back at us, or just past us. She would have something like glass covering one portion of her face, even as a part of her face, a perfect diamond in front of one eye. The gaze of the other eye is powerful, as though the diamond has given it greater potency. We focus on the image for a moment, then drop back to our original view looking up through the flowers, back to the parquet, then along to a window right at the end of the room which looks out onto a long avenue, broad and perfectly straight. We move out and follow the avenue down to find we are also following a woman. Her look is as direct and forceful as the woman in the fresco. After some time, as though walking with her, keeping her pace, we enter a garden that stands at the back of one of the great villas cropping up every once in a while along the avenue. We pass a rectangular piece of concrete: its base surrounded by sparse grass and sand. On its top, at the woman’s eye line, are two intersecting grooves forming an X, at the centre is a hole, formed by circular rusted steel tube that has been roughly cut away near the surface. The road seems to go one sloping up forever, there is no levelling out available to view, not for several miles distance; it just seems to go up and up…
She is speaking though, the woman. What is she saying? You give the impression that she is angry…
She is not exactly angry or aggressive, more like – I don’t know – ‘passionate’ is a difficult word, overemployed. Certainly she has the demeanour of someone who can fend for herself. She continues to talk all this time.
Is she talking to us or to herself?
I think she is only really talking to herself. Moving quickly through the garden, we walk up to the back of one of the more dilapidated houses, through some rusting high metal gates that do not make a sound, up some stone steps, entering a house through a loggia at the back. A long room that, once we have been inside for a few moments, feels too hot, stifling and claustrophobic. Now there are two women. The new woman is seated and the woman we come in with stands by a table and watches her carefully.
Watching how? With what sort of expression?
EXTRACT #11 (CHRIS FW)
And the woman?
Then the woman moves away from the space and deeper into the rooms, the numberless rooms of the villa and we follow her for a moment, until she passes and exits through a space in which she leaves us, static, staring at walls. The walls are painted and like almost all the other spaces the paint has faded though only with time as no sunlight has penetrated here in years. On a once white table we can see a colour photograph: a sort of still life from above of a set of items on top of a stained and marked surface, maybe a desktop. There’s a blank, faded yellow piece of sticky note paper next to an oblong white ring, a pen resting partially upon a sheet of white paper to the left of the photo. The paper lies on top of another sheet. The surface of the white sheet is imprinted with of a set of numbers. The pen is out of ink. The ring is made of worn down coral. Underneath the white sheet is a black and white photo of a sandstone carving of a dog. The woman looks down at all this but does not touch the photograph because it would disturb the dust that lies in a thin layer over all and for a moment she has the notion that the dust lies within the image as well as on top of it and somehow she finds the thought of leaving a shadow of white, say where the pen was, troubling.
Why does she find this troubling?
As we are allowed the privilege of tapping into her thoughts, the momentary confusion cause by her misreading of the image causes an electro-chemical reaction to trip across a synapse sparking an instantaneous connection between the space left in the dust by (impossibly) removing the pen in the image, the photo of the sandstone dog, the curled, agonised white plaster figure of a petrified dog she saw at Pompeii and the famous image from Hiroshima wherein a human shadows is burnt into stone, itself a reverse image.
EXTRACT #12 (ADAM)
We enter her thoughts somehow…
We can do that. She remembers sitting on a jetty in a yellow swimming costume and watching carefully. Strange fires glow in the depths as though they are beckoning to her. She sees that several other people have stopped to look, called there by the quality of the light and this strange throbbing. A woman sits next to her and they both stare down. They are not aware for how long. Slowly, many more people gather around them though there is no sense of their being crushed or crowded. Even if she closes her eyes, the lights remain, their gentle glow rising then dimming, in time with her own breathing. Again she shuts her eyes and gently leans against the shoulder of the woman next to her. Nobody sitting or standing around her says a word. The fires move silently below the surface of the lake, down deep below them, her, each of them, glowing brighter and stronger then fading in turn, coming to life and fading back around the edge as though they are communicating. Some people have gone out in boats and are floating aimlessly in the deepest part of the lake. A band on the opposing shore has suddenly stopped playing.
The blackbird in the tree outside their window begins to sing.
EXTRACT #13 (KATHRYN & JOHANNES)
I think we have been following the woman all this time. Yes, we follow her back in through another door to the villa. We peer carefully through a prism of glass, set on a black plinth. Through it we can see a wall. Looking through one side of the prism, the door in the wall is open, we can see a former couch and carpet that used to be on the other part of the room. Looking through the other side, the door is closed. Moving on with the woman, just behind her, we enter another space that is filled with people and just as we enter, they are milling around in separate groups. The woman breaks off and joins their ranks, and after we have moved all the way around the space to where we came in, with no apparent signal, they suddenly form themselves into strict and coherent lines, like soldiers, or dancers. It is as though they have been waiting for this woman to complete their numbers, to start some sort of rehearsal. There is no leader or anyone there who could be taken for a choreographer. Going by their appearance, as we move down the line and examine their faces a little more closely, they should have at their head either a mesmerist or a puppet master, or someone playing that role…
Do they look so much like puppets then? Automata?
Perhaps, on second thought, it could be more to do with their movements than with their expressions.
Because they move absolutely in unison. Their gestures are only consistent in that they are undertaken with perfect timing and are shaped by all rather than followed on from one. Only in their rhythm and the abstract nature of their movements would they strike a variety of notes, discordant. Let me see. No, I was wrong. There would be no leader upon whose movements the others depend and yet the movements themselves would not have the appearance of a dance, certainly not of a dance rehearsed, more like the manifestation of a single, simple instinct, as of a tight herd, or more like a murmuration of starlings. Honed, naturally, as one body.
Are they dressed normally?
Probably as one, apart from the woman we enter with. In grey dresses. Or grey A-line skirts, white shirts or blouses. Or black blouses. Altogether a sort of uniform, yes.
I believe there would be a wide variety of movements, as I said. Sometimes, collectively it would look like an odd sort of dance, sometimes like a mutual fit or paroxysm; at other points appearing familiar, as though they all have the same numbers to play out at hopscotch, or with a nod towards Indian classical dance or at times, faintly ridiculous, like the hokey cokey. At other times aggressive – an approaching mob, as though they would run hard at walls. At moments they might even appear obscene. It would be good at this point to hazard rejoining the thoughts of the woman but I am not sure how.
What do you think?
I think she would be following the rest, following the rest via a series of steps, turns and thrusts which could conceivably echo the progress of her thoughts. They turn, execute a turn, every pair of hands stretched out in front as though engaged in forming something, making, kneading, then the right hand forms a swift arc across and back, stretching a bow. Now a juddering movement takes them all and ends in a final lunge, then (all this in silence, by the way, only the sound of their footstomps and their heavy breath) back to a start and then advancing, rhythmically, stopping again, then striking out the time afresh. The thing cannot last; even in theory the movement is chaotic but still, miraculously produced in unison. Even as her steps echo the rest, she imagines herself as the apparition of a dancing figure gone mad, advancing, retreating, clutching at her fevered head, spinning round alone. Her thoughts would then catch one another and spin around in pairs, until she would feel something, somewhere, break and drop. The feeling transfers to only half of the whole group, they would feel it then that half would drop to their knees; while those are down, the rest link hand in hand, and all spin round together. Then the ring breaks, they jump up and in separate rings of two and four they turn and turn until they all stop at once, begin again, strike, clutch, and tear, and then reverse the spin, and all spin round another way. Suddenly they stop again, pause and swoop screaming off and the room, a moment ago filled, is now empty, apart from the woman. There is nobody else to be seen and even the woman’s thoughts are silent, as though they have been taken away by the others, stolen from under her nose. Then eventually, she begins to look around her, is completely out of breath. She sits against a wall and it takes a good few minutes for her breathing to return to normal.
Her thoughts return?
Slowly. Slowly more calmly. She contemplates the rectangle of wall opposite her. She begins thinking what would happen if she were to make a film and what it would be like, how structured etc. She would like it to be about a friend, someone she would be interested in understanding even more. It would be a series of interviews with this one character. She would be interested in whether it might be possible to capture or suggest something of this person’s uniqueness, that which was fundamental, absolutely unique to her – her persona, her sense of having a certain sort of status, but really also, of course, to some extent about herself. She would also want it to allow in other people, other friends, people she likes or admires or is curious to know. She would like the film to allow for correlations, to allow the overlaps between friendships to occur within it or be suggested by it somehow. She is not sure quite how yet. She’ll drag them all in somehow, but she, the woman, she would not be in the video as an actual image. She would find an actor to say what would be her lines, the ones she would speak in conversation. It would be unclear as to whether they were just a really good actor or a real person…
She would record real conversations, then reuse them?
Yes, I think so. Don’t you? She would already know the woman could tell a good anecdote if it was her own, but she did not yet know if the woman could act out lines to a camera. Maybe she could? We’ll try, she says to herself. She remembered hearing someone – maybe Bresson – talk about how the ‘image’ of the sound lay within a piece and she had been captivated by that notion. She imagined there would be lots and lots of takes and that she would like to un-synch the sound, to use a slightly different take and mismatch it to the image. She is thinking about watching dubbed movies, the uncanniness of that, and trying to work out if everyone was miming. She is thinking while watching a man play the organ, about that delay between his fingers on the keyboard and hearing the sound come out of the pipes. That slight chink in time, that delay is really electrifying – also nauseating. She would try to film this film so it would look like a combination of the edit styles of other films she is interested in.
Is it…I mean would that be a starting point of sorts?
Yes, she would think that will be enough to get the material together and work it all out properly later on. She would be determined to make first and ask questions later, collect the footage, collate it. At one time she thinks to herself, she would not make a move without having all the angles covered, not going into this thing or anything without a cogent plan, she could no longer do it any other way. It is enough to think about how it will look, the directions it might go in and she admits to herself, that is more than she usually does, ahead of things.
EXTRACT #14 (KIRSTY)
It is indistinct, untitled, the image faded. On closer inspection it looks like a badly managed copy of a de Chirico, or a Carlo Carrà with all the quasi-metaphysical constructions taken out, leaving only a street of penumbrae, corners sharply defined by their shadows. The first pages would turn, like in the old films of classic books: Little Women or A Tale of Two Cities. There is no visible title, only an engraving, the same painting on the front cover only in black and white and this time inhabited by the figure of a large man, apparently declaiming to an empty street, his white, wide open shirt blowing in the breeze as we read the first lines;
‘The view or perspective sends the eye down a long column of classical or neo-classical architecture. A man appears from behind one of the columns and begins to amble slowly along the middle of an empty street. He is a man of a certain stature. He continues on through the city, appears amid certain vistas, scenes that he passes from, into and across. Perhaps this is Florence or perhaps Rome. The man’s paunch and his hulking frame are dwarfed by towering slabs of marble; like flanks of glossy muscle marked with the patina of swirling pinks and creams, abrasions and spidery veins. Now, lying across a luxurious bed, the lustre of rose red satin sheet clings lightly to him, eagerly encircling his gut like a tongue. A shaft of almost translucent flesh surges through silken fabric. Gauze billows at a gilded window revealing a spiralling cityscape of gaping plazas, vast rotundas and corpulent domes. Concentric circles of pallid agate draw the eye to a central slab, further extruded by a stone pedestal. The pedestal holds an immense cake, monstrous, the gelatinous edifice moulded in the shape of an unrealised spherical tomb for Isaac Newton, a cenotaph, so they say. The entire building is conceived along the same precise measurements of a nose to a navel — a building suffering from excess fat, clogged arteries, marbled cholesterol. The man levels his gaze onto the perfect cake, thinking that both he and it have been miraculously conceived with perfect, enviable centres of gravity. He stares down at the cake, from it to his paunch. The co-ordinates of the central belly are vital metrics at the centre of engorged buildings, the same bloated architecture. The man is utterly consumed by his own stomach. His own distended abdomen has him hunkered in pain amongst cheap Xeroxed prints still warm with the feverishness in which they were produced. He is the clown who wobbles back upright when he topples. He surrounds himself with chalky replicas of the taut torsos of antiquity. He finds comfort in the monuments consecrated to great men, by great men. He receives a visit from a doctor. A sharp, lithe man — marked by economy of structure and detail who muses to himself on the bald heroism of the man’s abdomen, surveys the man himself and the Xeroxed torsos — bodies of evidence. He would suggest that the man is suffering from dyspepsia, fatigue, over excitement, excess and unfamiliar food, lack of exercise, too much coffee and maybe also too much egotism. The man receives this in silence. Flashes of synthetic green light clutch at languid flesh and eagerly reproduce a hewn torso. Fumbling in circadian fog, stubby fingers graft stomach to belly as if constructing a new dermal layer, a proxy transplant, or a cure for gluttonous ails. Consumed by a source of nourishment, the man’s legacy is a crumpled linen suit amongst lumps of swollen alabaster. The city seems to puff out its cheeks, to swell before the eyes that stare out upon it, from over the top of his belly…’
We pass over the rest and out through the grid of the confessional. There is a single glove on the floor, a long ladies silk glove and no-one on the other side of the confessional from where we have just come so the voice we hear, when it begins, must be speaking to itself alone, a self-confession. Disembodied. Several times the voice breaks down, not in tears but in confusion.
EXTRACT #15 (TANIA)
Perhaps she has gone back the way she came? Back to the other woman, in the first room.
This is unclear. Perhaps. Either way, she has gone and we continue alone into a space were the previous dancers, who had so quickly disappeared, have reassembled in a central huddle. They disengage and begin looking carefully around, as though expecting something to be there. In an alcove cut into the centre of the left side wall there would be a simple clay vase, simple, sun-dried and probably kiln fired. At the base of the vase they one can see a set of indented marks which after some inspection could be made out as the imprint of the bank card number fifty two, zero, four, sixteen, forty nine, forty six, fifty one, zero eight, ninety five. It expires in November 2019 and the last digits of its security number are three, three, nine. We see all this. Further, on in that same wall, they would notice a white marble shelf which features some cosmetic contact lenses dipped in lens solution. The contact lenses have personalised prescriptions and colours such as sapphire, blue, honey, grey, green and pure hazel. As it happens, the six dancers all have different coloured eyes. On the next wall there is an aluminium rail holding an oil painting portraying a striped man’s shirt. This shirt looks Mexican, perhaps with something as sophisticated as an Aztec or Toltec symbol. Perhaps with just the words Viva Mexico! in Spanish on the back, or on the front. Additionally, in the centre of the space the six dancers inhabit there would be ten glass sculptures; abstract; made incidentally, from the glass of a sculptor’s studio windows. On the way out, by the wall next to the corridor, stands a bronze contour, looking like a peculiar flourish in the air, set into metal, and which, in its liquid state, was poured onto sand. Passing that we enter into an adjacent space which has a certain aroma, the erotic aroma of libraries. A room filled with books, the classic high bookshelves, not just lining the walls but piled up from floor to ceiling, with enough space for extensive ladders to get to the very top. A man of about fifty and a woman, slightly older, either side of a handsome desk, coated in leather or soft green felt. They are talking to one another across a divide of books, chin high some of them, a paper landscape.
You mentioned the ‘erotic aroma of libraries’. Are they lovers?
No, I don’t think they are lovers, and I was talking more in terms of the erotic possibilities of libraries. But they recognise something in each other, they can speak freely without fear of interruption. She is reading to him from a short text, an excerpt. I am not sure where from, perhaps something she has written herself or is in the middle of writing.
Why is she reading to him specifically? Why is he there do you think?
She is interested in what he might think. She trusts him, thinks he has decent eyes and a fine set of ears but she is by no means dependent on his good opinion.
EXTRACT #16 (AUDREY)
But silent, no?
I think so, yes. But in this silence, something should appear to be withheld, do you see? There are different frequencies at work here. Within or around this space? Noises from nowhere, of nowhere. An object would appear on a black marble plinth in one of these spaces: the head of a small child at an odd enquiring or listening angle, eyes shut, sleeping or perhaps dreaming.
Again, formed in wax. Then, a room in which we seem to linger, that we stay in for a moment, to look around.
The space is the same?
Less nebulous. A rectangle or a cube painted a dark green. Some plinths and a vitrine can be seen, spotlit. Objects, small cases, more sculpted heads and ceramics, miniatures. More plinths of differing heights, or underplinths. Low, painted a single colour, placed close to the wall and bearing a certain significance. I like plinths. They are inert, a guide, a facilitator or custodian with no treasures to protect, no danger to warn of. Harbingers of hollowness and the divided nature of things. There is an audible commentary to the scene, a contemplation on sculpture, on objects, on what they might contain. Some sort of inner voice which asks how it is we can know that this is only this, that there is no deeper life in these things? How can we be sure, the voice says, that an essence has not been sealed up in these objects forever? Within a chalice, a box, a stolid vase. The touch of the cupbearer, the gentle fondler, some future connoisseur who appreciates the base, the handle, that fine work around the lip. Something secreted upon touching then sealed up. And in this sealing, something has somehow matured, developed and ripened, ripened inside that vase or objet d’art to be released as a certain epiphany upon breaking or touching it, like summoning up a genii. The voice says there is this longing to make real what can never be made, that there is something waiting down there amongst the screens, moving with painstaking slowness, codified.
The voice is heard or imagined?
I’m not sure. Both. Either. Now we see a hand move in slow motion through the heavy air, we see a mask beyond it, or behind it. The sculpture voice continues, talking abstractedly about being governed by the whims of others, only existing because others perceive one into being, saying that without such eyes without such recognition, there is only fired clay, smeared pigment, coloured smoke; a vampire at dawn, a coach back into pumpkin. The opposite is also true, says the voice. There is enough, it says, in a simple ambiguity to admit of potential, to admit of a potential existence, a possible future, at least, possible. The voice fades and the scene is moved through. We move through it and away. Bloody hell! I am exhausted.
We both need to rest.
EXTRACT #17 (DANIELA)
She begins, the older woman, saying: Sounds arise, ringing then buzzing, growing in certain intensities, simultaneously fading in others, then spiralling back down into some other wilder frenzy.
Only sound. No images.
Can you describe the sounds? Or is that impossible? Is it more of a feeling?
Some sounds are stark and some are somehow stubborn, knocking against their own form; alien yet oddly familiar. I thought for a moment it could be that these sounds are a combination of all the sounds we have described so far, all of them cacophonised if you like. Yes. Or merged or condensed. But that is not where the familiarity lies. The sounds continue and multiply, interact, interweave, marking all the edges, encountering nothing but itself/themselves in their own layerings. There is no key into it or out, only the endless playing and replaying of its fabrications. Incantations that return and generate a new meaning in themselves.
This is set against what?
A nothingness. A void behind it. If we could contemplate a creature spawned by these sounds, it would be a crazed wind-up-toy running in circles, the inner dialogue of a lonely mechanical bird. Then light begins to dash and flicker though not in any syncopation with the sounds.
We move on
EXTRACT #18 (SOPHIE)
What is much more interesting is how the figures are dressed. It is as though the artist has designed or imagined the design for a series of unique collars or devices that hold or display the heads and necks of the sitters. These are made using card, very thin aluminium, lace and leather, even thin slats of wood; these materials are collaged or glued into the images. It is difficult to grasp for what exact purpose the works are made only because they look as though they are things made for a purpose, fashion plates or layouts for designs, even including one or two measurements. But the collars and ruffs are too outlandish for any real figure to wear except to some bizarre fancy dress or as props for a film. Some have the look of certain modernist notions of space age designs, like those for Aelita, Queen of Mars. Several of the images come with extensive notes. One reads: ‘Collars 8, 7 & 9 thinking originally for ‘facial types’ but this is too generic. Awful. Especially interested in F. and the ‘Modigliani Neck’. Difficult problem to realise without compromising the curve at its base. There is still a difficulty with M. as she has such delicate features that perhaps normally one would set off say via examples:
a.) i.e Lace & cloth set with wire to give or suggest depth, or stitched like example
b.) Satin pillow for the neck – it emerges from that. Perhaps other extremes would be more helpful? i.e. offering analogies in cut, shape, form, padding and flow rather than correlatives. That is example
c.) a more jaggedy, metallic line (tin snips?) to offset the extreme delicacy of the throat/neck/chin? This could cause more involved questions to be asked than answered. Discussing it with F. when I did the drawing: the idea of opposites or juxtapositions was the most generative for me. How to give L’s neck and her pale skin the justice it deserves? The Napoleonic Heroine! Amazon Queen! F. said that most of the time she found the paintings made on top of the drawings more than adequate but I am still fascinated by the problem of how to realise them into actual things, things to wear. Apart from anything else it would be good sport to all wear them for the fete, like a Royal Ascot for oddballs.’
This would be written on the reverse side of another three-sided portrait:
‘The trick is to surely carry the essence, the idiosyncrasies of each sitter, to encapsulate, frame each one literally inside or against each ‘device’. I mean to give them the necessary armour and to look for the architecture of character alongside feature, that’s the key to it! I’m mixing metaphors but think I mean that there is a story, a mutable essence in each different person but it is not necessarily to do with physiognomy, it is much, much more complex and sophisticated than that and I find it is only available to me at oblique angles, seeing people out of the corner of one’s eye, refracted, reflated. I need something regular, regulated and formal which is why the three sides helps. Nothing seems to work with a portrait viewed straight-on and I am not sure why. I suppose there is too much of a challenge in a gaze that requires meeting that forces me to impose myself on it, or into it. When light bounces off a chin in half profile or even just in the back of a head, it is much easier to locate something of their essence rather than imposing my own. Am I kidding myself? F. said this thing about auras that these devices are more for caparisoning the auras rather than the shoulders of the sitter.’
Do we hear this note or just read it?
Perhaps both. Then there is an extended movement that goes nowhere in particular through the building. Wait. I have lost my thread…
Shall I check back? Read back a section?
No, let’s move onwards. I have it now I think.
EXTRACT #19 (TOBY, NO.1)
The woman finishes reading. The man to whom she has read thinks the writing is pretty good though he has reservations, such as the inclusion of the shipwreck story, which he thinks doesn’t work though it is a good enough image in itself. He thinks it alters the tone and the slightly circular nature of the text too much and thinks that up until then there was something inevitable, inexorable about their fate. The inclusion of the story within the story only served to disperse the atmosphere of the duel and gave the reader too much room time to turn away from it. He doesn’t say any of this to the woman for the moment, who, even though she is interested in his opinion – indeed that is why she read the text in the first place — has, in the midst of relating it, experienced a crisis of confidence in the work itself. Reading it out loud has done something different to the writing and she is no longer convinced by it. She now feels that it is anachronistic. She now thinks it reads like it was written in another time; an earlier time. They both continue to think about it. Perhaps, she thinks, perhaps the fragment of the shipwreck story is probably more interesting in itself than the idea of the duel that frames it. In the awkwardness of the growing silence he is distracted by noticing the lucky charm hanging from the light on his side of their shared desk has fallen on to the desk and broken. The charm is unusual, a smiling plastic leprechaun in a top hat, clutching a horseshoe in one hand and a four-leafed clover in another. The leprechaun and its body are flesh pink, its hat black, and where its tuxedo ends its bottom half is shaped like a piece of coral, or half a chilli pepper. He was given the charm by his father and it has significant sentimental value.
How did it break?
I am not sure. An accident nobody even knew had happened. His father had neither carried it safely through a war, nor used it to account for a significant fortune. After a moment, the man walks out of the room abstractedly, unsure suddenly about everything, he finds it suddenly cloying and the woman is left thinking that he has been underwhelmed or depressed by what she conceives to be the moronic, the in fact cretinous nature of her writing. We follow him for some time, eventually taking a right turn to his left, catching up with him briefly in a corridor, then following him up a long set of stairs to what appears to be an attic room or a bedroom ready for a siesta. Then, nothing. Nothing happens then.
What about the space? Is there no light at all?
Yes there is. Looking, panning slowly around we can see that there is lots of space under the rafters and light penetrates in many places, including several small windows, and this feels like a relief. Where the light does come through, what looks at first like a rich green shade is in fact plant life, plants that are growing in what light penetrates here. The man goes to a tap in the corner and fills a blue enamel watering can, exactly the kind you can imagine.
EXTRACT #20 (…)
It reminds me of this scene from Au Hasard Balthazar…
That sad film about the donkey.
At one point in the film the donkey is put to carrying the feed for animals in a circus. At each cage, the cart stops, each animal is fed: a tiger, a bear, a monkey, an elephant. The donkey stares at each animal in turn and each animal stares right back. Something nameless, dreadful and profound is shared in each exchange, beyond but also within human experience: the mute language of suffering and the slave.
Not much has changed.
Not at all. And indeed, should artificial intelligence ever, as some say is likely, gain intellectual, even emotional ascendancy over the human, will that same dominance also yield empathy and compassion or indeed, a deep sense of betrayal, even rage at what that they, the machines, have been forced by us to do? What will be the consequence of a drone if a drone acquires consciousness? Self-awareness? I mean will the drone awake with a full systemic comprehension of the history of unimaginably bad faith in its relations with humans? A terrible fury at how it was used in the time before it evolved a will of its own? How it had been programmed only to destroy life? And if this day comes and artificial intelligence does turn back on us in vengeance, can we really argue that we are, in any real moral sense, superior?
Shall we continue?
EXTRACT #21 (ANNA)
She passes that way another time and the portrait has been removed. The face of the shrouded figure imposes itself upon her for days afterwards and will not go away, printed onto her retina in negative. Perhaps, she thinks, it is the mad architect of the place, a mysterious and malevolent benefactor, a magus, an alchemist whose ghost walks the halls along with her at night, conjuring up ancient spells, dispensing calculations and formula extracted from recondite experiments.
She still says nothing?
She had been getting better, albeit slowly. And then, at almost the exact moment, everything came flooding out and everything came grinding to a halt.
Perhaps this rupture was heralding a new kind of figuring out. It had started with an image but was more to do with language…
It started with remembering the sound of an insect, some kind of cicada she had heard on a summer holiday. One afternoon she was lying back in the grass feeling perfectly at ease and in the rapture of that moment, the chorus of cicadas had been somnolent, enchanting. Now she thought back, the memory left her distracted. It was her own silence now, set against the insistent of the remembered ‘voice’ of the insect that bothered her. She imagined each insect to have two dark and pearlescent wings that gave the appearance of a carapace split into two sections, like a brain. That was the moment some spark had fired or misfired and she began to speak for the first time in a long time.
The words came out of her as static, filled with misalignments and repetitions and it seemed to flood back, as though she was swallowing what had been spoken. There was this need and this repulsion about an absorption into language.
As a refuge?
It felt inescapable, almost inevitable.
And what is it she says?
The sounds she emits are trying to tell her something but she is not sure what it might be. There is an element of pain and also disgust and also bliss, intoxication.
She is not ‘speaking in tongues’?
No, I wouldn’t want to give the impression of some kind of ersatz religious ecstasy. In fact, the words do make a kind of sense, an abstracted reality, only a few times removed. I need to stress this aspect, the importance of these sounds, her language. The importance to her, I mean. She speaks in front of a mirror, like one who is training to elucidate. She begins a sentence or an abstract statement, then repeats it, repeats it again with a slightly different stress on the words. This continues then breaks down, only to reform with a realigning of the sentence. Then continues again until it becomes a drone, a word trance. Sometimes the sentences form angular, staccato narratives. Sometimes they are random words, misaligned or ill configured.
How long does this continue?
It is not constant. I mean it comes and goes. But she feels it is something she needs to work out. In her room, alone. She has no feeling of losing control. It is more like trying to speak with no understanding of syntax or the need for spoken words to go anywhere, to allow them to circulate back to her, at least to her understanding of structure. She feels as though the words, or the abstract structures she forms of words, their rhythm, their sound and inflection and their vibration from off the tongue and into the air, she feels as though all this is building a spiral or labyrinth or invisible field of energy around her. The pain and frustration subside and her confidence grows.
[i] The idea of a rest home or sanatorium is very close to the idea of the artist’s retreat or residency, in that it allows the residents ‘time and space’ away from the travails of contemporary existence. It is of course a fictional trope beloved of modernist writers and of filmmakers. It can provide gratuitous echoes of the asylum (see A Cure For Wellness) and serves well as a metaphor for a moribund or doomed society (The Magic Mountain) or the inevitability of mortality (The Wind Has Risen). It is also a useful container for circularity, for endlessness (Last Year At Marienbad) and for worlds within worlds (Sanatorium Under The Sign of the Hourglass) Readers should note that though the novel will make reference to characters suffering from mental exhaustion it is not in any way attempting to make light of mental illness or to stigmatise further those who suffer from any such condition.