Tuesday, 26 December 2017

on the way to something else


It's late on Boxing Day, and I'm reading Thomas Pynchon's unnerving and hilarious magnum opus of channeled paranoia, Gravity's Rainbow - it's a section about a Boxing Day evening in another household somewhere in wartime England:

Inside the bowl, the two goldfish are making a Pisces-sign, head-to-tail and very still. Penelope sits and peers into their world. There is a little sunken galleon, a china diver in a diving suit, pretty stones and shells she and her sisters have brought back from the sea. Aunt Jessica and Uncle Roger are out in the kitchen, hugging and kissing. Elizabeth is teasing Clare in the hallway. Their mother is in the W.C. Sooty the cat sleeps in a chair, a black thundercloud on the way to something else, who happens right now to look like a cat. It's Boxing Day. The evening's very still. The last rocket bomb was an hour ago, somewhere south. Claire got a golliwog, Penelope a sweater, Elizabeth a frock that Penelope will grow into.

A page or so later, cut to Roger and Jessica in the kitchen, and Roger's fears of her leaving him for Jeremy:

Oh, he feels a raving fit coming on - how the bloody hell can he survive without her? She is the British warm that protects his stooping shoulders, and the wintering sparrow he holds inside his hands. She is his deepest innocence in spaces of bough and hay before wishes were given a separate name to warn that they might not come true ...

You go from dream to dream inside me. You have passage to my last shabby corner, and there, among the debris, you've found life. I'm no longer sure which of all the words, images, dreams or ghosts are "yours" and which are "mine". It's past sorting out.

We're both being someone new now, someone incredible ...

Saturday, 16 December 2017

lean-into

Notes from the introduction to a presentation by Sue Palmer and David Williams, as part of the 'Ecology and Environment' lecture series hosted by the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, Aberystwyth University, December 2012. With many thanks to Carl Lavery for inviting us ...

‘Everything’s a question of how you lean’ (John Berger)

We are ‘lean-into animals’ - that's our name for an imaginary band we have: and this is our first gig …

We've borrowed this term from Monty Roberts (the ‘horse whisperer’), who uses it to describe horses - they are also called by him ‘into pressure animals’. His core philosophy is about creating conditions for a horse’s learning, and then getting out of the way: a useful pedagogical model for us all ... 

Roberts has suggested that there are three spatial zones in our interaction with horses: (1) a zone of awareness (the furthest), in which one's presence is acknowledged, but it remains too far away to have an impact on a horse’s movements; (2) a decision-making zone (closer, although in the countryside it could still be quite a long way away), in which one can influence a horse’s movements and choices – this is the zone of most ground work and schooling with horses; and (3) an ‘into pressure zone’, also called the ‘lean-into’ zone. 

'Leaning-into' comprises a horse's leaning back into predators to protect themselves. Think of when a horse has its hoof on your foot - you push against its flank, it leans back; or if you want a horse to move away from a wall and you try to push it, it will push back. The term refers to an instinctive, passive/aggressive, defensive ‘leaning’ into the source of pressure (just as in touching the horse's flank with your heel). Of course there are many different kinds of pressure at play in working with and riding horses (from direct eye contact, to the bit), and many different kinds of responses. And this is a source of a great deal of misunderstanding and miscommunication when people start to work with horses.

Our partial understanding (and misappropriation) of this term comes from our own contact with horses, as well as dogs and cats (which we conceive of as lean-into animals too), and our own desire – for contact, meeting, sharing, and so on. I (mis)understand leaning-into as an improvised dance of responsiveness, a bit like Steve Paxton’s contact improvisation. 

For me, it is also a kind of dynamic suspension between falling and flying, an im/balance provoked that leads to adjustments in one’s default settings. It suggests following the gravitational pull of an-other - ‘what grabs you’, your interests - letting it take you to see what it does, rather than trying to explain it (away) or collapse it into some pre-existing grid of 'knowledge'. It’s related to placing attention outside of yourself there-where-you-are, giving over some of your weight to this ‘elsewhere’, meeting and riding its currents and contours. So it’s about encounter, accompaniment, and displacement off one’s own axis towards an engagement with aspects of the world: ecologies of (inter)connectedness, if you like. 

John Berger has also written about leaning, in ways that explore the relations between riding a motorbike, writing and living (in To The Wedding, Pages of the Wound and elsewhere). In these texts, he considers the relations between inertia, gravity, energy, momentum and grace:

“Everything’s a question of how you lean … If anything on wheels wants to corner or change direction, a centrifugal force comes into play. This force tries to pull us out of the bend into the straight, according to a law called the Law of Inertia, which always wants energy to save itself. In a corner situation it’s the straight that demands least energy and so our fight starts. By tipping our weight over into the bend, we shift the bike’s centre of gravity and this counteracts the centrifugal force and the Law of Inertia! … Speed has everything to do with mass and weight, and is often though of as brutal (and it can be), but it can also whisper of an extraordinary tenderness’’.

For me, as someone interested in writing - writing's difficulties and possibilities, what it can do - it is also about relations between the ‘leanings’ of lived experience/events  and writing. Berger also writes about the differences between riding a motorbike and writing a poem:

"Writing a poem is the opposite of riding a motorbike. Riding, you negotiate at high speed around every fact you meet. Body and machine follow your eyes that find their way through, untouched. Your sense of freedom comes from the fact that the wait between decision and consequence is minimal ... Poems are helpless before the facts. Helpless, but not without endurance, for everything resists them. They find names for consequences, not for decisions. Writing a poem you listen to everything save what is happening now ... On a bike the rider weaves through, and poems head in the opposite direction. Yet shared sometimes between the two, as they pass, there is the same pity of it. And in that ... the same love".

So two quite different modes of experience, usually thought of as mutually exclusive. Two different kinds of attention, intuition, embodiment, exposure, 'weaving', translation, serious play. Riding - related to speed, mechanics, a short circuiting of the time lapse between internal impulse, reflex/decision and consequence: a visual, tactile, rhythmic, intimate engagement with the outside world and its material phenomena. Writing - slow resistant work, the site of memory, association, a listening internally that removes one from the here-now. Berger endeavours to bring these two apparent 'opposites' into conjunction, suggesting the possibility of them meeting and connecting fleetingly in tenderness, compassion, love.

Maybe the notion of 'leaning-into' also relates to some texts I’m working on at the moment about falling, and the relations between adjusting balance in the orientation of ‘leaning’, the point of suspension, and the irretrievable moment(um) of falling. James Hillman writes about falling into the underworld, into psyche; Helene Cixous writes about falling into the 'school of dreams'. Falling as deepening, growth: a ‘falling into place’. 

Where do representation and writing ‘lean’ and where do they ‘fall’? Or, more broadly, to borrow a phrase from Herbert Blau, how does one navigate some ‘liveable unison between panic and grace’?

Today we are going to talk about some of our own leanings, what and where we ‘lean-into’ in recent projects we have worked on individually …

For further details of Sue Palmer's projects, with links to video materials, see here and here 

For footage of Little Tich leaning, see here (thanks to Sophie Nield for the link)

Thursday, 5 October 2017

witness of time


Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh
Adrian Heathfield and Tehching Hsieh
Live Art Development Agency / MIT Press, 2009

Let’s start by revisiting the bare bones of the performance projects by Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh, realised between 1978 and 1999. Six projects in all, beginning with a series of five year-long performances. First, one year of solitary confinement in a sealed cell with no communication. Second, a year of punching a time clock on the hour every hour and photographing this action: 24 frames a day for 365 days. Third, a year living rough outside on the streets of New York, drifting and seeking shelter, never going inside. Fourth, one year tied at the waist with a rope to the performance artist Linda Montano, with a prohibition on touch. Fifth, a year spent abstaining wholly from art, its making and its spheres of influence. Finally, a 13-year project in which Hsieh proposed to make art without ever showing it in public, a project during which he effectively disappeared. On New Year’s Eve 1999, at the cusp of the new millennium, in a brief event at the Judson Memorial Church to mark the project’s ending, Hsieh simply told those who had gathered that he had succeeded in keeping himself alive …

The publication of this superb monograph is timely indeed. To date very little of substance has been published about this most remarkable artist and his profoundly unsettling body of work, despite the fact that its contours and challenges are etched indelibly into the psyches of so many involved in contemporary art and performance. We know these deceptively simple shapes, the sculptural forms of the bare bones outlined above, and they are as honed as the shapes of some of Beckett’s most economical work. Or rather we think we know them, for they linger on in unresolved reverberant forms within us. In reality, individually and collectively these works confront and resist claims to knowledge: about art and its parameters; about the passage of time, meaning, identity, freedom; and ultimately about what really happened in the seconds and minutes and hours and days and months and years of these extraordinary ‘lifeworks’.

In a brilliant opening essay, ‘Impress of Time’, Adrian Heathfield contextualises and unfolds the implications of Hsieh’s ‘life lived at limits’ (58) with consummate sensitivity and thoughtfulness. He treads lightly and respectfully throughout, refusing to explain this work away in any singular and inevitably reductive ‘reading’, instead approaching each work in turn not as a referential or symbolic narrative structure but in terms of what it does. In this way, he seeks to articulate something of the affective ‘force’ of this body of work as a ‘constellation of enduring ideas, echoing in the present’ (58).

As well as providing detailed descriptions of each of the projects in turn, Heathfield explores a wide range of such ideas, including: Hsieh’s conception of art and life as simultaneous processes; his embodied instanciations of radical paradox, including the ambiguity of relations between constraint, solitude, freedom and thought in his work, and his deconstructive ‘binding together of activity and negation, production and redundancy’, public immersion and isolation, movement and stasis (45); the differing temporalities of photography and film, and the unstable epistemological status of documentation; Hsieh’s embodied stagings of an ethics of alterity, relationality and civility; his recurrent engagement with aspects and structures of ‘the law’ (he cites Kafka as a core stimulus), set alongside his vulnerable status as an illegal immigrant in the US; his decelerative ‘wasting of time’ in non-productive and uneventful works of extreme duration, and the critical frictions his ‘use-less’ slowness seem to propose within the accelerated temporalities of late capitalism. En route, Heathfield also traces relations with Conceptualism, Performance Art, Body Art in the West, and connections with a range of other artists including Bas Jan Ader, Harry Houdini, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Abramovic and Ulay, and, perhaps most startlingly as a deterritorialising line of flight, the tightrope walker Philippe Petit. These connective genealogies are invariably and finely attuned to differences, and Heathfield resists collapsing this relational cartography into any homogenising empire of the selfsame.

The bulk of the book (pp. 63-315) is given over to Hsieh’s exhaustive documentation of each of his ‘lifeworks’. Scores, flyers, maps, punch cards stamped and signed, legal documents attesting to Hsieh’s own ‘rules’ having been respected (cells and ropes sealed and unbroken, punch cards stamped etc.), and thousands of photographs. Hsieh also includes calendars registering minor breakings of his strictures, such as hours missed in the punching of the time clock: 133 absences in the total of 8,760, each one catalogued in relation to one of three possible ‘reasons’ - ‘sleeping’, ‘late’, or ‘early’.

Many of the beautifully reproduced images comprise lengthy series of stills cumulatively registering the passage of time, in dated punch cards, say, or gradual hair growth. It’s intriguing to revisit the hourly photographs of ‘Time Clock Piece’ in this print context, laid out on 31 consecutive pages, each page containing 12 vertical columns / film strips of 24 images (i.e. one day per strip, 12 days per page). The lay-out produces an uncanny juddering temporality, and at the same time foregrounds the sheer enormity of the (t)ask. Its astonishing difficulty is somewhat elided in the high-speed, suppressed-hysteria energetics of the 6-minute stop-motion animated film version, within which each day – each column within the book - is condensed into a second (see Hsieh 1999). On the page one can skim and flick, or endeavour to accept it as a kind of meditation exercise: an invitation to engage with the im/possibility of paying attention to each image, to the rare blank spaces when Hsieh failed to make it, and to the infinite blank spaces of the unimaginable 59 minutes or so between each image. The labour of attempting to ‘read’ it as a (ruptured) continuum takes time and real effort. Cumulatively it’s incapacitating, one soon struggles with a kind of ‘blindness’ and defaults to skimming; and in the end we come no closer to understanding what really happened. One recognises Hsieh’s absolute clarity of purpose and will-ful integrity in the work, but ‘he’ is always elsew/here.

Ultimately, Heathfield locates Hsieh as ‘a sentient witness of time’ (11), engaged in practices of ‘aesthetic duration’, with each work ‘a sense passage in which corporeal attention is drawn to (a) time reforming’ (22). Each of Hsieh’s ‘untimely’ projects constructs a space of severe, self-imposed privation and constraint within which time passes and thinking happens. Each performance elaborates a rigorously precise architecture for the event of thought as art; but none of those thoughts are communicated. The internal life of the being in human being - Hsieh’s lived experience of brutalising bare life in extremis - is forever withheld in an economy of denial that serves to create empty spaces for our own projections and dealings with incomprehension. As Tim Etchells puts it in his letter to Hsieh, the extensive documentary traces of the work that survive ‘show everything but tell nothing’ (357). Hsieh moves implacably towards the self-erasure of ever greater illegibility, invisibility and silence to leave us confronted with ‘a sculpture of nothingness’, and we are pulled back endlessly to ‘a face off with the void’ (360). Or, as Hsieh puts it with characteristic economy and lack of sentimentality: ‘Living is nothing but consuming time until you die’ (335).

The book draws to a reflexive end without closure in a long and engaging interview/exchange between Hsieh and Heathfield (‘I Just Go On In Life’), and a series of open letters to Hsieh by Peggy Phelan, Marina Abramovic, Tim Etchells, Santiago Sierra, and others from Hsieh’s personal archive. The latter include a hand-written note from an irate and anonymous Chinese person – ‘Artist? UGH!’ (354); and a delightfully formal letter of support from a (real) estate agent in Michigan – ‘I don’t totally understand exactly what you are doing but I do think it is very important. Keep on with your good work…’ (350). The letters allow different modalities of writing to open up other more intimate perspectives on and creative responses to the work, most effectively to my mind in the exquisitely performative contributions of Peggy Phelan and Tim Etchells. Finally, Carol Becker writes back into and out of the book in an elegant summative post-script, in which she applauds Heathfield’s approach to the curation of these materials. His framing, she suggests perceptively, creates ‘a safe holding environment where the work can rest … The intent of the pieces appears intact, allowed to exist in its emptiness and silence, still elusive even after so much has been said’ (369).
________________________________________

Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh
Adrian Heathfield and Tehching Hsieh
Live Art Development agency / MIT Press, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-262-01255-3 383 pp. £29.95

Hsieh, Tehching (1999). One Year Performance Art Documents, 1978-1999, DVD-ROM. For further details, see here

Also available through the Live art Development Agency’s online Unbound: see here

This review of Out of Now was first published in Performance Research 14:2 ('On Training'), June 2009: issue edited by Richard Gough & Simon Shepherd

Friday, 29 September 2017

consumed

I've been reading about Danilo Dolci, the remarkable Italian activist and pacifist sometimes referred to as 'Sicily's Gandhi', and his work in western Sicily from the 1950s.

In Fire Under the Ashes (1965), an early biography, James McNeish describes Dolci's state of mind when he was called up for military service in 1951. At the barracks in Siena, he refused pointblank to do 'anything soldierly', only consenting to fire drill and gymnastics: 'No shooting, no bayonet practice'.

And he filled in the regulation questionnaire as follows:

PATERNITY: God
NUMBER OF BROTHERS: About a billion
NUMBER OF SISTERS: Ditto
PROFESSION: I'm learning to be consumed

A few years later, during one of his many hunger strikes (on this occasion to try to force political initiatives to fund a dam to help local peasants), he was asked by one of the local women: 'Child, why do you starve yourself like this?' His reply: 'Exactness and truth melt, and destroy evil'.

In the late 1950s, Dolci made a speech in Palermo: 'I believe that men will collaborate better as their thoughts, with the help of scientific analysis, are shorn of all rhetoric, superstition, complexes, dogmas of all kinds. Reality is complex. To understand it men have tried Christianity, liberalism, Gandhism, socialism. There's some truth in all these solutions, we're all mendicants of truth'.

other fires


Later that evening, a long, energising conversation in a café on via Notartbartolo near the Falcone tree, with Gianni Gebbia – the renowned Palermitan saxophonist, stalwart of a second generation of Freimusik improvisers in Europe and Japan, and the city of Palermo’s curator for music and dance over a three-year period towards the end of Leoluca Orlando’s Palermo Spring in the late 1990s (1). He groans audibly, and comically, when I tell him what I’ve been doing. “These are extraordinary people of course, and it’s essential to remember them; but a singular focus on the mafia creates a partial perspective that overlooks a great deal, and there’s a real risk of losing other memories, extinguishing other fires in this small city. We also have to look elsewhere and remember differently. Palermo may be sad and “third world”, but it is so much more. We have to give other things their rightful place too”.

Gebbia is at pains to stress Palermo’s historical importance as cultural meeting point, and his sense of the imperative to help restore that line; “for me, this is antimafia”. He reminds me that it was in this city that Lampedusa’s wife Alessandra was one of the early pioneers of psychoanalysis, and that Gruppo 63, the influential group of Italian avant garde writers, was founded in Palermo in the 1960s. He reflects on his contact with Pina Bausch and her company in the city during work on Palermo, Palermo – “such deep research on the ground, an extraordinary happy time “ – as well as visits by Kantor and other Polish artists, and a stream of young French choreographers, Butoh practitioners and experimental musicians. 

“All these forms make a significant difference in Palermo, while political forces insist on trashing the city. Here one sees the effect of political choices in such an impolite, rough way. The extreme de-culturation of Italy during the Berlusconi years means that it has to be re-invented from the ground up. And this is a new phase, the city is really broke now. I’m concerned that Sicily is unprepared psychologically and practically for the current situation, but complaining is a very low level of political action and approach. We have to do things, find new models in this time, and without art simply becoming ideology”.

Finally Gebbia describes two related video films he has made recently that propose other topographies of memory. The first film emerged from archival and field research into the first Christian missionaries to land in Japan in the 15th century: Sicilian, Portuguese and Spanish Jesuit monks trained in Sicily. The second film concerns the Japanese painter Otama Kiyohara, who worked and taught in Palermo with her husband, the sculptor Vincenzo Ragusa, from the 1880s to the 1920s. 

“Both films were triggered by Sicily’s largely overlooked historical relations with Japan. I want to break the myth of there being no connection. For me, this is also antimafia. As is my determination not to abandon Palermo. Playing in my own city has always been a mission, even if it’s difficult now; and I still try to present unusual, quality things for Palermo audiences, that’s part of its participation”.


(1) As a saxophonist, Gebbia is known for a circular breathing technique that he learnt in particular from Sardinian masters of the launedda (bagpipe) tradition. As well as programming many festivals of performance and music in Sicily, Gebbia is also a long-term practitioner of Katsugen Undo and an ordained lay Zen Buddhist monk. For further details of his many musical recordings and collaborations (with Evan Parker, Fred Frith, Butoh artists and others), and the film projects described here, Nanbanjin (2011) and O’tama monogatari (2012), see his website here

Images: (top) photograph of Gianni Gebbia by Claudio Casanova/AAJ Italia; (bottom) Otama Kiyohara self-portrait, 1884. 

gravity's pull


In a café off Via della Libertà, looking through a folder of images that have haunted me for years, taken by two of the great chroniclers of Palermo’s suffering and injustices. Firstly, Letizia Battaglia, one of Italy’s most celebrated photographers and a legendary figure in the city who, from the mid 1970s, obsessively catalogued hundreds of mafia killings, funerals, arrests, trials, chain-smoking prosecutors, illegal backstreet horse races, religious festivals, and the embattled daily lives of women and children at home and in the street. 

Shattered bodies, crumbling buildings, fragile dreams. Over 600,00 images, all in black and white: an unflinching archive of death and life in a war zone. 

Over the past 40 years, Letizia has also been a filmmaker, theatre director, writer, publisher, elected councillor, and environmentalist. As Leoluca Orlando’s combative, outspoken ‘Commissioner of Liveability’ in the heady days of the ‘Palermo Spring’, famously she took to the streets of the old city with a team of council workers to clear away rubbish and needles, replant gardens and parks, in a effort to reclaim pride in public spaces. Of the thirty-three resplendent palm trees she planted on the derelict seafront, in the site of an ancient grove, only three survive today; the others are sawn-off stumps. 

Now in her late 70s, and largely in retreat from public life, her most recent photographic projects explore a ‘working through’ of mourning by superimposing portraits of Palermitan women over her earlier images of violence: an unsettling frictional montage of bloody (masculine) past and contemplative (feminine) present that invites reflection on uncertain future possibilities.

And secondly, Shobha, Letizia’s daughter, a photographer of international reputation in her own right. She arrives for our meeting to find me looking at one of her mysterious images; it shows a young girl in a long cape with expansive wings, her back towards the camera, as if flying quietly along this shuttered backstreet in Vucciria, past a dog asleep in the gutter, towards the market stalls just visible in the distance. “Ah yes, the angel, she brings a different quality of energy. We need blessings in this city. We need imagination and poetry”. 

Since her return to Palermo in the mid 1980s, having lived and studied abroad, Shobha’s work as a photographer has complemented and developed her mother’s, her own critical rage contoured differently by living and working elsewhere for much of the year and by a determination to “pursue life rather than death. The opposite of my mother’s images, and yet exactly the same impulse. We are both on the side of life. Palermo is above all a schooling in compassion. Extreme contradictions live so closely together here. You have to pass through pain to move forward, and I’m not afraid of that. What I really fear is ignorance and forgetting, that’s the void where the mafia and other abuses of power thrive. 

"When I first came back to Palermo, I threw myself into that beautiful, optimistic movement around Falcone and Borsellino, Orlando and others. After years of terrible violence and corruption, there was a renewed sense of life, of awakening, generosity, support, a collective endeavor to make things the best they could be; and for ten years I photographed life. But since then so much of this has been compromised and destroyed, and people forget what’s possible. And once more Palermo feels like an abandoned child ... 

"There are still people of such quality here, angels who bring light, and there is always beauty to be found in everyday life; but sometimes it feels like the city’s falling backwards into the darkness again. It's not all shit of course; but I live in the moment, and this is a dark moment”.

Shobha describes her recent international projects and how they relate to her work in Palermo: women labourers in Karnataka cutting stone in caves, driving trucks; women disfigured by acid attacks in Bangladesh; refugee nuns in a temple in Cambodia. “Always the same ethic. How to use photography to give light to a person’s dignity. How to bear witness to suffering with honesty and compassion”. 

She talks animatedly about teaching photography in Sicily, working with single mothers, autistic and Down’s syndrome kids, and about the professional training workshops she runs here and internationally: “I try to teach people to be aware, to be awake and ready, here now. I try to teach attention. Attention is hope”. 

Finally, she reflects on the differences between Palermo and her other home in India, where “lightness is mixed into the gravity of everyday life, there’s a greater softness and buoyancy there that supports people’s belief in the possibility of growth and change. In Palermo gravity has such an aggressive pull, its heaviness sucks people down, eats their energy. Here we have to really struggle to react and rebel against inertia, to pull ourselves from the mess. Last year this café was firebombed three times within a month. Why? Pizzo, competition, territory. Small minds. Because it’s nice. A normal life is not possible here. It’s the Wild West”. 
_____________________________________
 
For Shobha's website, and examples of her projects internationally, see here

For Letizia Battaglia, see her book Passion Justice Freedom: Photographs of Sicily, New York: Aperture (1999); and Giovanna Calvenzi's collection, Letizia Battaglia: Sulle ferrite dei suoi sogni, Milan: Mondadori (2010). For a recent Observer article by Peter Jinks about her work (4 March 2012), see here

Photograph of Letizia Battaglia and Shobha:

--> © Cristina Garcia Rodero 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

omnia vincit amor


In a much discussed passage in his essay on the uncanny, Sigmund Freud described getting lost in Genoa and walking in circles only to return unwittingly and repeatedly to a site of the city’s (and his) repressed fears and desires, the red-light district. During my trajectories through Palermo over the years I have often returned, despite myself, to the Ucciardone prison. Looping through unfamiliar back streets near the docks and, as if sleepwalking, once more bumping into the towering pock-marked walls of this notorious early nineteenth century Bourbon institution. 
 
Often referred to in the past as ‘the university of the mafia’ or ‘the mafia hotel’, in recent years the Ucciardone has been largely superseded by a new complex, the Pagliarelli, out on the city’s ring road; nonetheless it still holds many prisoners. As a structure of power and site of affect-laden memory it remains unsettling and alienating. Its brutal performance of authority, the lingering spectres of those it has incarcerated, the unimaginable violence and suffering it has contained, all conspire to conjure a gravitational pull that seems to haunt and suck so much of the life out of this area of the city.

Writing in 1956, a few months after his release from the Ucciardone, the activist and pacifist Danilo Dolci remembers the “pained eager eyes” of long-term prisoners “watching intently through the bars two cats copulating in the garden below, while the prison radio blared out a boxing match; and, high on the outside wall, one could read the hypocritical carved words: Omnia vincit amor” (quoted in McNeish, Fire Under the Ashes, 1965: 134).

Today the prison somehow finds me again, but this time I determine to contest its toxic power in some pissy act of resistance by walking its circumference while wishing away its raisons d’être: lasso it within the dream of the city being able to enact a better version of itself, something like that. Years beforehand, I had found a tiny niche in the prison wall from within which a faded miniature of Santa Rosalia looked out impassively at passersby, a skull balanced on a red bible in one hand, the powdery remains of flowers at her feet. There’s no sign of her today, just an abject corridor of traffic fumes, abandoned trash, dog shit, graffiti (FORZA NUOVA CONTRA IL COMMUNISMO), gouges in the stone, bodged repairs. 

Every twenty paces or so, I take a photograph of the surface of the wall with the vague notion of reconfiguring its architectural integrity by creating a composite linear collage that could be laid out flat like a pathway, rolled into a Mobius strip or punctured with portals giving on to other vistas of love conquering all. 

Then a sudden shout in Italian from above:
- ‘Ey Americano! Buon giorno!’
Looking up over the wall, the grilled window of one end-of-block cell is just visible from the street, sun-bleached rags and old clothing hanging from the metal bars. Two pairs of hands wave enthusiastically, a tiny flutter of humanity, and I wave back.
- ‘Hello hello! What are you doing?’
It’s a young man’s voice. His face remains invisible, just his hands and those of a silent cellmate in the afternoon light. I cup my hands to my mouth and shout back:
- ‘I’m walking and looking’.
- ‘A posto! Great! … Will you walk and look for me?’

do something


On foot to Brancaccio, a notoriously disaffected suburb just south of the old city of Palermo, towards the church of Padre Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Puglisi: a Roman Catholic priest who in the early 1990s was outspoken in his criticism of the church for its silence towards organized crime, and openly confronted the pervasive mafia presence in his San Gaetano parish. 

As a community priest renowned for his patience and good humour, Puglisi focused on trying to foster the cultural and social conditions for a gradual erosion of fearful acquiescence and omertà, establishing recreational facilities and educational support for young people that affirmed possibilities other than that of criminality, and, from the pulpit, quietly insisting on the incompatibility of Christian values with criminal activity. 

Provocatively in this context, he marked the anniversary of Paolo Borsellino’s death with a commemorative mass, and invited members of the Antimafia Commission to a school debate. In the face of repeated threats, he refused donations for religious festivals from those in odore di mafia, and rejected a mafia construction contract for church repairs; the doors of the church were firebombed. 

Finally, on the morning of 15 September 1993, his 56th birthday, the embattled priest was shot at close range outside his home beside the church. According to one of his killers who turned state witness after arrest, as they approached him he smiled and said, “I have been expecting you” ('Me lo aspettavo’). His well-known rhetorical question, an interrogative challenge to inertia, passivity and tacit complicity that is still associated with him, was taken up and echoed in graffiti around Brancaccio and elsewhere: “E sé qualcuno fa qualche cosa?” ('And what if someone were to do something?')

In the summer of 2012, the Vatican formally recognised Puglisi’s ‘martyrdom’, and set in motion the process of his beatification as a saint.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

blow wind blow


‘Say weather take this adult from its box’ (Robertson 2001:14)

In those art practices that most engage me, there is always weather. An environment in process, a ‘field’ rather than an ‘object’. An invitation to predictive interpretation of signs, patterns, behaviours in atmospheres characterised by complexity, variation, possibility, anomaly, disturbance, ephemerality, unfinishability; the core dynamic lies in the relational axis between stability and instability. An implicatedness in sensory, phenomenal events: temperature, wind speed/direction, humidity, pressure, atmosphere, resultant phenomena of various kinds (e.g. optical). Weather is always contextual, and at the same time in the ephemeral spatio-temporal events that characterise its happenings the local is invariably implicated in the trans-local. Where does the weather begin, and where does it end? ‘Any event is a fog of a million droplets’ (Deleuze & Parnet 1987: 65).

Blow Wind Blow / You are my Sunshine / California Sun / I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine / Just Walking in the Rain / After the Clouds Roll Away / The Wind Cries Mary / Come Rain or Shine / It’s Raining / Jamaican Hurricane / Let the 4 Winds Blow / Stormy Weather / A Place in the Sun / The Summer Wind / Uncloudy Day. (Playlist from ‘Weather’, the first episode of Bob Dylan’s recent US broadcasts as a DJ on ‘ Theme Time Radio Hour: dreams, schemes and themes’).

Consider weather’s centrality in histories, politics, cultures, economics, science, bodies, identities, emotional lives. Today our media is full of weather and/as catastrophe: the floods, droughts and other eruptive anomalies, the ‘storms from Paradise’ of global warming throwing us all backwards into the future. Then there’s the potency of weather in the imagination: different poetics of weather. Hovering in my mind is a cloud of artist-practitioners of weather, their noses to the wind, including authors of haiku (with its obligation to include kigo, a season or weather word), Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Nancy Holt, James Turrell, Denis Oppenheim, the Harrisons, Gary Snyder, Andrei Tarkovsky, Bill Viola, Olafur Eliasson, Tacita Dean, Min Tanaka (‘body weather’), Richard Long, Simon Whitehead, Lisa Robertson, Ben Marcus (author of the terrifying ‘The Weather Killer’, 1998). And what of weather and/as consciousness? Both involve dynamic, non-homogeneous environments forever in process, mutable, an ever-changing flux of micro-events in a relational field of infinite complexity …

As a most pervasive, protean and powerful force, perhaps weather suggests a dramaturgy of unfolding through a ‘logic of intensities’, an ‘eco-logic’, concerned ‘only with the movement and intensity of evolutive processes. Process, which I oppose here to system or structure, strives to capture existence in the very act of its constitution, definition and deterritorialisation’ (Guattari 2000: 44). Here we are close to Lyotard’s ‘theatre of energetics’, in which what appears is ‘the highest intensity … of what there is, without intention’ (Lyotard 1997: 288).

Philosophy sometimes intertwines promiscuously with meteorology, particularly in Lucretius, Spinoza, Nietzsche - perhaps above all in Deleuze whose staging of thought is a veritable becoming-weather. The shock of thought as lightning strike, the book as perfect storm and weather-factory. Consider the lexicon of Gilles the weatherman: the thisness of the concept, its event; difference and repetition; relations of speed and movement, symptomatologies of force; immanence, assemblage, anomaly, multiplicity, rhizome; connectivity, encounter, flow; the outside, the fold; intensity, sensation, ‘non-subjectified’ affect; haecceity, becoming-molecular, ‘a Life’. It’s all there.

Of course all outdoor site work necessarily engages with the unpredictabilities of weather, either opening itself to the generative possibilities of weather’s creative agency within the work – weather as co-author of events in contexts where site is conceived as active medium - or (fruitlessly) trying to deny it entry to the site as ‘container’/ backdrop. But what about encouraging weather indoors? In studio or gallery-based practices, weather can occur in the form of phenomenal events generated, deliberately or otherwise, by a particular set of conditions. Sometimes weather’s intervention is formally representational and consciously framed as artifice: e.g. the hosed indoor ‘rain’ in Brith Goff’s Gododdin, 1998, which seems to have been generative both in terms of its excess in the scenography’s ‘material imagination’ and of an invited recognition of the predicament of performers. Or, more complex in terms of perception and embodied immersion, Olafur Eliasson’s installed Weather Project in the Tate’s Turbine Hall (2003), with its sublime indoor ‘sun’ and haze of ‘clouds’, and its elaboration of an anomalous behavioural ‘field’ indoors. At other times, weather’s presence represents an opportunist preservation of the by-product of felicitous accident: e.g. raindrops falling through the broken glass dome of Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord and landing in a small pool in The Mahabharata.

On other occasions, weather’s apparition is both more artificial and actual, more wonder-ful for the nature of its contrivance. I think of the creation of clouds in a number of Lone Twin performances, enactments of a poetics, economy and ecology of transformation, circulation and inter-connection, in which Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters’s hot sweating bodies literally steam to become further imbricated in the hydrological cycle. The clouds actualise an ephemeral passage that soon dematerialises, leaving in their trail a palpable density of associations and metaphorical after-lives, as well as a certain poignancy, an absence. (‘The cloud, then, is no more than this: I’m missing something’ - Barthes 1978: 170. Italics in original). At a time when the cumulative actions of human beings are becoming a ‘force of nature’, clouds and rain always contain traces of other histories, other bodies, elsew/here. Like the best stories, weather always creates an ‘electrified periphery’ (Marcus 2004: x).

In today’s paper, details of yesterday’s weather ‘around the world’; in a moment of drought I look for the presence of rain elsewhere and the local temperatures, scant details of the event of ‘nature’ in different urban contexts; Amsterdam (18), Brussels (15), Copenhagen (20), Dakar (28), Florence (23), Karachi (30), Milan (24), New Delhi (29), Oslo (17), Strasbourg (16), Warsaw (15), Wellington (7). Here today, ’bright spells, but showers are likely later (20)’ - so, another day of multiple weathers, but the showers haven’t materialised yet. Meanwhile, there are tropical storms in the north-west Pacific, one of them developing into a super-typhoon called Saomai which has just struck the south-east coast of China; I wonder what’s happening there right now? Multiplicity and difference in the pliable simultaneity of space. (Michel Serres has explored the fact that the French language uses the same word for time and weather, temps).
As Doreen Massey writes, space is ‘the sphere of the possibility of the more-than-one. Without space there is no ‘multiplicity’ in that sense … That is the meaning of space as a simultaneity of ongoing stories: that sense of ‘right now’. Right now there is someone growing mangetout for your table; right now there is chaos on the streets of Baghdad; right now it is just about noon on the West Coast of America (while it is already evening here in London)’ (Massey 2003: 114). Right now, as the sun falls, people are endeavouring to return to their shattered homes in Southern Lebanon. Right now severe rainfall has produced catastrophic landslides in North Korea. Right now it’s fucking cold and wet in Wellington.
The ‘weather-ed’ works I privilege as models are radically porous, they propose: let what’s out-there in-here. Take, for example, Yoko Ono’s ‘video sculpture’ Sky TV (1966), installed at the Indica Gallery in London. Like so many of her Fluxus-inflected conceptual works, which rehearse a pedagogy of the imagination, Sky TV exists first as an instructional text, a score, that can be effected materially or imaginatively in order for the work to be realised; the work will exist if it is ‘constructed in your head’. A camera is placed outside the gallery, focused on the sky, with a live-feed relay to a monitor inside. In ways reminiscent of Duchamp and Cage, this work undoes the integrity of the self-contained art object. It punctures the confines or boundaries of the gallery, and dis-places a mediated everyday; as with Cage’s 4’33”, questions of authorship, control, perception, boundary and the parameters of art come into play. It introduces a simultaneity of times and spaces, a composite rhythmed space-time, an interface. It invites us to apprehend and contemplate processes and unpredictabilities unfolding beyond the agency or ownership of an art commodity context, while paradoxically riding on the hypnotic allure of TV.

’This weather is the vestibule to something fountaining newly and crucially and yet indiscernibly beyond. Perhaps here we shall be other than the administrators of poverty …’ (Robertson 2001: unpaginated introduction).

And then there’s the verb, ‘to weather’, and the effects of weather(ing) over time. Brecht’s costumes at the Berliner Ensemble, sculpted and grained by bodies. The pitted back wall of the Bouffes du Nord, scarred by fire and water. The landscape of Beckett’s face. The scuffs, smears, stains, rubbings, wear, tear and other traces inscribed by humans and others into the very fabric of the urban and domestic, through the habitual, the unintentional, the accidental: the stuff of a forensics of anonymous histories and overlooked behaviours, and of deep mappings of location, occupancy, the passage of bodies now absent … (I am thinking in particular of performance maker and scholar Mike Pearson’s work on ‘archaeologies of the contemporary past’ and the ‘restoration of an absent present’: see e.g. Pearson 2006)


References
Barthes, Roland (1978). ‘Clouds’, in A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (trans. Richard Howard), London: Penguin
Deleuze, Gilles and Parnet, Claire (1987). Dialogues (trans. Hugh Tomlinson & Barbara Habberjam), New York: Columbia University Press
Guattari, Félix (2000). The Three Ecologies (trans. Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton), London: The Athlone Press
Lyotard, François (1997).’The Tooth, the Palm’ (trans. Anne Knab & Michel Benamou), in Timothy Murray (ed.), Mimesis, Masochism and Mime: The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 282-8
Marcus, Ben (1998). ‘The Weather Killer’, in The Age of Wire and String, London: Flamingo, 81-7
Marcus, Ben (2004).’Introduction’, in Marcus (ed.), The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, New York: Anchor Books
Massey, Doreen (2003). ‘Some Times of Space’, in Susan May (ed.), Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project, London: Tate Publishing, 107-18
Pearson, Mike (2006). ‘Marking time’, in Judie Christie, Richard Gough, & Daniel Watt (eds), A Performance Cosmology: Testimony from the Future, Evidence of the Past, London & New York: Routledge,
Robertson, Lisa (2001). The Weather, London: Reality Street Editions

First published as 'Weather' in Performance Research 11:3 (‘Lexicon’), December 2006:© PR/David Williams. Reproduced here to mark yet another wild August day as gales rip through Devon & the south-west. Summer time ...

Friday, 11 August 2017

on dogs & goats & meanwhile


They say, if you dream an animal, it means ‘the self’ – that mess of memory and fear that wants, remembers, understands, denies, and even now we sometimes wake from dreams of moving from room to room, with its scent on our hands and a slickness of musk and fur on our sleep-washed skins, though what I sense in this, and cannot tell is not the continuity we understand as self, but life, beyond the life we live on purpose: one broad presence that proceeds by craft and guesswork, shadowing our love’ (John Burnside).


Dear S.

It is the evening, that transitional time the French language describes as entre chien et loup, between dog and wolf. Your face has made a gift of what it could leave behind of itself, and it is both dog and wolf, and I think to you in your absence and you are here and not-here. There are so many things I want to tell you. So many stories and connections, unfinished and unfinishable.

Did I ever tell you about Laika? I can’t remember. Like you, she is in my thoughts right now. In November 1957 when I was 5 months old, Laika became the first living creature to enter space, orbiting around the earth while I orbited my mother in extreme proximity. Found as a stray dog in the streets of Moscow, and chosen for her small size and even temperament, Laika was about 3 years old when she became the first cosmonaut aboard Sputnik 2, and an unwitting instrument of cold war politics: an understudy for man in the complex ideologies and developing technologies of ballistic missiles, satellites, manned-space flight. In Russian, ‘laika’ means ‘barker’ and is the generic name for a range of Russian dog breeds. In a Soviet radio broadcast a week before the launch, she barked into the microphone. The American press dubbed her ‘Muttnik’. Over a period of weeks, Laika was trained to endure launch and flight conditions. To adapt to the cramped space of the cabin, she was kept in progressively smaller cages for periods of up to three weeks. She was placed in centrifuges that simulated the vibrations and extreme G-forces in the acceleration of a rocket launch, and in simulators that reproduced the volume of noise within a space craft. Just before launch, Laika was sponged in a diluted alcohol solution and carefully groomed. Iodine was painted onto shaved areas where sensors were attached to monitor her bodily functions: blood pressure, breath frequency, heartbeat. She was fitted with a metal chain harness to prevent her turning around, and a rubber bag to collect bodily waste. There was a radio transmitter, and a television camera that doesn’t seem to have worked …

Shortly after the launch on November 3, one of the heat shields fell off, leaving Laika exposed to high temperatures. The early telemetry from the electrodes on her body show she was highly agitated (her pulse rate at three times the normal resting rate) and barking, although still eating some food. In the end, Laika seems to have died from trauma and dehydration after 3-5 hours; she was certainly dead by the completion of the 4th orbit. The dog circled the earth 2,570 times in her space capsule coffin, at a height of about 2,000 miles and at a speed of about 18,000 m.p.h..The capsule finally burnt up on re-entry five months after launch: 162 days of meanwhile, then dog-star. It’s only recently that the real nature and timing of her death have come to light. The cold war Soviet PR machine concealed the reality of her fate and constructed a fantasy version of Laika circling the earth, peering inquisitively out of the window at Earth for more than a week of carefree doggy flight. For 40 years, the official ‘history’ was that Laika had lived to see the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution, before dying peacefully. It is now clear that in reality she is the only living space passenger to have been launched without any intention of retrieval. There was no life-support system for long-duration flight, and no descent capsule. In fact it was planned for Laika to be euthanased after 10 days with a poisoned serving of food. Meanwhile in Soviet Russia plaques were unveiled, statues erected, commemorative stamps printed. There were brands of chocolates and cigarettes named after her, and now there are novels, band names and songs, films, website memorials with audio samples of Laika’s telemetry signals picked up from satellites, including her heartbeat. Laika has entered modern mythology and cultural imaginations as an unwitting hero/victim of our technological age and its political tensions. Four years after Laika’s flight, in April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space aboard Vostok 1.

Thirteen other Soviet dogs went into space. Five died in flight. A puppy from one of Laika’s successors was sent to Kennedy by Kruschev, as a kind of cold war gift/taunt. In this period shortly before the first manned space flight and then throughout the 1960s, countless other animals were also involved in US and Soviet space missions: mice, rats, monkeys, cats, frogs, spiders, fish, crickets, snails, worms. On board the Space Shuttle Columbia’s final flight in 2003, in addition to the seven astronauts, there were silkworms, spiders, carpenter bees, harvester ants and Japanese killfish (as well as roses, moss and other plant life). Nothing survived the explosion at re-entry apart from hundreds of tiny worms known as Caenorhabditis elegans found alive on the ground in Texas: the humble nematode.

How dogged we are, the humans, the deterritorialised animal.

You remember I told you about my friends in Chicago, the Goats? I told them about you too (did I?): your name and its meanings, your journeys, your gradual blindness, your death, your burial under the slab of slate by the eucalyptus tree. I certainly showed them some video of you during your last summer of life: your left eye missing but still quick there somehow in the shadows, you looking up to meet the camera with the other eye as you lay resting in the dancing dapple of the shadow of a tree. You look peaceful in the video. Let sleeping dogs lie. I wish I had sung Jacques Brel to you: ‘Laisses-moi devenir l’ombre de ton ombre / L’ombre de ta main / L’ombre de ton chien / Ne me quittes pas …’

Well, since you left the Goats have made a performance in which at times they talk of dogs, and at times they become-dog. The performance is ghosted by animal life, there’s a diverse menagerie here filtered through a choreographic lens of ‘dogness’. Many of the age-old associations of dogs and their cultural roles hover around this work: companionship and fidelity, submissiveness and humility, dependence, tractability, tenacity, behavioural abhorrence, symbiosis, mediation and death. The ways in which they represent animality – and therefore humanity, for humans tend to make of animals the constitutive outside of human-being - are telling. Sometimes they offer playful domesticated impressions. Mark on all fours, snuffling and chewing a stick. Mark travelling through the space leading with his nose, his arm extended from his face along the floor like a trunk; he sniffs the floor as he crosses it, his fingers now nostrils searching and flaring, a sensory field actualised: he sees feelingly. Growls and bared teeth and barks. ‘The dog grinneth’: grrrr. At other times, it is less to do with imitation and more to do with becoming-other through intensive alliance, contagion or aggregation, in Deleuze’s sense: affinity rather than identity. The circulation of affects in relations of movement and speed. Zones of proximity and indiscernibility in the untimely processes of desire. At one point, someone (Karen I think, as Simone Weill) says: ‘God grant that I may become a dog’. There is a repeated physical score which sequences scratching, jumping, rolling: a stuttering pack choreography. Like Alexis the Trotter the horse imitator who was ‘never as much of a horse as when he played the harmonica’, Matthew is never as much of a dog as when he tells Tommy Cooper jokes or gives Bryan a glass of water wearing an elasticated band over his top lip: muzzle, restraint, torture instrument, facial wound, moustache. And Bryan is never as much of a dog as when he watches Matthew building his precarious cardboard table, then is deterritorialized from his role and almost runs to the aid of Matthew as he wrestles with the cardboard table that almost topples. Life, beyond the life we live on purpose. At such moments, there is a kind of diffraction of difference and connectivity in an event, and the other remains inappropriate(d).

Somewhere in the performance Bryan explains the mechanics of optics in the eye, and with enthusiastic hesitancy attempts gamely to demonstrate the phenomenon of the blindspot. He holds a finger in front of his face, fixes it with one eye as the other is held shut, then the other Goats move towards him and into his blindspot: ‘Right now the dog has entered my blindspot and I cannot see it anymore and it has disappeared’, he says. I thought of you at this moment. The blindspot as literality and as metaphor. Concealment. Dis-appearance. Now I see you, now I don’t. Doggone. And I thought of that ambiguous photograph of the British sailor Donald Crowhurst, who disappeared during a round-the-world race in 1969. In the grainy image, he gives a thumbs-up gesture to a film camera on board, a pretender’s performance of well-being by the chirpy sea-dog; and his left eye is blotted out by his thumb. A temporary partial blindness as he erases his capacity to see clearly and activates his blindspot. In reality he was far from being alright. He was all at sea, as we now know from the logs he kept on board; they reveal the critical gap between the fictional selves and locations he constructed in his radio messages for the media and his family at home, and the confused unravelling of his sense of both self and location. Ultimately, with no working chronometer to estimate his position and navigate, he became utterly disoriented, going round and round in circles in the South Atlantic and in his mind, a spiralling meanwhile as he suffered the torture of guilt and of a condition called ‘time-madness’. And still he sailed on, ever further into his blindspot and into dis/appearance . Part of his final journal entry before finally jumping overboard about 1800 miles from home reads: ‘It is finished It is finished IT IS THE MERCY’.

At one point in the Goat Island performance, Matthew quotes Jean Améry detailing the etymological roots of the word ‘torture’: from the Latin torquere, to twist, or torment. ‘What visual instruction in etymology’, he says, before describing the terrible details of an extreme experience of physical torture. In search of instruction, visual or otherwise, I look to the entry for ‘dog’ in the OED: 'Previous history and origin unknown. 1. A quadruped of the genus Canis, numerous races or breeds, varying greatly in size shape and colour … referrred by zoologists to a species C. familiaris; but whether they have a common origin is a disputed question … 3. Applied to a person; a. in reproach, abuse, or contempt: a worthless, despicable, surly, or cowardly fellow. b. Playfully (usually in humorous reproof, congratulation, or commiseration): a gay or jovial man, a gallant: a fellow, ‘chap’. 4. Astron. a. The name of two constellations, the Great and Little Dog (Canis Major and Minor) situated near Orion; also applied to their principal stars Sirius and Procyon: see DOG-STAR. b. The Hunting Dogs, a northern constellation (Canes Venatici) near the Great Bear. 5. Applied, usually with distinctive prefix, to various animals allied to, or in some respect resembling, the dog: e.g. burrowing-dog, the COYOTE or prairie-wolf, Canis latrans; pouched-dog, a dasyurine marsupial of Tasmania, Thylacinus cynophelas, also called zebra-wolf; prairie-dog, a North American rodent … 7. A name given to various mechanical devices, usually having or consisting of a tooth or claw, used for gripping or holding … 9. An early kind of fire-arm. 10. Name given to various atmospheric appearances. a. A luminous appearance near the horizon; also fog-dog, sea-dog. b. Sun-dog, a luminous appearance near the sun, a parhelion. c. Water-dog, a small dark floating cloud, indicating rain'.

So, definition as proliferation of signification. A word (and a species) of uncertain origin, sometimes applied to people in either derogatory or playful fashion. Astronomical constellations, formerly used in navigation. Other creatures with certain physiological similarities, one of those mentioned now extinct and another on the cusp of disappearance; Thylacinus cynepholas, also known as the Tasmanian tiger, was hunted to extinction in the 1930s, although there are still unconfirmed sightings to this day. Then mechanical grips/restraints, weaponry, and weather phenomena. A multiplicity within the singularity ‘dog’, all of these attributes and associations somehow swarming for me in the performance. ‘Every animal is fundamentally a pack’, Deleuze said somewhere. And Kafka once wrote: ‘All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers, is contained in the dog’.

A final thought. When the Goats mention Simone Weill’s surname, they pronounce it ‘while’, as if referring to an in-between space-time: a suspension or waiting in the gap, the gap itself the dynamic relational axis between two terms in a binary, making of them a triad. Dogs do an enormous amount of semiotic and performative work for us, and representations of dogs have often been used to figure cultural change and negotiate the borderlands in-between. As a species in part defined by different modes of relationality, the dog is ‘an animal that emerges between others’, and as such ‘presents special challenges to species-centred notions of history’; in myth, they are ‘markers of thresholds, especially those that lead to forbidden territories’. Most notably the contested spaces between nature and culture, and the uncertain transition between life and death. For John Berger, dogs are the ‘natural frontier experts’ of ‘the interstices between different sets of the visible’: ‘Their eyes, whose message often confuses us for it is urgent and mute, are attuned both to the human order and to other visible orders. Perhaps this is why, on so many occasions and for different reasons, we train dogs as guides’.

In French, however, Weill is pronounced ‘veil’, like the concealing fabric employed in an act of modesty, mourning, disguise or revelation (Salome). Or the clouding or obscuring of vision in an imperfect eye: ‘She had been born with the veil in her eye. She had been born with the veil in her soul … Seeing was a tottering believing. Everything was perhaps … Do I see what I see? What was not there was perhaps there. To be and not to be were never exclusive’ (Cixous).

Everything is perhaps.

My love to you,
D


References
Berger, John (2001). The Shape of a Pocket, London: Bloomsbury
Burnside, John (2002). ‘Animals’, in The Light Trap, London: Jonathan Cape, 18-19
Cixous, Hélène and Derrida, Jacques (2001). Veils (trans. Geoffrey Bennington), Stanford: Stanford University Press
Dean, Tacita (1999). Teignmouth Electron, London: Book Works
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (trans. Brian Massumi), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Kafka, Franz (1999)[1922]. ‘Investigations of a Dog’, in Nahum N. Glatzer (ed.), The Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka, London: Vintage/Random House, 278-316
McHugh, Susan (2004). Dog, London: Reaktion Books
Tomalin, Nicholas and Hall, Ron (1995). The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, Camden, Maine: International Marine


Originally published as ‘L’ombre de ton ombre: on dogs and goats and meanwhile’, in Frakcija (Croatia), June 2005, no. 35. Commissioned for Part 2 of Goat Island’s ‘Reading Companion’ to When will the September roses bloom? Last night was only a comedy. Film still of Donald Crowhurst from his own footage: Arena, BBC, 1993. Text © David Williams