The organisation of things

Essays, India

I am now 5 weeks into this residency, and I’ve been thinking about the process of making a new body of work. The way at the beginning it is important just to start; the trust that the materials and process will do the leading. For me, to make something physical is to reflect and acknowledge the body. When all of the plans are inside my head, it is simultaneously too hard to understand them, and they are too grandiose. My mind can construct anything, but my body is bound by its humanness; tiredness, reach of arms and time, for a start. These things are always very important to me in my work; I want to make things which reflect this embodiment rather than trying to get away from it. I love to see work which displays incredible skill, but I also love to see work which is brave enough to show its clumsiness, fear and vulnerability. I’m always trying to be brave enough to do that. I think it is a way to create intimacy.
People keep saying I’ve made so much work. I keep thinking do I have enough time left? I know that as soon as I start building, these pieces will disappear into and onto a large structure. And also there will be surprisingly and magically enough. Everything will shift once I start building outside. I will be on the street, and there people will engage with me. So it’s been important to have this first part where I am in the studio, making, laying out, reflecting my internal experiences through external materials. What I think I am going to make turns out to be something very different. Often all I can sense is an energy, like I am getting too tight, I need to be more loose. And so I get on the floor with newspaper, tissue and glue, and dip and drip into mounds and clumps. Or I know I want to move my body in a particular way, so I add a piece of charcoal to each hand and move blindly before a piece of paper. When I open my eyes, it has something to tell me. I am going to dance class; I have been drawing the stones which are getting released.
Now I feel more relaxed too, more like I am a part of this place. People recognise me at the coffee shop, and at the post office the woman says ‘you are a writer’, as I post my perhaps fifteenth letter to my sweetheart. I am nervous of how my work will be received, and I also want to be able to communicate. I think I will do a bit of writing which I can get translated into a couple of local languages and leave print outs for people to pick up. Maybe a new piece each week, as things develop.
There are things I have to hide here. They will need soft places to be protected. They will need to find ways to be expressed. Fellow students in my dance class ask me what is your work about? I say femininity, sexuality, alternative structures of meaning. See thing building? It is concrete. My work leans up against that, spreads out its tendrils and reminds you of the thick wild grass which cracks the concrete.
A friend asked me today for some pictures of an old work; The Way you have held things in Christchurch. I found images of the install. When it snowed; when my friend said build with the mud. Here in India there are piles of building materials, as apartments go up everywhere. The old bungalows are demolished and on the pavement there are piles of red clay, grey concrete; pigments to make things hold together. I want some of the mud, some of the clay. I want to wedge it wet in between paper and fabric and glitter and gold. The earth which will liquefy with the rain and run back into itself. I want to see this structure transform and change as the heavens open and drench it all.
When I look at the install images, I am reminded of the other end of the process; when there is a gap wide enough that you can see the work properly. Suddenly it seems enough, even beautiful, and certainly exactly what it needed to be. What it could be. What is was.
The difference between what the mind can conceive and what the body can do is wide. And human. I buy strings of flowers from the women outside the temple down the road. It’s the first time I’ve bought from them, and I squat down to ask to three lengths of marigolds and pinks. Lengths from elbow to wrist and back again. It’s hard to describe how grateful I am for their gentle warmth and welcome, here on the pavement. Yesterday outside the chemist an old man took my arm, and it took me a moment to realise that what he wanted was help stepping down from the high, cracked pavement. His skin was cool and papery, and we talked about the difference between having many gods and having one; what it means to have only a singular outcome of heaven as an option.
I do have a shrine here; it has things from home my sweetheart gave me, a nutmeg from the food forest we visited, and pieces of humble shine. A gold sweet wrapper, a fragment of sequined cloth from the pavement. The motorbikes here have pieces of orange and gold cloth tied to their handlebars sometimes, for luck. The things we do to get us through. The actions of wishing and objects of hope. Mine are these humble, funny, small vulnerable things. We treasure what we want to protect perhaps. They are objects which represent play, imagination, curiosity and wonder. Beauty found in the discarded and left over.
I realise walking home with my bag of flowers tucked gently to my chest, that it is the work I value, the energy and time, the bodies and blessings of these women who spent time tying these together. I hope that comes through in my work I make here too. I often laugh at myself, at how long it takes to recreate the tangles which I see on the street, in seaweed or piles of rubbish. Mona comes into my studio and carefully separates piles of wool, winding them onto paint tubes and rolls of newspaper. I don’t have the language to say she can leave them as they are – that the tangles are what I want. The complicated, multi layered, fragmentary structures for which I need to see piles of tree cuttings to remind me that there are branches as well as leaves. I don’t know if I will have time to make what I want to and dream of here, but it is emerging, coalescing out of the bundles and drawings growing here.

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