I have been trying to figure out what the function of these objects is. Outside a gallery, outside. Close to a body, yours and mine. I lent some sculptures to a theatre group for a piece they were making. They came to my studio, and when I saw them cradle these objects, a flash of something came across me. It’s like a message too fast to see; a glimpse of the sense I am seeking. They held them like living beings; like live beings. Alive, to live, tricky and changing, processes halted mid stream so they still look like they are growing.
I have been trying to figure out what I have been doing with my life; what I have spent my time practicing and perfecting. What is this craft, and what use is it?
Recently a friend died of breast cancer. There’s nothing that makes you feel as fucking useless as serious illness. All of our human efforts small in comparison to the inexorable passage from this body to the next place. The huge wave. I was in the studio one day, and just felt so strongly to give her a sculpture. It’s not often I do this- I think people should be able to choose what they want to live with visually. But in this case, it felt like all I could do. I gave her Femme Club, a glittery, encrusted, lumpy weapon for the spirit. How we resist what we cannot change in poetic ways. How we try to offer each other strength and hope, beauty and the fierce moments we need to survive every day.
I started making these clubs when I was verbally assaulted and stopped on the street by a gang of men, one of whom pulled out his dick to show me he was a man. At the same time my genderqueer lover was being teased and bullied in their workplace and both of us felt like getting smaller, as well as fighting, standing our ground. These objects were like talisman, ritual objects, my attempts to make the internal battle visual, external, physical. To make it real. Here it is, it looks like this for me, and maybe it can help you too.
The way through. The ways things come through from that side to this; through matter, lumpy, drippy and complicated. Barely held together, trying to get born in the most difficult ways.
We have always needed objects to remind us: memento mori to remind us that we will die, and flourishes to remind us to live.
Recently I watched a video interview recorded with a witch, Pam Grossman, who lives in New York City. I watched it in an auditorium in City Gallery, and afterwards there was a live Skype where we could ask her questions. I asked her how we can keep ourselves safe when we bring these things into these most unsafe environments. The gallery, the institutions, the white and hard spaces. How do we bring the guts and fire and tangles that lift us through and keep us safe? How can we be brave enough to do what we need, and what we know, what our ancestors knew and passed down in their bones and ours. My acupuncturist told me that week that in Chinese medicine there is no distinction between the mind and the belly, the emotions and the bones. That they are literally the same things, and everything holds everything else. Your bones are made of your fear and your guts are a tangle of your love. Maybe the body, the matter we are here in, has some connection like this to the matter we make from.
I said to Pam the witch that in this country, the indigenous people have vast knowledge and wisdom over how to protect and bring things from the spirit world to the human one. I have been blessed to be supported by tangata whenua in many of my openings, making the safe paths with ancient and powerful knowledge and practice. Other times I have made it up, feeling for my psychic ancestors and the resonances that come through. Asking for help from people who can welcome me in when there is no-one and I feel like a vampire who literally cannot cross the threshold without an invite. I saw it today with a five year old. Asked to go inside my home because it was cold, she said no I would rather go and be in the car. I thought hey, of course, she hasn’t been invited in, and jumped up saying I’ll walk you, I’ll show you the way, you are welcome. Children know these things and say so much more easily.
We all have something we know. One person who welcomed me said in Chinese culture we would sweep out the space, so they did. They brought me crystals, and the other person brought me a flower, and we banged the silent, white walls.
I asked Pam, what would you advise to keep ourselves safe? She said throw a circle. Decide what your intention is for the space. Ask from the seven directions. And make sure you have eaten enough food, meditate. Keep yourself grounded so whatever swirls around you, you are grounded.
Always this balance between the body and the spirit, one a gateway to the other and both the same and kept separate and put through the processes that used to be done by a church. But witchcraft is outside the church.
I think, I have always known this, and I’ve been taught it again. Pray, make physical, make the path, maintain the path, breathe, feed the people.
We need objects to take us through and carry us back. We need them to protect us, to remind us and reflect us.
Could it be that this practice is a kind of medicine?
Could it be that these objects are a kind of poultice?
I am finding out.