My Dead Family, Adrian Villar Rojas
the way is lost...
a forest of
unable to reach
who will care if I can
find my way?
Adrian Villar Rojas, My Dead Family, 2010
Site specific sculpture, wood, rock, clay
Ushaia's End of the World Biennial, Argentina
Fireflies on the water, Yayoi Kusama
It comes –
of wonder and fear,
of heat and light.
As gentle as it is fierce.
Small pinpricks of light spraying through the black. Fireworks of stars hovering above the water, then falling…
I’m falling –
into the black and star lights that fly towards an unknown and then deep into the water that shifts from being a mirror to a skin of air that stretches from above to an endless depth.
Caught in a starry web, my skin pricks with the heat of a thousand lights.
A tattoo of light.
My body is etched by light,
Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water, 2009
Tusk, Ricky Swallow
What remains when all flesh,
sinks to earth.
When all muscle melts
And the heart,
no longer held as a chamber
in a home,
What remains when bones
clasp for dear life,
as two souls reach across space
For love without end.
Ricky Swallow, Tusk, 2007, patinated bronze, brass, edition of 3, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Lessons in Darkness, Christian Boltanski
There was a space. Under the floor. It was here that the boy lived.
He could not remember how he got there, all memory trapped in a blackness that had begun without trace.
Each day he would notice the passing of time with the slits of light that filtered through the boards and the quality, whether it was the sun or the lamp. There was enough room to move his small limbs, and then there would be a flood of brightness as one of the silent couple opened the door in the floor, smiling as they reached for him to come from his hiding into the light for a fraction of time.
Sometimes the boy would sleep. The measuring of time requiring a concentration that sent his mind spinning out of focus, so that he began to drowse with the effort. His journey from dark to light, at intervals during the day, when all appeared safe, would often involve attempts by the quiet couple to keep his mind active. They would provide stories for him to read, or they would whisper one to him. Then there were the books with mathematical equations for him to do. They believed he had a gift. He could solve equations like puzzles.
When he was under the floor, he would idle the time by remembering the pages of sums, memorizing them like patterns in images. He would always look for patterns, whether the web of veins of a leaf, or the wings of a butterfly. He was also good at drawing, but he knew that the pictures he made were burnt in the potbelly stove in the kitchen. He left no trace.
At night he slept on a thin mattress on the floor, just near the door to that space underneath. The windows were black with blinds that shut out all the light, and he could only drift to sleep when his eyes, accustomed to the night, could find the shadows, objects captured by shards of light from under the doors and cracks between the blind and windows. And they moved. Nothing was still and he tightened the blankets around him as if this would ward off the figures he shaped with his eyes and mind, so that he imagined a world within a world. A world he could not see by day but that was only revealed at night.
His eyes grew accustomed to the dark and then the shadow dance would begin. There was a wobbly form that was like a rippling sheet of a ghost, and then there was the stick with a head like a ball that jerked from side to side. It bumped and swayed a bird with a vulture’s beak, its head nearly toppled by the force, its feathers splayed in all directions.
Then there was the night when the thunder of footsteps brought the quiet couple racing into the room. In the candlelight, the world within a world was destroyed as they opened the door in the floor and then he was in total darkness, a rug placed directly above him. There were no shadows here, the threat unseen.
He had a sense of the days as they came and went, but the distance of time, its length was lost, as one day rolled into the next. Then it stopped. Time stopped. His day was not marked by the opening of the door, and the faint movements and sounds of the couple. Instead there was silence and a nagging feeling welled in his chest that he had felt once before as fear. And this had been blocked by the darkness that had engulfed him as he began his life living under the floor. He had been told never to leave unless they came for him, and if they didn’t, to stay here as long as he could. A parcel was beneath the floor that he was instructed to take with him if he ever left the apartment.
How do you measure that kind of time? How much time was long enough?
It was only when he could no longer see the light through the boards around the edges of the rug that he pushed gently against the door and saw the shadows of things, lighter now as the blinds were open. He knew he was alone and he moved in his stockinged feet as they had shown him, to find the food they would have given him, except they were not there. So he sat in the silence, close to the door and waited with no sense of what he was waiting for.
The boy was eventually found by the Allies in the Second World War. He was locked by then in a silence they could not erase. They pieced his story together through the drawings and words he wrote, and that he abandoned as soon as he made the marks. They did not understand that he was leaving these pieces of paper for them to burn, as if thinking to himself that would always be the case. He would leave no trace, no trail to mark his existence.
The first drawing he made he gave to the man who found him, a high ranking officer of the British army. Unable to communicate, the officer had given him a pencil and paper and gestured for him to write in the hope he would spell his name. Instead the boy drew a wavy outline of a man in uniform, picturing the moment he came into the apartment from the light outside.
He was floating in a halo of light, a feathery light like he had wings.
Christian Boltanski, Lessons in Darkness/Leçons de Ténèbres installation comprises: Théâtre d’Ombres; Les enfants de Dijon and L'Ange d'Alliance, multi-media installation
Images courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
Cell [glass spheres and hands], Louise Bourgeois
I arrange five chairs in a circle and sit at the centre.
Mama, Papa, Henriette, Pierre and…
But I am at the centre.
always, always, always
I’m not seated on one of the chairs, no, I’m at the table, my hands outstretched, playing with something, wringing, pleading, wanting it all to stop…
But where am I?
At the table, leaning forward, playing…a piece of bread, mashed, squashed, made smooth with spit…and I can hear Papa talking, no yelling and then, yes, SMASH, a plate, and then another…
Where is he? Papa…
He is seated on one of the chairs, a bubble of air, a glass bubble of air.
Up in the attic, breathing out, I can see bubbles of air. The dust shivers and the membrane grows. Huge. As big as me.
And I make a tent. So I can hide. Up high, hanging from the rafters are frames of chairs, waiting for covers to be made. A few I find on the attic floor and I arrange and drape them with a large tapestry, threadbare, almost beyond repair and most likely it will never be attended to. It is from Mama’s family and she will not put this before commercial work.
This is what my family does. They repair and make tapestries. What is broken is made unbroken. A kind of rebirth. Instead of helping, I often find myself making small, intricate webs to catch a spider, threading the silk through a cast-off piece of fabric. Mama merely smiles, too distracted by the movement of her fingers.
I can see the mist of the afternoon light that holds the dust, suspended. It's then that I breathe and my breath expands to hold the light and the dust. And me. I feel myself within the bubble and light.
But I'm not.
I'm not there. I'm here, arms on this table, like a chopping block.
When I look down, that’s what I see:
my arms and hands, from the elbows
I imagine, for a moment, I can lift the chair high over my head and bring it down…
and it will hit….
I'm light, a bubble of air, floating amidst the hanging and rolled fabrics and tapestries, amidst the pieces of furniture either broken or incomplete.
I want to float, to be in space and not confined.
Yet here, even here, I'm trapped.
I can't escape
all of them
I feel myself floating towards the window, slightly open so that I can hear the call of birds and feel the touch of a cool breeze. I'm breathing with the air and I know, if I wish it, I can move beyond this space.
But then I see it, the large spider in its web, high and suspended in the legs of a skeleton frame chair. And I'm not free. I'm caught, held fast by the web of space and time and this physical reality.
The bubble splutters and I fall.
The air gushes from my lungs and I'm lying, looking at the ceiling and the heaviness of the earth and all that is material presses down.
The ribs of chairs, the faded, threadbare webs of tapestries…if I close my eyes a little, they morph into a bigger web, a frame, surrounding me, catching me, protecting me; suffocating, soothing, so familiar and alien, bruising me.
I cannot escape these five chairs.
And Her. It always comes back to Her and Papa and Mama’s silence. It takes three, does it not? Three for one to be betrayed.
Where am I?
Invisible, to all of them up here, they can't see; see as I take the scissors and slash through a tapestry, see as I drape it over all the chairs, a blindfold.
Because that is what they want:
not to see
but I do
and I'm here
and I can't
what I love
and what I want to
CELL (GLASS SPHERES AND HANDS), 1990-1993
Glass, marble, wood, metal and fabric
218.4 x 218.4 x 210.8 cm.
Collection National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Photo: Peter Bellamy
© Louise Bourgeois Trust/VAGA, New York. Licensed by Viscopy, 2010.
room 8.96, Carolyn Eskdale
it wasn’t enough to say you’re gone
Words that fell through air, at first feather light, then sucked of all resistance to earth, a weight to spear flesh.
those very words, spoken on the phone
Her eyes drift to the weave of muslin, muffling sight through a window.
From the moment she entered the house where he’d lived, she could hear it.
The silence of a breath held.
as if to avoid, to skirt that other word
Rooms, hollow and empty, filled solid with things.
And the smell. Dank from the heavy rains, soaking soil, its mineral taint seeping through the wood and carpet, the chill of plaster and stone.
how that one word ends…
The dust was hanging in the air, catching in her throat as she breathed.
He’d chosen none of it. She knew that. Some of the furniture came with the house, other pieces he’d inherited.
they said you felt nothing
She walked, light-headed at how easily he slipped from being in this life to not.
no-thing…what could that mean?
And then she stopped, arrested by light shafting through a pane of glass. There was a fine tracery, a web of lines, faintly etched on its surface that caught and cracked the light and set her mind wandering through to the place beyond it, threaded and shaped.
how to leave - let go
Her hand fisted to hold the muslin to cocoon herself with it. A taut sheet of mesh like skin. An echo of being held.
move away from here - you
As if words could somehow release him from her life.
how to say
Standing still, shrouded in the musty fabric, the words were falling.
Too blunt to capture the passing of a life.
you felt nothing, and to me, you are everything
As if words ever could.
Carolyn Eskdale, room 8.96, 1996
Multimedia installation, Temple Studio, Melbourne
Totality, Tacita Dean
imagine this -
the absence of
where celestial wonders
guide your eyes,
in the light
a spectacle that
has you holding
as if time hinges
on this moment,
but on this day
the sky is
the darkest phase
how an eclipse
Tacita Dean, Totality, 2000
Film still, 16mm colour anamorphic, mute
Image courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
myein, Ann Hamilton
On a wall not far from her home, she wrote one word with a piece of chalk coloured a deep, deep pink.
Oracle, prophetess. Her name.
She knew her name, but her thoughts were fog - mist if they strayed beyond what she could perceive in the present. Her senses guided her, kept her moving and in the moment, but her mind clouded if her focus shifted. Like slipping into a blanketing pool of water. The feeling made her sick. She'd close her eyes as if she could block it from entering her consciousness. And she'd put her hand to her mouth, ready to vomit to rid herself of the cloying shadow and unease, not being able to digest the feeling.
The fog scared her and she'd walk to keep from its shadow.
She recognised her family, but all their attempts to jolt her memory failed. The walking began as a way to stop her rocking, curled in a ball on her bed. The movement centred her, allowing her eyes to focus, take in her surroundings; where she was, that very instant.
Her brother, Carlo, accompanied her, guided her, or she guided him. Her attention would be caught by a colour, sound or smell and she'd gravitate to it, no thought, just an instinct that meant for a moment she could feel. He walked with her out of guilt. At first. Then he walked because it soothed him too, sluggish from lack of sleep, too afraid to go into the black where the nightmare waited. Slumbered. Of being swallowed by the sea. He'd raced the boat, egged on by Sybilla who loved the feel of moving through the water and the air at such speed, defiant. They were going fast, too fast and then, nothing, the black and cold, the boat tipped and sinking, Sybilla’s hair spread in waves around her, the water a weight. And cold.
But sometimes she walked alone. When her family found her after frantically searching, often with the police, there was talk of confining her to the house. Deadbolts on the door, a security system and then her father would look at her and saw the face he said was like an angel. He refused to cage her. So they insisted she carry a phone. The ring tone made her smile, so they tried to work with her, This small trust and freedom in the hope she wouldn't get lost.
When she walked with Carlo they went to specific places. He thought, perhaps, a familiar space might trigger something. Some memory.
She loved the feel of the floor in the Basilica di San Marco. A waving floor of marble that had become the sea. She'ld kneel to touch it with her hands, feeling the swirl of the light, motes of dust swimming in the watery air, and she was moving with the sense of the water beneath the floor, stone merging with the element itself, rippling like the waves of the sea.
Water, everywhere. In Venice where they lived, the air was heavy and wet, saturated by proximity to the sea. Shaped by it, salvaged from it, built on it, wedded to it.
And the light.
There was a particular walk where Sybilla came across a row of houses with rose pink walls, the colour bled through the water and air, the walls appeared stained, drenched with pigment.
Matter suspended as a film in the air.
And the light. It hung in the air, was thickened by it. Liquid air. She felt she was breathing underwater, swimming through the air, needing gills to filter the water out so the oxygen could come into her lungs. Then she gagged, the feeling, it felt…and Carlo was there, holding her as she bent over, confused, momentarily seeing the fog, the dark. She jolted up to look at him and her face became twisted to cry, “Il mare…”. Carlo stiffened, “Sybilla…” he didn’t know whether to ask: do you remember?
Alone, she would walk along the stretch of paved land abutting the lagoon near the mouth of the Canal Grande. The air was cloying, saturating the wool of her top, as the vapour from the sea drifted and rolled in with the waves.
Sfumato, a quality in Renaissance painting where the subtle transitions of colour and tone created an atmosphere that suffused and softened all elements of the painting.
Sfumare, to evaporate into smoke.
It was the very mist, the moist air and the filtered light of Venice itself.
She carried a bottle of water and opened it to tip its contents on her hand. Kneeling on the paving she imprinted her hand, small, child-like. She watched as the imprint disappeared.
Carlo guided her to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. He smiled when she stopped, mesmerized before a window that traced an arch against the canal beyond it. It was like that before time, before the accident and the absenting of herself; the absenting of her memories. She had stood like this, stilled by the startling and dissolving series of figurines made from ultramarine glass.
The forms were soft, rounded, curling and still. The shapes moved out of the gallery space into the light and air beyond, to the water and the sky.
Small portals of glass, fusing light, fusing air, infused with the elements outside that very space.
The blue was heavenly, transporting, beyond.
They walked outside the gallery and feeling the crunch of the gravel path, she looked down and then crouched to feel it. Slightly wet, she ran her fingers across its surface, and then slowly, she imprinted her hand on it. With the tip of her index finger, she wrote in cursive script, rough with the texture of gritty sand:
Carlo looked away, the choking in his throat, the moisture in his eyes. He looked at her bent form and placed his hand gently on her head. When she was a little girl, she would do exactly this. Then she got up and smiled, a warming smile like the sun unveiled from behind the clouds.
It began with that. And a colour. A deep, deepening pink pigment, that closes to a heart red. A heart red-pink. Not quite blood, but the colour of muscle suffused by blood. A soft and cushioning colour.
It was a smooth chalk that crumbled to dust. She found it in a room at the back of the house where they lived, a room that was said to be where she used to work. It was open to the garden and a skylight flooded the room with the passage of light and the path of the sky. There were tables, a large paint encrusted easel and boxes and bags of stuff. One table was scrubbed and stained red, like a sacrifice. It was a space to make things. That was what she did. Past. There were spills of paper with drawings and small shapes made from paper. Knots. Knotted fabric, shaped by her hand. Inexplicable.
On one table, she found a piece of paper with a smeared wave of pink pigment, and next to it, the pink chalk that made the mark. She picked it up and felt the silky smoothness of it as it smudged her fingers. She looked intently at her fingertips and then pressed them against the paper, seeing the swirls of lines marked by the embedded colour. It gave her an odd sense of warmth, resonating in her chest like a hum.
The colour absorbed her to the point where she felt she was suspended, falling into it. She was breathing it, wrapped in it. She lifted her hand holding the chalk marker and in the air, she wrote:
water breathing water breath
She broke part of the chalk, crumbling it to dust. She let it fall to the ground, a waft of pigment. It sprayed into the air as it hit the floor with a puff. She smeared it on the paved floor with the flat of her hand and with the end of a pencil, she wrote the words, the words from the air.
A pinprick of a bubble floated from somewhere deep, the smell of salt, the smell of brine. And she was swallowing it. Time was sinking, slowing, and she was opening her mouth, trying to speak, to reach for something.
Then it was light, not the dark of that space inside her, and her face was so close to the pigment on the floor she was breathing it, and it was endless.
Her parents and Carlo continued to worry that she would lose her way through the labyrinthine streets of Venice linked by bridges, trailed by waterways.
She took the marker with her.
And she remembered something. From the day before.
She and Carlo went to a gallery space off the Piazza San Marco. It was an exhibition of paintings, and the name of the artist had rolled off her tongue. Jean Michel Basquiat.
The images. Incongruous, jarring against the proportions of stone architecture. Canvases, scraped, scarred, jagged, primal. And text. Language, words, hidden and graphic.
One word. SAMO. Carlo explained how Basquiat would write this word on the walls of his home, New York, and the symbol of a crown. A king. And not.
SAMO IS DEAD
A tag. A name. Proof of life, of existing in a city where a life could be invisible.
A bubble surfaced, of standing in a room, another gallery space, stark, white, filled with light and a high ceiling. Paintings, she could see them, four of them, with markings, at once fluid and calligraphic. She could see them, and the title, Four Seasons, by an artist with an equally intriguing name, Cy Twombly. Saying it was like holding marbles in her mouth like she and Carlo used to do. She remembered because the images reminded her of something and the words: breath, line, heart. To breathe, to speak, to live. His art was made from this. Like hers.
It slipped away as quickly as it had revealed itself, the memory made of images and thoughts. Gone. She wanted to cry because she wanted to hold onto it.
“Tutto bene?” asked Carlo, beside her as he so often seemed to be.
“Si,” she said, yet she was shaking her head.
Who am I without my past?
The hypnosis, the talk therapy, the attempts to write and draw. Anything. The specialists who did not know her felt confident that it would come, that one day, she would remember. No one said that she wouldn’t. But what was so hard to accept was she knew she couldn’t remember and that made it all the more difficult: knowing she didn’t know.
Knowing she did not know herself.
What she could remember, any memory, she’d quickly write or draw or make any marks in a soft covered notebook with pale blue gridded pages. Looking over them each day she felt she was a puzzle, made up of scraps, coded and indecipherable, with no cohesive sense to what that meant.
She only knew that one day it might join to form a narrative. Perhaps. She could sense it, but it was beyond her grasp.
She carried the pink marker on one of her walks and gently at first she dragged the chalk along a wall to trace a line as she moved. As the line wavered she stopped and she wrote her name, like a thread unfurling.
And then she wrote, in small print, a fragment. A memory. But after she wrote it she couldn’t make sense of it. It was not written in Italian. She couldn’t read it. The letters were similar, but the words were code. Then, with a blink and shift in vision, she could. She had written in English.
My name is Sybilla. I am an artist. I live in New York.
Fact or fiction? She couldn't be sure. She scrawled the words into her notebook and followed the line she’d drawn back to the house where she lived. She went into the garden where her mother sat, showing her the words. Her mother nodded with tears in her eyes and held her, confirming it as true.
I’m not from here? She asked and her mother verified another fact, she was born here, but for the last 10 years she'd lived overseas. She'd studied and lived there. Carlo as well.
Over seas. Water, always water.
Two cities, two countries, born in one and living in another. Where was home? She looked at the words and whispered them in English and her voice sounded unfamiliar, as if it didn’t belong to her.
Parts of her, veiled by another language, another world she had no contact with in her day to day life. Except for Carlo. He’d been there. That’s why he knew Basquiat, why he could talk about the streets of New York.
“Speak to me, “ Sybilla asked Carlo in English, the words falling soft from her mouth. “Speak to me in English.”
He spoke of whatever came to mind about their life in New York. The apartment they'd shared, her studies, his work, the routine of days, the holidays, the friends, what she'd made, the exhibitions she'd had. She let the words flow over her, like lapping waves.
“Why New York?” she asked. “Why did we choose to live there?”
“You said you could not make the work you wanted to here.” He waited to see if she understood. She looked at him as she often did, with her eyes so wide they were pools of black and he didn’t want to hold her gaze, the memory of how they'd pleaded with him while she was sinking and then, how they'd closed as he grabbed her, trying to swim to the surface.
“You said you would feel freer there, not weighted by the history of this place, this country. Such a rich history in art, but past, so you thought. And you wanted to create from here, from now. To be present. You felt free there, in the moment, you said, to say and do what you wanted to. Liberated. No expectations.”
“But no place is free of its past,” she said softly, sadly. “Or person.”
“No, not even that country, and there was much there that you found confronting. But you felt free from here,” and he gestured out to the water of the Canal Grande. “Still, in feeling liberated, you could see, see that other place with eyes interested to know, to observe.”
“It wasn’t easy,” she said, not a question.
“No, and yes. You loved the energy, but like anywhere, it had its history, its politics. There were the issues of race and we were noticeably foreign. And there was oppression, poverty - such extremes. Sometimes you didn’t feel safe and you wanted to come back here. You became conscious of all of that. But in the end, more conscious of yourself, I think.”
Carlo talked so she could remember, yet it was like water, sand and grit through a sieve, some of the words and images stayed but most sifted through.
There were more words on more walls, and she would pass them to see the moisture had dampened the pigment so that they simply faded into the plaster. What was once visible, fading to a pink stain. Like blood spilled on a wall. Unknowable except by her: her hand, her marks, her words. A testimony to her life. Present then gone.
She placed her hand on the damp wall, the pink, a blush on her palm.
And the thought: If I cannot tell the stories that make my life, who can?
I am a mystery.
I am a mystery to myself.
She wrote her name in the deep, deep pink chalk.
Then, slowly, with her palm, she smudged it, smearing it to become a stain, a mark, a sacrifice, like blood from her hand.
Ann Hamilton, myein, 1999
Multimedia installation, United States Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Italy
Night Sky #19, Vija Celmins
the stars, the stars, the stars…
A pulsating, yawing sky full of lights.
The silence is strangely empty. Strange to me. Strangely big. So big it could swallow. Me. And then what?
Silence. At once overwhelming and small. Infinitely small. A point inside myself, contained. A point of light.
And I’m alone…in the bigness and smallness of it. Engulfed and complete. Somewhere…in between.
Vija Celmins, Night Sky #19, 1998
Charcoal on paper, Tate Gallery, London
Fairytales, Francis Alÿs
walked a line
by a thread
and his arm
like a bird
a space between
he was just
Francis Alÿs, Fairytales, 1995/1998
Photographic documentation of an action
The Angel, James Lee Byars
in one breath
all that is
and all that is
James Lee Byars, The Angel, 1989
125 glass spheres, Michael Werner Gallery, New York and Berlin
Michelle's blu tack blob, Chris Bond
he held on
only to let go
Chris Bond, Michelle's hand rolled blu tack blob from her work desk [replica], 2007, blu tack, 90 x 25 mm. From the exhibition: Small Quiet Gestures, 2007, Destroyed
Artwork by Chris Bond, 2007. Permission to feature images courtesy of the artist
This Dark Light that Falls from the Stars, Anselm Kiefer
dark stars fall as if night were day
And this world turns and turns,
twisting sense of what we know
what we create
and dark stars fall
Seeds of heaven in an earth of ash,
to spark light from ocean deep,
as this world turns
so that shadow casts light.
and dark stars fall
Anselm Kiefer, Cette obscure clarté qui tombe des étoiles (This Dark Light that Falls from the Stars), 1996, acrylic, shellac and sunflower seeds on woodcut on canvas, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin, Italy
Atomic: full of love, full of wonder, Nike Savvas
Here we are,
so far apart it’s like we’ve
flung each other
from sky to earth
with all this space
We’re travelling this stretch of road,
an elusive horizon line
beckoning as we drive,
no destination except the centre –
the very heart of the country.
You’re lost to me,
while I’m on the edge, alone
with my thoughts from the first time
we met, to now.
A reeling sense of distance
at first seeing you from afar,
that until that point
you had no existence, for me.
Then you walked my way,
following this trajectory,
a pulse of feeling, wanting
suddenly so present
I could barely see you
Every thing that might be possible
from that point in time, on.
And the wonder of that moment,
as if my very foundation
shifted into this state
at just being near you.
across this divide
I see you,
but the mystery is
there’s still so much to unravel,
and that pull of wanting, wondering
if this time
when you look my way,
whether you’ll close
or will I?
Nike Savvas, Atomic: full of love, full of wonder, 2005
Multimedia installation, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne
In search of the miraculous, Bas Jan Ader
he fell from earth
into a sky pan
he fell into a sea
in search of –
a mythical leap
yet glimpsed at
he fell into air
to the ether
he set forth –
and the man
Bas Jan Ader, In search of the miraculous, 1975
Bas Jan Ader set sail in July 1975 on a solo voyage from Cape Cod across the Atlantic in his boat Ocean Wave. The voyage was integral to a three part performance/action. He disappeared at sea and his body was never recovered.
A Good Day for Cyclists, Jeremy Deller
could be this
Jeremy Deller, A Good Day for Cyclists, 2013
Wall mural, part of English Magic exhibition at
Venice Biennale, British Pavilion
El Rio de la Luna, Rebecca Horn
At the beginning
You said you wanted the key to my heart.
Those very words. Whispered as your lips hovered above the skin that masked what you so desired. It was like asking for my blood. As if you needed it to sustain you, to survive. But would I survive it? And the thought, unbidden, that surely, this must be the end. Where could we go from here?
“What if there’s more than one?” I asked
You lay beside me, our faces two pale moons in the dimming light of the room.
“There are four chambers in the heart, perhaps that’s the number. Maybe less, or more.”
“How could there be more?” You sounded incredulous and I smiled. You were always one for logic.
“Rooms within rooms.”
Your mouth curved, your eyes a shining black. My heart was trying to reach you through the red smudged mark of your kiss, my blood coursing a tributary that moved to and away from this pumping mass.
An ebb and flow of a sea inside me.
“Whatever it takes.”
Your response. It was almost a challenge.
So I said, not exactly sure whether I was stalling: “We’ll meet, like this, every night and I’ll tell you a story. A story that might hold a key. Or more than one.”
You lay your palm against the crescent of my cheek, sealing a pact without any sense of what was to come.
Room of Earth
You held your breath as I spoke. Our faces were so close I could feel the absence of breath, the immediate chill from when you inhaled the air between us.
I sighed to feel the heat again, my skin meeting it with its own flush.
“It began after my father died.”
You pressed your hand lightly along my neck, fingers threading through my hair. I could barely breathe to speak as your body stretched to become a taut drawn length against mine.
“I remember at the time all I wanted was to feel. Anything. I was numb to the point of not feeling solid or real. I existed as if the world couldn’t touch me. Then one day, I was sitting at a café and I saw a man. Youngish, ageless. He was wearing sunglasses and a white shirt that blazed in the sun. Even behind his glasses, I could feel him looking at me. I didn’t think. I went to sit at his table and he asked if I wanted a drink. I’d never done anything like that before. He didn’t seem surprised. His hand was resting on the table. He was waiting. For something. Someone. Maybe for me.”
I shut my eyes, not wanting to see the slightest change in your expression, how your eyes creased to frown; how you were almost willing the words from my mouth.
“Then I reached for his hand. Again, I didn’t think. It was pure instinct. I felt the dryness of his skin. Nothing more. My hand was merely a weight, a nerveless dull thing, dead. His fingers curled into mine. He was silent, but between us, we’d already agreed what was to come.”
I opened my eyes quickly. It startled you. For this, I had to look directly at you.
“There was a hotel nearby. Cheap. You could rent a room by the hour, or stay without any purpose for any length of time. It was a place devoid of sentiment, atmosphere. An in between kind of place. He took my hand and before we said a word, our two bodies were already in one of the anonymous hotel rooms, entwined on a bed.”
You held my gaze, but your eyes narrowed, tense. Uncertain.
“Perhaps it was fitting that we went there. Impersonal. It was like I could vacate my body; who I was. I could be anyone. And the room was a reflection of that; empty but for the basic necessities: a double bed, the sheets and pillowslips white, no blanket because it was the height of summer. The floor was a cheap tile and a door opened to an ensuite, only big enough for a washbasin, shower and toilet. The window was open but the shutters were closed.”
Your chest rose and fell, unevenly.
“He undressed me. He sat me on the bed and then pushed me ever so lightly so I was lying down. He was gentle, as if he sensed I was as fragile as the connection between us. We didn’t speak, as if words would have cut the fine thread of an unspoken understanding.”
I could almost see the withdrawal in your eyes. And the spark of heat. Yes, desire. Your hand trailed along my neck to my arm, and you held me, an increasing pressure.
“He took his clothes off and placed his shoes together, neatly, by the bed. He was already aroused. He lay against me and he looked into my face. A question. When he began to move, my body felt resistant, as inert as stone. He was a blanket of earth that could smother or simply warm me.”
You moved to roll me beneath you. As if to counteract my words, a kind of proof of the distance between then and now.
“His body quaked. It convulsed. It registered in my mind like a shock, to feel the energy of his release. I gasped to feel it although my own body felt a lead weight that could sink us both. It was stunning. To hold onto him and feel him. How his movements began to slow, how he rocked against me and I just held him.”
Your eyes were depthless, your mouth open with an unspoken question. Or, just a sound.
“I’d never witnessed that kind of vulnerability before. It was a gift. I kissed him then. The first and last time that night. When he dressed to leave he put his shoes on last. As if they anchored him.”
You were almost breathless when you asked: “And?” Already rushing towards our own climax before we’d even begun. I placed my hand at the curving base of your spine, and it bowed. Bone pliable as clay.
“My body – briefly I felt its connection to this earth, the roots that dig deep but that aspire to reach above.”
Skin. Flesh. Bone.
“A shell that can break.”
And before you finally touched your lips against mine, I could barely hear you, “Matter can bend.”
“Equally fragile,” I breathed.
Room of Water
You slid your arms around me, our limbs entwined. My mouth hovered near the skin at the base of your throat.
“The next night I went to the hotel by myself. The apartment that I lived in with my father was as dark and ominous as a cave. The room I rented faced onto the plaza. I opened the shutters so I could see the sky. There was a breeze coming off the sea.”
I could feel the heat of breath on the crown of my head as you exhaled. Your heartbeat pulsed in your neck.
“I went and had a meal at the café where I’d met the man. I watched as couples, or a small group ate and drank. I was the only one dining alone. And I felt it. To the core. That sense of being alone, with no one to know where I was, whether I was safe; that I was alive. And then he came. The man from the day before. He stood at the edge where the lights of the café pooled and flooded and then seeped into the dark. He was watching me. I never thought I’d see him again.”
You tensed. I couldn’t see your eyes. But you held me.
“I went to him. He held my hand and we walked to the hotel, up the stairs, to the room. We said nothing. Like the night before. We sat on the bed and he placed his hand on my cheek. The touch was so tender, so unexpected, I began to cry.”
My breath was caught in the well at the base of your neck and my face felt warm, your skin looked moist. You were stroking the small of my back, and then your fingers began making small circles, soothing.
“He kept his hand on my face and the tears slid over his fingers. He took his shoes off and his jacket, it was linen, a soft blue. And then he held me and we were lying, facing each other on the bed. He curled me into him like the petals of a flower closing against the night. I was still crying. I thought my tears would surely drown us and leak onto the floor.”
A deep, deep sigh shuddered through you.
“I felt so alone. My father was gone. I was staying in a city where so few knew me. I was studying there at the time. It was a place that my father loved, had brought me to live there with him. Now he was gone and I was on my own. I was grieving. But that man, he’d come back. I never thought I would see him again.”
You held your breath then, as if holding the words, the questions I could imagine forming in your mind: What did you feel? How did he make you feel? I placed my hand on your face, tilting my head just as you bent to look at me. Your eyes were dark with sadness. You’d always sensed the heaviness of my father’s death, a distressing weight in my life.
“That’s all he had to do. To be there. For me. To touch my face. To hold me so that his body became a shell I could curl into. I could feel. I wasn’t numb. I ached and I hurt. But for a moment, I didn’t feel alone.”
Another question, a shift in your eyes, imperceptible. This time you tried to voice it.
I didn’t think you could say the words. What were the right words? That night wasn’t about sex. It wasn’t about love, but there was intimacy.
“No. He held me until I fell asleep. I remember his shirt was soaked from my tears, and the sheet. I didn’t hear him leave. When I woke, he was gone.”
Your fingers traced beneath my eyes. Along the bridge of my nose then dipped to my mouth. You rested them on my lips.
A simple touch that resonated completely.
Room of the Circle
“The next night was a test.”
We lay, side by side on our backs, our hands touching beneath the sheet. Your eyes were closed as you listened.
“I came back from a walk along the beach. He was seated at the café and I stood, watching him before he finally saw me. He got up and walked towards me and he took my hand. There was an understanding between us. This time the room faced towards the back of the hotel, closed in, tight as a drum. We sat on the bed, our hands still clasped.”
Your fingers scraped across the palm of my hand before sliding to fit like two pieces of a puzzle.
“Go on,” you whispered.
“And he asked, ‘Do you trust me?’ Suddenly I was locked, frozen, unable to move. His words cut into the lulling sensation of his touch. Because I didn’t know this man. That was my immediate thought. I do not know you. I had known a kind of intimacy, seen him at his most unguarded, vulnerable and yet, we knew nothing of each other. I tried to speak, my mouth drained dry.”
You turned to me, lying on your side, still holding my hand awkwardly.
“‘I don’t know you,’ I finally said. His hand moved slowly to my face and I flinched. I was flooded with heat and sweat and an icy taste like blood in my mouth. It was fear.”
You didn’t move but I could hear your breathing, ragged, as if you were unsure whether to make a sound. Whether to say, ‘go on’ or ‘stop’.
“He said, ‘No, you don’t. Yet you risked your very life the day we met.’ And I had. Numbed by grief, I didn’t care whom I was with as we lay together. Our unknowing had stripped us of all inhibition. Neither of us moved until he asked, ‘Do you want to know me?’ I realised that this was the test. Not a game, but a point, like the edge of a knife which could go either way. An end, or a beginning. I was oddly calm. Unsure. He’d had no place in my life until two days ago and yet, I had felt more in those two encounters than I had in the weeks since my father’s death. It was a leap and I was blind enough to take it. A part of me was still numb and caring too little of my sense of safety, but daring myself to test the boundaries, to try. ‘How do we begin?’ I asked. This time he placed his hand on my face and I let him. ‘We already have,’ was his reply.”
You released my hand and bent your arm to raise yourself. I couldn’t help but look at your face. I was scared to see what might be there. Disgust? Disbelief? Condemnation? But no, you were curious and cautious.
“Why? Why take such a risk?”
For a moment I was lost in your eyes, silvery dark tonight. The moon was full and high and we needed no artificial light.
“Because I wanted to know,” I said simply. Slowly, you nodded. Perhaps you could even understand.
“He reached to hold me, to circle me in his arms like he had the day before and I placed my ear over his heart to hear the soughing pulse, the rhythmic thud. He wasn’t calm. He was shivering. For a moment, disbelieving, I was certain he was scared.”
You moved your other hand and placed it where you knew my heart to be. At first light, and then a weight that I welcomed.
“And were you scared?”
I remembered how my heart had tripped at the quiver in his body. How uncertain we both were at that moment, each of us standing either side of a deep ravine that we had to leap, to meet the other on the opposite side. So who would be the first to jump? Or did we both have to leap to fall?
“Yes, I was.”
“So why continue?”
I placed my hand over yours. “Tell me this. Doesn’t trusting another frighten you?’ You were quiet and I went on. “How do you know whether you can be sure that someone is trustworthy, no matter how you feel?”
You were still silent.
“I think the test was my own. In trusting you can be proven wrong or right. Either way, it is a risk. He knew that. How to begin to be with someone, you walk that edge until experience, time allows for something more knowing, binding, to replace it.”
You moved your head only slightly, but your eyes caught the full moon as if they were lit from within. It was blinding.
“I see,” you said and then you rested your head on the curve where my neck dipped to my shoulder. “I think I know what you’re saying.”
At that moment, it had to be enough.
Room of Air
You waited, listening for the slight intake of breath that would signal the continuation of this tale with a sound, a word.
“The following night we agreed to meet at the café. I had spent the day at the art school, and he had his work. He told me he was a writer and an academic. He had a position at the university. The café was a place he came to regularly as it was by the beach and he liked to sit and listen to the water, the air, the sounds.”
We faced each other but there was a space between us. I could see the wariness in your eyes, flat, matt dark. This was no longer a simple encounter. It had weight with the beginning of knowing the other. I could sense you wondering where this was going, what the possibilities could be. Such knowing can deepen or separate.
“I was nervous, and when I was anxious my breathing would become shallow. It felt like wings were beating sporadically in my chest. When he arrived he smiled and there was no hesitation. That gentled me and I could suddenly feel the air slip into my chest with ease. He sat and began immediately to talk about what he’d written that day. About what lectures he’d given. The words wove into ordering our meal, questions about my course and what I hoped to do and then as the wine loosed a languid sensation through my limbs, the words became sounds, and it was like a sensuous dance.”
You were very still but I could see how your hand resting in the space between us on the bed moved a little towards me, how your fingers bent to lightly scrape the sheet. Yet you said nothing.
“We exchanged what many people might when they first meet, and yet the knowledge wasn’t what embedded into my mind, into thoughts. It was the sound of his voice, the ease with which he spoke and the lightness in his laughter. There was his silence when he listened and then it was my voice I was hearing, a higher register, softer, less determined, perhaps less sure.”
You sighed then, the expelled air touched my face, and my lips became dry.
“There were pauses. He ate hungrily, drank sparingly, but occasionally I had a sense of what I’d call harmony.”
The bed jarred with your sudden movement. You propped your head up with your hand, elbow denting the mattress. There was impatience, but an intent searching in your gaze.
“What do you mean by that – harmony?”
“A sense of being in tune. What I said, I felt him listening, his attention, but it was more than that. He wanted to understand and that alone reeled me in. He was giving me something – his wanting to know, his interest, his time. And I was giving something to him. There was a resonance between us and it was unexpected. And welcome.”
A hint of a smile on your lips, perhaps you were thinking of how that could be said of us. But also, the times when there was much discord.
“It was, strangely, a delightful evening. We decided to go back to the hotel rather than to his apartment or the apartment I had rented with my father and that I had decided to keep despite his leaving. We were still in a state of suspension. Neither of us having stepped solidly into the other’s life. But that night, we didn’t need to speak, there were the sounds of a different pleasure in being with each other, and how the breeze from the open window coming directly off the sea folded with our bodies. Except this night, he whispered my name, over and over and it was like he was tying me to him, throwing a line across the distance of our separateness to begin to be with me.”
We were momentarily silent. As if suspended in the absence of my voice, in the air shifting the feather light curtain.
“We fell asleep, listening to the sound of each other breathing.”
Lifting your hand you traced my face with the lightest touch, curling strands of my hair behind my ear. Then you kissed me and with a slight pressure my mouth opened and there were no words for this.
Breath shared as if we could give to each other what we needed most to live.
Room of Fire
“We went swimming in the sea. For one day I didn’t think of anything but the feel of the water, the freedom to move, of time suspended.”
You were stretched beside me with your arms bent and positioned behind your head like wings. I reached to touch the skin as it stretched and dipped from your ribs to your stomach. You closed your eyes and smiled. I rested my hand just below your naval. Here, I could feel the pulse of your heart.
“We went back to his apartment. There was barely any furniture. The bedroom was similar to the hotel for only having the essentials. The bed was positioned in the centre of the room. There was an armoire. A chair. He opened the windows and shutters to the night. I could still feel the sea on my skin.”
You were still smiling, knowing how well I loved the sea. You placed your hand over mine, skin hot to the touch.
“He asked if he could blindfold me.”
“What?” Your eyes were wide and you sat up. Wary, disbelieving.
“And I was to blindfold him.”
Your lips parted to speak and yet, nothing came. My hand pressed against your chest so that you lay back and I moved to straddle you, my body a slight weight. I placed my hands to cover your eyes.
“‘Imagine,’ he said. ‘Imagine me in your mind.’ We lay close to each other and then he touched my face and his other hand reached for mine and placed it, almost identically on his. And so it began, a journey through touch. As he moved, I did and yet for each of us it was completely unique. His hands left a trail like a lit fuse. My skin was alive. Electric.”
Your heart quickened, blood and heat suffused your skin and then mine. When I moved, my skin slipped against yours.
“It could have been hours, but I lost all sensation of time. I lost all sense of the edges of myself. I was heat and light. I was the ebb and flow of the sea. I was pure thought. I was a spark fanned to a flame.”
There was a thread of moisture above your lip. I pressed my mouth against yours to taste it.
“And?” You breathed-spoke, not wanting to release my mouth. Slowly, I uncovered your eyes and you startled at the light. Eyes glistening, all desire and need.
“It felt like there was no before or after, just now. Pure sensation that cut clean through all my resistance, doubts and fears. I was laid bare. I was alive.”
Room of lovers
“Were you lovers?”
I almost hesitated. Yes. “As I understood it then.”
“What do you mean?”
We were holding each other, as we had that night when you first asked for the key. I closed my eyes, not sure I could speak clearly if I looked directly into yours.
“I thought I was losing myself. In him. That I wanted to…”
“Desire?” Your voice sounded thin, as if straining against the words. Resisting.
“More than that. There was a sense of finding myself in him. Like he was a piece to myself that I only realised in meeting him, that I needed to feel more solid. Present.”
I opened my eyes and you were guarded and also struggling not to react. It’s never easy to hear the one you love speaking of being with another. We want honesty, and we don’t want it at the same time.
“There was a connection and it deepened. There were moments I felt completely attune to him and wondered how I could ever have been alone before. Sometimes it was passionate need, but there were times of a pure contentment.”
We were touching; the pull between us was greater than skin pressing against skin. It was magnetic. It was blood.
“Was that not love?”
We were tiptoeing. Speaking of the very energy that had spurred you to ask for the key: ineffable, binding and incontrovertible, prompting fear. Of the loss of it.
“There was one night when we lay together sleeping, and I was never sure if I was awake or dreaming, but I could hear a violin. It was possible, but it was the sensation, like a thread of sound that wound its way through the room to me. I was drifting and then submerged in the sensation, the sound, the vibration.”
There was a crease between your eyes. These were not words of romance.
“Yet, amidst that there was a stark impression, like a jarring note in a dream. I looked at his sleeping face, could feel him against me and around me and I felt a horrible sense that he was still a stranger to me.”
You were obviously puzzled. I could read the consternation as my words spoke of a melting of my self, of a union that was so easily undermined.
“It doesn’t make sense,” you said simply.
I smiled. “No, it didn’t. And it happened, oddly, after we’d been intimate physically or even, while we were sleeping, or simply walking silently together. This sensation would sever what connection I thought was there and I felt flung away at a distance. There were times I thought I was hovering above myself observing.”
“You didn’t love him?” It was logical to assume.
“I don’t believe I knew myself very well. I’m not sure I could truly appreciate myself.”
“I wasn’t content enough to be fully present, able to be alone – with him – with myself. Losing myself – it was simply that. It felt like surrender. Falling. Almost freeing. A kind of happiness. But I don’t think I knew who I was well enough to truly give myself and stay whole.”
The creases in your face eased visibly. I could almost hear a quiet ‘ah’ of understanding.
“But there was a thread, a connection, and sometimes I called it love.”
Your mouth looked tender. As if our thoughts were in sync you touched my lips, traced them gently.
“And now? What would you call it now?”
“No comparison. There’s nothing to compare.”
Room of Mutual Destruction
I was quiet for a long time. It settled between us, cold and hard.
“One night he wanted us to meet at the hotel.”
I spoke as I thought, in fragments, shards of memory, smashed beyond recognition.
“I remember feeling uncertain. We hadn’t been there for some time and I hesitated before agreeing to see him.”
“Why?” There was something detached in how you asked that. As unwilling as I was to enter into this. We both lay there with our eyes fixed on the darkened space of the room.
A feeling as heavy and flat as dread. Perhaps it had been the way he had asked, a command almost. The slightest inflection that chilled. How easily he could speak to me like that. How it severed any affection.
“When I entered the room it was dark. He was sitting on the bed, naked. There was nothing welcoming in his expression, no warmth. No connection. Almost as if he didn’t recognise me.”
I felt a roiling tide in my stomach rising up my throat. It was acid hot and burning. I’d felt the same that night. And the sensation of the ground plummeting beneath me, like I was falling.
“I stood at the door. I couldn’t move. He sat while I stood and neither of us said anything for a long time. ‘Let’s play a game,’ he finally said. I barely managed to say, ‘Let’s not’. He laughed at that. I felt faint, like my head wasn’t attached to my body. His nakedness unnerved me because his voice, his face – it was like peering into a void.”
“Jesus,” you said, again almost too soft to hear. You were shaking your head, as if you didn’t want me to go on and I knew if I stopped, I wouldn’t.
“‘If I had a gun I’d suggest we play a game,’ he said, ‘where you spin the chamber and you dare the other person to pull the trigger.’ I was shaking my head, resisting everything, resisting all that he was saying. He continued, ‘To forfeit is to place your life in the other person’s hands. If you don’t pull the trigger, they will.’ My legs were shaking. My whole body was shaking. In the dark, I could barely recognise him. Everything I’d known. I felt emptied out. I was drained and left with this strange terror. Wondering where this was going.”
You turned to me then, your eyes anguished. “Don’t…”
I lay there and shook my head, at you, at the memories. Disbelief and a horrible thrill of saying the words that shaped it as real. I’d buried that moment, crushed it beyond recognition and hidden it from myself. Now, in the resurrection, I was purging myself in sharing such a shadow dark place that I’d inhabited, however brief.
“‘What’s the point?’ I asked. He laughed then, unmercifully. ‘The point is simply having the courage to pull the trigger.’ ‘That’s not courage,’ I said. His face went quite blank. ‘No, perhaps you’re right. Maybe it’s simply suspending any care in that moment whether you live, or whether you die. As blank as a chamber without a bullet that can spare you.’”
Your eyes never left my face and I didn’t flinch from your stare.
“Then he laughed. A kind of madness, hysteria. I was seeing him and I wasn’t. I felt disjointed, dislocated. I never took my eyes off him, never blinked, I just found the strength to reach for the door, to open it and I backed out of the room, shutting the door before I ran out of the hotel.”
I’d run for my life, seeing a twisted darkness in that man I’d so willingly gone to meet. Right then, in the hard line of your gaze I feared what you would think of me: that I would be with someone who had squandered everything, suggesting a game of life and death; who’d shown not a shred of care at what he was doing to me. Or, who had merely shown me the darkest recesses of his heart. A moment bitter and stark for the lack of care he’d revealed at whether he lived or died. Unveiling a wound I had never sensed within him. This was no game. There was no gun. He was laying bare such pain and despair in a callous and almost empty gesture of words, gambling life with death. And I'd left him in that dark room never thinking to help him, only to save myself.
“What else could you do?” My thoughts were that transparent to you.
“We’ll never know,” I said, resigned. In that moment, you cared enough to see into the darkness and to be silent, to let me be.
“It ended,” you said, a statement without the need for a response.
“As it began,” I said.
The question was in your eyes.
“After that night, I never saw him again. He called me, left a message pleading an apology, said we should meet so he could explain. But I never went. It was as simple as that.”
You were silent, unsure of the emotion, the feeling behind the words. My face felt still, like a pool of water, unruffled, quiet and deep.
“I did go one more time to the café. The sky was like a sea above me, descending, threatening to overcome me. I felt lost and anchored, quaking and still, absent and completely present. It was like tempting fate, knowing I’d never see him again but almost wanting proof. It was so complete, realising that fact, that I just sat at the table at the café where it had begun, and I didn’t feel the need to leave.”
I could hear the steadiness of your breathing, an echo to mine.
“I kept thinking, in the beginning was the end. How easily, swiftly it began, how easily it unravelled, came undone.”
We were on the bed, fully clothed. This was the night we had been coming to, the end of this tale, the end of…
“How did you feel?” Your voice wavered. Your gaze inscrutable. Inching towards what felt inevitable, and yet wanting to know. Wanting to know the end. Where we had come to.
“Calm, accepting and hollowed out. Like a ballooning space was filling me. Relief. And scared. Scared of what was to come. That I was alone again.”
You reached to hold my hand, your fingers tight, almost willing me to stay. Not to let go. I pulled our entwined hands to my chest. I was sure you could feel the steady beat. As sure as I could sense the pulse of your own through your grasp. What connects us?
Blood. Heart. Breath.
More. So much more.
“There’s no key,” I whispered.
I could feel how those words shivered across your skin. How much power I had to make you fear. How clarity was needed in all things said.
“There’s no secret. I’m all that you know, all that I say and all that is left unsaid.”
“What are you saying?” you asked, whispered. We strip ourselves to be vulnerable, we lay bare what we can endure to reveal, and we hope – for understanding, acceptance. For love.
“Isn’t it obvious to you? When I first saw you, this is how I felt.”
My heart was thrumming, too fast to sound a full beat, blood quickening. My body, an elemental alchemy: of fire, air, water, earth; of heat, breath, fluids, matter, distilled in that quickening to express what a word could never encapsulate. I pressed your hand, palm flat against my chest. So that you could feel.
We were silent, listening for what flowed between us.
“Yes,” you said. At once tremulous and certain. An affirmation and supplication. A hold and a release.
A key in a lock and a door opening wide.
Rebecca Horn, El Rio de la Luna, 1992
Multi-media installation, Barcelona, Spain
Tranquil Pool, Waqas Khan
form a mirror
all can be
Waqas Khan, Tranquil Pool, 2012
Archival red ink on white wasli paper
Aegean Sea, Pilion, Hiroshi Sugimoto
You came from above.
Over the water – ultramarine – pure and luminous; a reflection of the sea on the clearest day, when the sky is an expanse both soft and harsh.
Air and light: the sky, with a depth of blue from beyond the sea. Lapis lazuli.
Once upon a time...there was a myth that wound its way through time and space where lapis lazuli was envisioned as a mirror of the break of dawn - the sky encrusted with stars of fire.
A sea like sky.
And I came from beneath.
With a tributary of water-blue veins beneath my skin seeping through, salty and warm, to evaporate into air. Submerged in this sea of the most intense blue, I look towards you, an infinite space, a boundless heaven. That vaporous tinge of blue that hinges on white, where the sky meets the sea.
You are all and you are no-thing. In my view of you, you become a mirror verging on a screen of glass where I can see a hint of who I am, this essence, a glimpse.
At a point, a line, we appear to meet. Enfolded yet separate, we merge, imperceptibly.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Aegean Sea, Pilion, from the series Seascapes, 1990
Gelatin silver print
Turbulent, Shirin Neshat
bound by the words of a poet,
of a love
an internal language
that cries, ululates, stutters, wails
in pain, from love, with joy
this song of love transcendent
captivating his audience
a song so ancient and new
her body quakes
all sound echoing into a void
across distance –
can a voice dismantle
Shirin Neshat, Turbulent, 1998
16mm film, transferred to laser disc, shown on two facing screens, 10-minute loop
Odes, Taca Sui
bone and dust
the ancient river
runs from then
never the same
Odes of Ya and Song I - Blaze, 2012
Silver gelatin print
Odes of Zhou Nan and Shao Nan III - Between Yangtze River and Tuo River, 2011
Silver gelatin print
Black Box/Chambre Noire, William Kentridge
a tribe – people
this history – telling
by blood – shed
the soil of
this story – telling
it could never
black and white
William Kentridge, Black Box / Chambre Noire, 2005
Mixed-media installation with video, 22 min
Commissioned by Deutsche Bank AG in consultation with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin
The Weather Project, Olafur Eliasson
a fiery light
that burns – energy
the source of
its origin – Helios
a power to create
all that we are –
what we choose
Olafur Eliasson Weather Project, 2003
Multimedia installation, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern
Toward the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson, Joseph Cornell
in a room
of a world
and the shoots
‘Do they breathe?’
of her poems
‘Do my words breathe?’
he had no
in the face
of what was
so the words
in the room
Joseph Cornell, Toward the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson, c. 1953
Gravity Be My friend, Pipilotti Rist
to swim deep
and deeper still
Pipilotti Rist, Gravity Be My Friend, 2007
Audio video installation, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne
Lure/Wave, Beili Liu
of a heart
is its mark
for a way
Belie Liu, Lure/Wave, 2010
from the ‘Lure’ series (2008-12)
you LEFT ME breathing, Tracey Emin
and when you were gone
it began –
walking a line of a thread
held in my hand
that I clasped
and knotted into a loop
to place around
and if I pulled it
I might just remember
Tracey Emin, you LEFT ME breathing, 2007
Stasi City, Jane and Louise Wilson
In a world
where people reach
for the stars,
yet are corralled by
how can you be free?
lies or truths,
who can you trust?
If the laws of gravity
what becomes of life?
And when terror
echoing with hidden histories –
this city of illusions
Jane and Louise Wilson, Stasi City, 1997
Les Archives du Couer, Christian Boltanski
hear my heart
and its passing,
marking a symbol of
life and love,
pumping a river of
so I can live,
a fact and
that binds us
and ends us,
if between one beat
and the next,
it stops –
and we are so much
in the dark,
Christian Boltanski, Les Archives du Coeur, 2008
Image courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
The Messenger, Bill Viola
a breath held
and a life
into the deep
and while the heart
the mind opens
at the edge
to break the surface
that first breath
since the last
is to know
Bill Viola, The Messenger, 1996
Today We Reboot The Planet, Adrian Villar Rojas
in the rubble
at the end
what can sustain us,
help us to survive?
And what do we
of leaving so much
the stuff of dreams
the living world,
We’re starting again
with the detritus of
our lives –
what we’ll uncover
left standing in the dirt,
of what can grow,
in the dust.
Adrian Villar Rojas, Today We Reboot The Planet, 2013
Mixed-media installation, Serpentine Gallery, London
Fatigues (F), Tacita Dean
above an earth
and bereft with time,
to meet a river flow
scarred by a distant
of wars –
and glacial water
swells to flood,
a violent flash
in its path,
as any terror
Tacita Dean, Fatigues (F), 2012
Chalk on blackboard drawing
Documenta 13, Kassel
Image courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris
The Moon, the Child, and the River of Anarchy, Rebecca Horn
In this room
of all knowing,
a child wonders –
how does the moon hang?
an alchemy of
how do I travel to
In this upside
where the head rules
emotion is caged,
and still –
why does it shine at night?
And the child
of life on the moon,
is a giant leap
beyond these walls.
Rebecca Horn, The Moon, the Child, and the River of Anarchy, 1992
School desks, plastic tubes, ink, glass funnels, lead tubes, and mercury, Documenta 9, Kassel
The Moon is Asleep, Robin Rhode
there is no light
only this sheath
dark and depthless
as a sorrowing
there is no moon
and you -
Robin Rhode, The Moon is Asleep, 2015
8mm film transferred to digital HD
The Little Star Dweller, Yoshitomo Nara
Perhaps it is the child
that saves us.
That’s what he was thinking
as he read a letter
from a girl
who wanted to make
Her dream to create
a real and imagined life
only she could see.
And her feelings –
and not always knowing
where to find it,
He sees the world
in her innocence,
and her yearning
to find her place
on this earth,
where he similarly
finds it hard to
So he writes,
not with words
but with images
that reflect as a mirror
how he feels,
an image of
and all that is
of who she could
Yoshitomo Nara, The Little Star Dweller, 2006
The Key in the Hand, Chiharu Shiota
Memories like dreams
weave a thread,
a bridge between
then and now,
held in my hand
as I journey
of my own making.
All these half forgotten
trail this thread
in the hope and dread
of what lies
at the end.
A room, perhaps
tangled with string
a web of secrets
kept hidden from the world,
facets of myself
only to a chosen few.
A mythical beast
with a human heart
caged in stone
who inhabits the darker
realms of rage and pain
but desiring more –
more than it can ever imagine.
Or a boat
of my fears,
what I’ve lost,
and that threatens
to drag me under –
the past a weight
as much as what I cherish.
So when I find a key
at the end
of this thread,
I hold it in my hand
where do I go from here?
Is this an end, or a beginning?
A key to unlock a door
to a world beyond
all that I know,
if only I dare.
Chiahru Shiota, The Key in the Hand 2015
Multimedia installation, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
Night Writing, Teresita Fernandez
we spoke in code –
breath on glass, a hushed
message glimpsed before
touch on skin, quick fluttering
fingers stringing letters
whispers on air, floating
secrets dispersing too soon
into the ether
eyes on the stars, tracing
a dot matrix of symbols, words
lost as easily as found -
it was mostly at night
that we spoke in silence
often without light,
and what began as a game
we now played out in desire,
but I remember the start
of this language
decipherable only by our
universe of two, how you wrote
words on my body, my eyes shut so
that I imagined their shapes
behind darkened lids,
yet the moments I came to value
were unspoken, unmarked
like those nights when the aurora
bloomed patterns across
the northern sky
its mystery, beauty
a pulsating mirror of the feelings
dancing between us
and more than enough
all we'd left unsaid
Teresita Fernández, Night Writing, 2012
Light Sentence, Mona Hatoum
be that light
in the dark
to one whose spirit
their family scattered
bereft of connection with
home and land
be that light
bearing the heat
of a small sun
to fuse warmth
into bones iced hollow
if only to glimpse
beyond this sentence
Mona Hatoum, Light Sentence, 1992
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Photo: Philippe Migeat
Nimbus D'Aspremont, Berndnaut Smilde
don’t fade from me
if only a memory
it was that simple
as if the world
and me – inside
the substance of air
so that I catch you
at a glance
before you disappear
Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus D'Aspremont, 2012
Kasteel D'Aspremont-Lynden, Rekem
Photo: Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk
Seizure, Roger Hiorns
beauty cuts deep,
knowing you can’t hold onto
he understands this all too well,
a boy with eyes
that see more
than he cares to
cerulean, sky, cobalt
words that never capture
the colour of his eyes
startling, glassy, crystal
but he prefers
perceptive, disarming, cunning
that’s what he needs
eyes sharp in the quickly fading
spying the gap in the chain link
fencing off the derelict
only one night –
as if that’s any reassurance –
one night in this
ripe for redevelopment,
but for him
it’s a place to crash
while never letting down
but he can’t think past
it’ll do –
that’s all that matters –
finding the ground floor bedsit,
eyeing the cracked glass windows
a flattened cardboard box
on the floor
the scent of dirt and mould
the cold lives in the walls
as he huddles
in his sleeping bag,
one candle lit
his fingers numb
holding a paperback
he’d found lying on a park bench,
the grit of his eyes
so he drifts
with the flame
dancing a light in the room
that is magic
the walls shimmering
an iridescent blue
to cover everything
like a cocoon or a cave
glowing with a painful,
kind of beauty
that protects, seizes
and he is no longer
but somewhere else
there’s a moment
when his eyes open
and the crystalline blue cave
holding true in the waking moment
splintering in the grey fug of dawn
with the spike of urgency
as everything –
that ache of longing for a dream
to be real –
is simply transitory
Roger Hiorns, Seizure 2008
Originally a site-specific installation in a council flat at 151-159 Harper Road, London SE1, in 2010 the entire installation was moved to Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
The Rose (IV), Cy Twombly
from a pricked finger
by her lips
staunching the flow
cut by this bloom,
like her name,
just a name
nothing else to compare,
she muses sleepily
touching the flower
with its thorns
ready to slice
to the quick,
a brush against her skin;
a perfume released
a lush intoxication;
and to look at it
for being ready
to wither and die,
to fall back to earth
its very grace
in having existed
at all –
while she has barely
until this instant
at how unique,
too luminous to bear
by imminent loss
is a rose
only to her
before she sleeps
Cy Twombly, ‘The Rose (IV)’, 2008
Acrylic on plywood
himmelblau, Wolfgang Tillmans
at a glance
in the purist
Wolfgang Tillmans, himmelblau, 2005
Defacement, Jean Michel Basquiat
that’s how he painted
this black kid
a black space
as if ripped from
defaced in life –
that could have been me
he kept whispering –
this kid making art
on the street, his crime
and his punishment
that could have been me
he wanted to weep –
beaten by the cops
like that kid,
for being SAMO©
but SAMO© IS DEAD,
‘cause his dreams went big
having shot to radiance
burning quick and blinding
as the sun, no longer
making art on the street
no, now his life was
BOOM FOR REAL
his world exploded
made new with each painting,
but still, he’s just like that kid
trying to leave his mark,
his voice, like a shout
tearing at the sky
a poet murmuring prayers
in the deepest dark –
that could have been me
he whispered over and over –
just speaking his truth
wanting to eclipse oblivion,
to be a king
for however long
without a crown
Jean Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983
naa, Jonathan Jones
she spoke of the stars
calling them down
while he inscribed their
names as language,
she was born of
mapped by the heavens
he could only look at and
see as distant light
far from the place
he called home,
and he listened
to the stories she told
of songs and spirits
this country into memory,
capturing her words
in a book
Jonathan Jones, naa (to see, to look), 2015
Fluorescent tubes, fittings, electrical cable
Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, Cornelia Parker
there was a time
when we played
hide and seek
with our fears,
when all that haunted us
in the darkest night
morphed into creatures
of tales – stories
we told ourselves
of witches, werewolves
lurking in the trees
at the end of the yard,
or in the cramped, cold shed
stuffed with forgotten junk
that we dared each other
to enter without light,
leaping out to shadow us
as we ran in fright,
but where have they gone
what we feared so much,
since we’ve outstripped the trees
in height and the shed
has collapsed from disrepair,
this world that once
was the origin of everything
has blown apart,
into a much darker reality –
those fears never left
we just buried them deep,
deep inside ourselves,
and you ask –
who do we run from now?
Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, 1991
Wood, metal, plastic, ceramic, paper, textile, and wire
Tate Gallery, London
Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis), Robert Smithson
out of reach
on my mind
is the map I long to make
of the continent
how can you even begin?
my apprentice asks, to map
what is lost? and I hesitate,
reaching not for paper
but a sheet of glass,
the apprentice is baffled
but curious, the glass
a slate absent of any markings,
it is all that you could ever
imagine, I say, and more,
a place so advanced we can’t
conceive of it, and where
the land takes the form
of the desires and thoughts
of those who inhabit it –
this perplexes the apprentice,
so I pause, dramatic perhaps
and with the slightest push
the glass slides to shatter
across the floor –
the apprentice, shocked
is at a loss for words,
in its conception
is the end, I muse
the moment I try to map it
it vanishes –
and what more can I say?
this was not the first time
I’d searched the glass
for an answer,
a means to map the illusion
of such a dream,
and it would not be
Robert Smithson, Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis), 1969
Glass, DIA Art Foundation; Partial Gift, Lannan Foundation, 2013