This is about memory, and guilt and art, and crying and memory and retracing memory and steps and stuff.
So I'm going to be quoting myself, and words I wrote 5 years ago, about a a work I saw 5 years ago, and then saw re-enacted tonight.
“Memory is bodily sedimentation of tasks accomplished”
am I quoting myself? or quoting myself quoting someone else? it's a drift from Pierre Bourdieu, contemplating habitus and imagination....
And before I drift back into my own old words and spaces of seeing and sensing, maybe I need to start with a story. About today
Today was boganday/invasionday/survivalday/Australiaday/holiday/horrorday/daybyday, today it was, and we had all of it.
A Leisurely brunch singing along to Bogan Love , interrupted by our Nepalese neighbours proffering gifts of dumplings to honour 'our' national day, and Lordy, let me not dwell on the awkwardness or the yumminess, but quickly segue onto Sharing the Spirit in the hope that the numbers were down this year because everyone else was in Canberra at the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy. Some familiar faces, friendly many hued, hippies of every shade, and every shade of sunlit skin and shady green trees and assado and masala chai and so much more civilised than the Queen Vic night markets, on a similar theme..... kinda.
And it got hot, and so we decided to quickly tram it down to St. Kilda for a quick dip, forgetting the bogan conflation of drinking in the sun, bogan-flag wallpapered pale flesh intensity in windsweeping sand in our hair/skin/eyes seaweed strewn waves crashing over my ankles, and no, not pleasant, time to get out, so we got on a tram. A noisy as hell tram crammed with young rowdy boys, been drinking all day and its nearly night and 3 drunken koories who... were...intense. an intense counterpoint to the blond boy bogans, staggering around the tram trying to refill a plastic cup with a goon bladder, and this is where the rub of sand/wind/colonialism.swaying drunken mixed race rowdiness all mixes up and after 45 minutes too long we got back to the city, and the civilised calm of cross cultural PLU (people like us) harmony.....
Bento Box before boarding the Brunswick tram. to POC the mike, a spoken word/dancing/singing feast of POC that's people of colour, and I'm calling it a feast, coz we paid the solidarity price of a pittance and squeezed onto the floor and consumed..... I guess. Many familiar faces, performers and audiences, and I'm flitting happily, smiling, laughing and feeling less lost in this city.
and then someone from the lands I know, north of here, way north of here, is announced. and there' cannot be two queer artists call 'willurei' in Australia, surely not, and so, yes, she has come down from sydney, and this is what I wrote about her piece in 2006.
But I felt that “Peel” was a lot bigger, and more evocative of how a link between place, flesh and memory actually FEELS.
“Peel” consists of a lingering crawl over Willerei’s body, onto which transparencies of topographic maps had been projected. So the colour and space is already a bit weird, and adds to the dreamlike sequences of other splices in the DVD.
There’s a funny voyeuristic tease – but it’s more dreamlike and weird. Bits of rain like viola’s ascension series, a disconnected floating hand, and the close audio thrums bring us deeply into a space where our own body feels in contact with the projected flesh in front of us.
The projection presents a profoundly bodily encounter with flesh, space and territory. With kinaesthetic geographies, how place is embedded on bodies. Willurei's scarred, wrinkled pulled lines of flesh, her pores, and hairs are mingled with the raised ridged contours of the topographic charts. These are based on mapping of magnetic deposits around western NSW, with magnetic lines echoing the striated scars along the flesh beneath.
This use of video projection as installation, something we step inside, transforms the cyclopean disembodiment of the camera into a deeply visceral kinaesthetic eye. The piece is not about representation or decoding –but creating an experience, an affinity and an empathy. Seeing, sensing flesh, the mapping of meaning and place and territory onto flesh. Feeling our own bodies sway and echo projected vibrations within, sensing our own unfamiliarity with space, with place, and our vulnerability, is REALLY RATHER NICE.
I’d recommend people go and have a seat, have a stare, feel your body and have a ponder. Those who prefer disembodied thoughts to wordless ambiguities of visceral affect can think of nice confining categories and explanations; that Willurei's family are Wiradjuri, that her flesh is encoded with connotations of territory and colonial mapping in western NSW, that she’s creating a nice resistive rereading of the terms by which kooris get contained, confined, removed, categorise by place, time, memory and history. But because cultural resistance to genocide and political defeat always seems like such nice remote comfort, I prefer to imagine the trajectory taken by feeling, by association. Even honky white mongrels feel bodily attachment to places. Settler cultures mask our own strange connections to invaded lands beneath the nasty politics of guilt and denial, but maybe, just maybe, allowing some bodily affinities between indigenous and non-indigenous, (and I don’t mean a rootfest) – but a space where connections between land, place, memories and bodies meet….. well, hell, I dunno actually, but I liked the video.
And rereading my own so nicely neatly butterfly flitting words, flitting around the meaning of the work, wondering why I didn't write it. My fluttering words, adding a layer of aestheticisation to the work, that Willurei re-enacted tonight. with her own words, and skin, flesh. Live art, body art, performance art. One of the best I've ever seen. I wish Carolee Schneemann - my favourite patron saint of flesh and words could have seen it.
Getting to the point. she stripped down to her undies, then made black texta drawings over her flesh making marks, thought lines, scar sites. Started with the anniversary; 1788. a cross over her left chest. Moved down to a waterhole on her thigh, and then.... other marks made with the incantations of histories' horrors; the marshall law in Bathurst, lynchings of HER RELATIVES, the first racist taunt at school, the last racist taunt in the street, and need I go on? I don't want to paraphrase her words within my own, when they were so very powerful. so I'll describe what that power felt like.
I fought back an almost uncontrollable urge to sob aloud, and wiped the tears away from my eyes, and couldn't meet hers, because there's a steely reserve performers need to rise above choking grief and speak words of heartbreak.
And what breaks my heart, is knowing the country, Wiradjuri, west of Sydney, where my friend sitting beside me grew up, where my father's mysterious miscegenated ancestors came from and travelled through, oh so very unsettled, unsettling this history of settlement, that refuses to open itself up.
And here I was tonight, seeing the scarring narratives as lines, given words, traced upon a body, speaking the stories of space and time and unspoken wars, and having this before me, before my eyes in real time, that these histories are scars under the flesh of colour, under coloured flesh, flesh coloured by these histories, in a way that I do not and cannot ever know, because my flesh, family ancestry, whatever it is, is otherwise, is of another colour/race... the other side of the frontier as Henry Reynolds put it - but oh, so terribly close to and bound up within it. (which is what he also wrote).
I posted the blurry picture above, snapped from the countrylink bus between Bathurst and Lithgow, by way of contrast. To show my own fleeting flying through connection to that particular country. It is fleeting, 2 centuries a blink of an eyelid/camera shutter/digital snapshot in comparison.
My little pounding heart, humming tummy, footsole thudding, skin crackling sense of Wiradjuri country inside my body comes from the blink of an eye time. minute time for this miniscule embedding of habitus.
and yet 40000 years of cultural ownership, or more, and 200 years of conflict, daily reminded, tormented worn by marked flesh.... cuts, vibrates, hums, sings so much deeper, longer and with a panoply of intensities flitting over flesh, voice, drawings words, lines, images, the scales of her skin.... and maybe here, viewing, I get another glimpse of what habitus really means, how it can be opened up and re-enacted, performed, shared in a shared space, in a room of bodies hoping to create something that is not quite as fucked as the sorry stories we share....