Good to have had a break. Good to be back. Strange to be back. Strange to be talking to you again. You must exist as every now and then I find my blog on a-n‘s top ten list, but I can’t name more than a few of you who put me up on that lofty height (thank you, by the way), and am wondering about how better to initiate dialogues/trialogues/multilogues.
Last weekend I had an unspeakable day, 24 hours really, beside myself and utterly inside myself with fatigue and pain, to the point that I couldn’t speak. Even my voice was unhinged, that last door. Everything was suspended; nothing hung in the balance. The earth turned in its normal unhurried way, temperatures dropped somewhere, war raged somewhere else. And I lay on bed like a question mark drawn by an arthritic hand, all angles and edges. Now I glance at this day from an unsafe distance and grope for entirely inadequate words.
It is easier to talk about partial pains. Take my hands, for instance. M.E. has strange effects on how I perceive them: One day they seem rammed into gloves that are much too tight, extra skins made of an unstretchy material that readily steadily releases pain-inducing toxins; another time they are just pulsing fields of pain; sore as if trod on in rubber boots (I am strangely clear on this: not leather soles, no stamping, but an adult’s foot!); fingers no more than brittle twigs, waiting to break; both middle fingers symmetrically hurting down to their roots; tips sharply pressured as if about to shoot off. I could go on. A friend to whom I had written asked if a different person had addressed the envelope, as the handwriting looked large and expansive. It was my hand, but early one goodish morning, before energies had seeped out of me as they had the night before when I was writing with cramped and painful paws. A hand is a hand is a hand – when they don’t hurt my hands don’t seem any less strange nowadays, just passing through one of many possible states. My crochet hook spells c-a-r-p-e d-i-e-m when much else fails.
An image stayed with me from a Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch performance at Sadler’s Wells many years ago, an image that got its power from the widening gap between opposites. A dancer in a red dress stood centre-stage, alone, unmoving, while Aram Khatchaturian’s Waltz played at high pitch. The longer the dancer remained motionless, the more the waltz seemed heated, hectic, hysterical even. The longer the waltz played, the more the dancer’s perfect stillness was enhanced, and puzzling, as the viewer’s/listener’s limbs were lashed into (suppressed) motion, the audience like one huge twitching muscle.
Even longer ago, while still at college, I made a video-installation called Perpetual Present. I filmed the faces of several students in close-up for eight to ten minutes, having asked them to look straight at the camera and move as little as possible. In the editing-suite I cut out all the blinks and put the footage on loops. I hung three monitors from the ceiling, screens upwards. Three pairs of eyes returned the viewer’s gaze with their extended, unrelenting stares. The work hovered somewhere between an animated photograph and an arrested film to the point that for instants you couldn’t be sure whether you where looking at a still or a moving image, visible movements (breathing, swallowing) so minute that you could miss them if you blinked. The drama of these small ‘events’ unfolded only if you stayed and engaged beyond the first determining glances. But the last strangeness, of an uninterrupted stare, was harder to perceive.
Stillness is an in-between: not fixed, not moving. It isn’t complete, total. It breathes, is alive. The production of this moving image had at its base the loss of other images, those blinks, those moments of darkness that make seeing possible.
Could my unspeakable days, which I tend to consider lost, be instants of darkness that allow me to perceive something which I couldn’t otherwise?
Perpetual Present (1997)
Video-installation with three 14″ monitors; 3×1 hour loops, silent