This Body, my Exhaustion.

I am bone tired. Last week we took down our installation ‘This House, my Body’.

The big house that we occupied and crafted for three weeks now stands quiet and empty once again. As our artworks are consigned to new homes and storage, the building goes on to house someone else’s creative endeavour, while outside, the Pepperberry tree nods in the wind and magpies carol.

For four days we invited people to experience an immersive installation space we had created inside a disused railway station building in Central Victoria, the Newstead Railway Arts Hub.


Newstead Railway Arts Hub

Outlined below is a rough map of the spaces of the installation.

Main Room.

“…I see it now, the way it appeared to my child’s eye, it is not a building, but quite dissolved and distributed inside me: here one room, there another, and here a bit of corridor … conserved in me in fragmentary form…”

Rainer Maria Rilke

On the walls of this room a series of portraits or emanations – faces emerging from the surfaces of broken mortar, peeling wallpaper. In the centre of the room stands a human sized figure illuminated on a light box, prone, deep cracks and fissures revealing broken brickwork where the heart might lie, his body as chipped and fragmented as a china doll. In another corner a whitened figure looms out of darkness, abstracted by projections of foliage, broken hearths and piles of detritus – the body becoming a bright, unknowable thing, a ruined building, broken window, site of decay and regeneration. Somewhere, almost imperceptible a low hum can be heard, a cello note, the light clink of crockery.

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The main room

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From the “Emanations’ series, a merging of diffuse portraits combined with the details of derelict buildings. Photo by R.Guy

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Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. “Safe! safe! safe!” the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry “Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart.”
Virginia Woolf


The Cellar.

Beneath the floor, in a cellar, a wayward set of steps descends to a dirt floor. In one corner, a cracked, banished doll, faces a wall – lonely as the recesses of childhood we discard or bury, her frock, crisp as shame.

”…[you doll]….who let our most flooding feelings become matter in you–a perfidious, indifferent, unbreakable thing…lying around in our earliest uncanny loneliness”

Rainer Maria Rilke


the cellar beneath the gallery space – the placement of the doll meant she only came into view as you walked towards the glass covered aperture in the floor –

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The aperture leading to the cellar.


Crying Room.

Behind another curtain a cluster of small porcelain houses made from body impressions, tilt and huddle in the alcove of a blackened fireplace. Illuminated by strings of tiny lights, they glow quietly, a buttery hue, warm as blood beneath the skin, while above them a naked, spectral figure stretches and dances. Caked in cracking clay, his skin tone is red against white, his mouth, florid as a rose, gapes wordlessly. All you can hear is the whine of dissonant chords, slowed and unspooling, and the quiet, plaintive sobbing of a woman somewhere, in some private, long forgotten moment of grief. On a plinth, two porcelain houses configured of cast hands hold a torrent of streaming red threads descending from a canopy above. The threads, like spindly capillaries, are connected to the stark crowns of dead bushes, suspended, dry sticks, branching like neural pathways.


The crier projected onto the wall above the alcove of illuminated porcelain ‘body houses’


detail of the porcelain houses made from slabs and cast body parts, objects by Rachael Guy, photo Leonie Van Eyk


detail of porcelain objects connected to red thread

Poets Room.


Poet Anna Fern as she appears in This House, My Body short films.

For this part of the project I made a call out to 19 poets (including myself) to write on the theme of ‘This House, My Body’. Their task had four parts; first, to write an aspect/memory/observation about what it was to inhabit their particular body/house, then to be recorded reading their poetry as audio. Next we photographed each poet behind a sheet of diffuser film – and finally, filmed them listening back to the recording of their own poem. Each poet was asked to wear black and seated on a chair before a black velvet curtain beneath theatre lighting. They were then filmed as they listened to their own recording by my collaborator Leonie Van Eyk.  The end result was 19 short films where the viewer watches the poet’s face and hands in minute detail as their words are heard. The films are compellingly intimate, the floating faces do not compete for our attention with the words, but rather float in unison, a chorus of intimacy –  unguarded, forensic, yet tender and candid. It was a great privilege to work with people in such a raw space of disclosure and examination – and given I was asking such bravery of others, I felt it was only fair that I subject myself to the same process in order to sense what it might feel like for others. I too, appear in film, my eyes bright with fear, my face ever so slightly contorted at the strangeness of hearing my own voice – my hands, restless.


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One of the ‘spirit’ portraits, taken from behind diffuser film. These portraits formed the basis for the ‘Emanations’ series.


Insomnia Room.

The last space in our installation is a large room behind a black curtain. Inside stands a cast iron bed, strewn with old lace and draped with a mosquito net. Projected through the net and onto the wall behind the bed, a lone, spasmodic sleeper hovers. She lies fitful on the threshold between waking and sleeping. Delicate as a moth pinned to the dark of night, her restlessness twitches and reverberates. Anxiety blooms in the dark recesses of the night mind – we gaze upon this sleeper, vulnerable, hovering – does she feel our gaze as intrusion – or is she held by it, wrapped in the soft cradle of our attention?

To make this film Leonie and I worked with performer Samantha Bews who patiently submitted to us moving her hair, dress and body incrementally to create, strange sequences of uncanny puppet-like movement to highlight the discomfort of insomnia. These sequences were then interspersed with stills taken as Samantha improvised on the theme of sleeplessness, rolling, arching and folding. We coupled the final film with an exquisite, disquieting chiming, nursery-like track by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Now you hear what the house has to say.
Pipes clanking, water running in the dark,
the mortgaged walls shifting in discomfort,
and voices mounting in an endless drone
of small complaints like the sounds of a family
that year by year you’ve learned how to ignore…
How many voices have escaped you until now,
the venting furnace, the floorboards underfoot,
the steady accusations of the clock
numbering the minutes no one will mark.
The terrible clarity this moment brings,
the useless insight, the unbroken dark.
from Insomnia, Dana Gioia

‘Night Music’ – a photographic triptych consisting of stills that made up the sequence for the insomnia film. Videography by Leonie Van Eyk

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the film projected onto a mosquito net – photos by L.Van Eyk


a wider view of the canopy, video and bed in situ

One of the key texts that underpinned the process of making this installation was  ‘The Poetics of Space’, Gaston Bachelard.  Such a rich compendium of poetic quotes, tangential roaming within the intimate spaces of architecture, memory, and the phenomenology of what it is to inhabit spaces and bodies served as a brilliant spur and touch stone as we navigated our way through the many potential directions of this project.

Another fascinating source was this illustration The House of the Body, an allegorical design comparing the organs of the body to the divisions of a house, from Cohn’s Ma’aseh Toviyyah (1707)


Polish-Jewish physician Tobias Cohn published a series of eight books called Ma’aseh Toviyyah (Work of Tobias). Each volume focused on a field of knowledge (Volume one: Theology, Volume Two: Astronomy, Volume Three: Medicine…). In the third volume Cohn illustrated the human body side-by-side with a house in order to liken both structures.


This project consisted of words, pictures and film. The installation space held many hours of creative labour, 8 or more months of dreaming, scribbling, laughing, disagreement and making. Leonie and I clambered into ruined houses, photographed the nooks and dust, we took people’s portraits and filmed and recorded poets words. We held people in their vulnerability during the process of making this work and supported one another also. We listened intently to domestic sounds, experimented with recording the ordinary sounds of the bodily (snoring, sobbing, breathing) and the domestic (washing up, creaking hinges and humming fridges) – and worked with sound artist Rose Turtle Ertler to refine the sound for the show. We reflected on our own embodiments and on our own houses and sense of belonging and impermanence.

“None of us reflects that someday he must depart from this house of life; just so old tenants are kept from moving by fondness for a particular place and by custom, even in spite of ill-treatment. Would you be free from the restraint of your body? Live in it as if you were about to leave it. Keep thinking of the fact that some day you will be deprived of this tenure; then you will be braver against the necessity of departing.”


They say it takes a village to raise a child – it also takes a village to incubate and grow an installation – I am deeply indebted to the many who helped bring this work to fruition.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.








This House , My Body


DAN cloud muddy copy“None of us reflects that some day he must depart from this house of life; just as old tenants are kept from moving by fondness for a particular place and by custom, even in spite of ill-treatment. 
Would you be free from the restraint of your body? Live in it as if you were about to leave it. Keep thinking of the fact that some day you will be deprived of this tenure; then you will be more brave against the necessity of departing.”


In September our new show This House, My Body will be showing at the Newstead Railway Arts Hub.

Opening Thurs 13th September 11-4 pm

Friday 14 th 11-4pm

Saturday 15th, 2 – 4pm special event with live reading

Sunday 16 th, 11-4pm


This House, my Body is a cross-artform installation work staged in an empty building. The project will explore notions of human bodies as houses in all their diversity and vulnerability in an immersive space to stir imagination, contemplation and memory.
 Within the building, a room of poets sharing their thoughts on embodiment as a tenancy, images and objects, projections, sounds and spaces that evoke curiosity, disquiet and reflection as we journey through ideas about the precarious nature of living in our bodily houses.

A collaboration between artist Rachael Guy and videographer Leonie van Eyk,  This House, My Body will generate new insights into what it means to inhabit the spaces of our existence within the intimate domains of both our houses and our embodiment. Local writers will be joining us as we ask them to create poems on this theme for the event.

This House, My Body –  a suite of spaces, that speaks of being love and loss, infirmity and transience. Join us as we explore the unexpected corners of existence, the empty bed, rooms of memory – spaces where bodies and houses congregate, merge and fall apart.



Beyond the black curtain


We have just finished performing our work Each Map of Scars at the Castlemaine State Festival. I am deeply tired. The whole town seems to be stilled by a post-festival hush – for ten days artists, performers and audiences came together in a mutual flowering. We bloomed brightly, like it mattered – now we turn to Autumn.

Theatre is a peculiar beast. You work long and hard, poring over excruciating detail for hours and months. You inhabit an idea wholly (sometimes at the expense of other aspects of your life) and commit to its completion. You show the work in a season that may last no longer than a few nights – then it’s over. The best you can hope for is some lingering impression in the people who attended, perhaps some modest transformative moment of recognition of disquiet or beauty, perhaps even dislike –  again, the ripple is only briefly seen and held in the moment of applause, sometimes encountered a few days beyond, as you bump into people who came and saw.

The aftermath of a theatre season is lonely and confusing. The work that consumed you, now sits ignored, no longer front and centre of your attention; those files on the computer, props on a shelf, the objects piled in a corner, built for a single purpose – now what? You consider what life the work might have in the future  – how to reinvent its relevancy, find new opportunities for it to come to life, be shown once more…?

I feel just like the puppets I made  –  paused and inert after seven long months of filming stop motion animation. They lie in my studio, seemingly without purpose –   I’m not sure of mine either.

I am reminded that by creating something we manufacture meaning. In the wake of such intensity, a sense of meaninglessness can pervade. In this space of quiet unknowing I’d like to step beyond the black curtain of closing night and reflect on some aspects of this project.


Our work was not an easy piece, it tackled loss, ambivalence, impermanence and pain. It delved into the bodily, both the unusual and the ordinary. Everyone of us involved, including people who volunteered to be photographed for the final section of the piece offered up something raw, personal, vulnerable and deeply human. This is how Andy Jackson, who performed and whose poems informed the visual and theatrical elements, described Each Map of Scars:

It explores physical likeness, bodily conflict, grief, imperfection and disability – but it also explores how writing can be embodied and how bodies can take on words. It’s not typical theatre, it’s even a bit anti-theatrical. It’s minimal, emotional, but also self-aware – we want to remind people that we are diverse, vulnerable bodies sharing a world.


I should say that underpinning this work is his poetry, as well as his physical presence. Andy lives with a genetic condition which has made his body visibly different:

Seeing my physical shape, people make assumptions about who I am, what my subjective experience is like, the meaning of this body. This isn’t unusual. It’s what we do…

Not only his poetry, but his courage and willingness to be on stage has in part shaped this work, its content and the way in which audiences receive it. Words and visibility are core to Andy’s eloquent and deeply thoughtful activism. About the process of writing and its affect he says:

It [is] important to me to not only be able to use language to affect meaning, but to affect how we relate to each other, how meaning attaches to bodies, or moves between bodies. And of course, this is not only about this body, but about all our bodies, in their diversity and complexity.


And indeed this work, reached out, implicated and touched other bodies/all our bodies. By and large the work received great appreciation – we got a standing ovation (which I found deeply moving) and people seemed to respond to the vulnerability and openness of the work with a reciprocal preparedness to be open and emotionally raw in return. Here is some feedback I received:

…the poetry, the music, the twins, the animation… it’s very powerful, a bit scary, a lot scary actually. Sadness, loss, separation, shame. So evocative… this is a tremendously important piece of work. Its topic, about difference, and deformity, which has so often been overlooked in our societal obsession with looking beautiful… is very timely. Your work allows people the chance to peek under the slipping white sheet and look at the raw wound, the cut and the stained skin…people have an opportunity to view the different body… I don’t say I enjoyed watching it, but it was strangely very beautiful and made me remember a part of my own story that I had not thought about for a long time.



For me this work has highlighted some primary things that I do and don’t respond to in theatre, aesthetic preferences which inform what I create.

I’m impatient with edifice and conceit. I like the material to be about presence and nakedness – that probably sounds ludicrous given that I work with puppets, but for me puppetry as a medium is capable of great directness, poetic delicacy and metaphor – it also risks monumental failure if it lapses into unintentional caricature or pretension. In creating the conjoined twins for Secessionist, I strove to build two figures dignified and realistic enough to empathise with, but improbable enough to avoid being perceived as caricatures of living twins. You can read more about Secessionist and the puppets here.

Here’s Andy’s reflection about the process:

How real is this world we’re creating? We decided that what was most important was the psychology of these characters, and that their experience is also somehow ours. There is a huge risk in creating work about extreme embodiment of it being a surreal, unrelatable alien world, or a freak-show.

We avoided this in two ways – first, by including the hands of the film-makers, puppeteering, which made the artifice visible, while simultaneously making the puppets seem more vulnerable. Second, the focus was always on their emotional states … through framing, editing and music, which meant we gave them dignity, and … their visceral experiences leaked from across the screen into the audience’s imagination.


I’m not very interested in straightforward narrative or storytelling – I’m much more inclined to work with the psychological or ‘felt’ aspects of the material, even if this creates a haunting sense of disorientation. I would rather an audience be impacted by something in a way which raises questions and evokes feelings rather than having a straightforward relationship to the material.  Working with poetry is very freeing in this regard as it too, isn’t necessarily concerned with linearity, exposition or the literal. It exists in a heightened place that takes you to the raw nerve, the bare bones. I think poetry it is an excellent companion for puppetry,  both mediums can be as impressionistic as they can be decisive.

Puppets should never speak – I don’t think puppets are fluent in our language, they excel at silence and say the unsayable through the strange paradox of being/non being. Little simulacra evoke empathy through gesture and presence – not through strange voices, flapping jaws and ill-synchronised lips… (is my prejudice showing? 🙂 )

I like to work intuitively rather than working to a schedule with a predicted outcome. While filming Secessionist (the puppet animation part of Each Map of Scars), filmmaker Leonie Van Eyk and myself kept finding that if we entered the studio with a hard intention and the expectation of a particular outcome we didn’t do our best work. Our shooting succeeded best on days when we happened upon chance ideas (usually dictated by the properties of the puppets and the materials at hand) and let those ideas continue to grow spontaneously – if we followed that spark of passion we had rich, interesting footage at the end of the day.

Working at 24 frames per second gave me time to get to know the puppets in a way I’ve never done before – it was as much a collaboration with objects as it was with people. Those objects were imperfect, stubborn, flawed and fragile. During filming tiny fingers would snap, arms would fracture, necks would only bend so far and the eyes could only swivel to a certain point. Because the polymer clay was brittle I could not tension the figures sufficient for them to stay upright so we had to do most of the filming with the puppets on their backs – this constraint gave rise to a surprising amount of invention. It also broke down any tendency to verge on ‘realism’ – we felt free to dismantle the figures, to reconfigure them in absurd, beautiful and distressing ways. We had to invent realms in which it made sense that these legless figures were floating, reclining, connected and disarticulated. The physical limitations became the palette and rationale through which we explored the themes within the poem. As I write this it also strikes me that the puppets through their limitations, inhabit the imperfect nature of embodiment and disability – the every themes of the show itself. Working with matter/materials is, by its very nature unpredictable, changeable, mutable. So it is, working/living within a body.

More soon.



Photos courtesy Julie Millowick, Castlemaine State Festival