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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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detail of porcelain objects connected to red thread

Poets Room.

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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
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‘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

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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)

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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.

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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.”

Seneca

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.

Rumi

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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.”
Seneca

 

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.

 

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Progeny (poem for a puppet)

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Progeny

“Thine eyes did see mine unfinished substance …”

(Psalms 139:16)

 

In a miniature bed you lie, handkerchief for a blanket,

head so light it makes no indent in your tiny pillow.

 

Assemblage of wire and clay, glass and graphite, you are

an outpouring of love, the closest I have to progeny.

 

Dry slit of mouth, pained and vivid as a cold sore,

expression caught between startle and melancholy.

 

I dreamt once that you came to life, and ran from me.

I called you – but could not find your name.

 

At the bottom of my grandparent’s garden, I found you

in the shadows beyond the woodshed where,

 

a lifetime ago, I had loitered, morose beneath plum trees,

the summer my cousin died. Little doll, you were radiant.

 

Inside your hollow head, a ripening;

glass eyes gleaming, your tombstone pallor thawing.

 

Tell me your name.

 

Leaning in, you whispered a name so plain and small

I could not bring myself to repeat it.

 

But to be a mother is to accept the ways

in which our children fail to shine.

 

So I said your name and colour rose in your cheeks,

brittle fingers flexed and you moved towards me,

 

teeth chattering, stick-thin arms

winding tight around my pulsing neck.

Into the forest with the Scar Brothers

After a three-year hiatus I’m back.

For the past six months I have been working on a new show “Each Map of Scars” based on four poems by the talented Andy Jackson who writes poetry, essays (and currently a PhD) examining bodily otherness. The show is booked for the Castlemaine State Festival, March 2017. http://castlemainefestival.com.au/events/each-map-of-scars/

Below is our artists statement:

What happens when we encounter a body that is ‘different’, and what is it like to inhabit one? With great tenderness and power, Each Map of Scars probes behind essential yet rarely asked questions about body diversity and identity. Each Map of Scars uses poetry, puppetry and projected image, to bring audiences into an intimate encounter with our shared human vulnerability.

For me personally, the making of this show has marked an emergence from a very difficult period of ill-health and questions around the sustainability and continuation of my practice as a theatre maker and creator of objects for performance. What better place to start work than a place of “great tenderness and power…(probing) questions about body diversity and identity…”

About six months ago I set about building two ball jointed figures (who have affectionately come to be known as the Scar brothers). My intention was to build these figures for stop motion animation, an entirely new medium for me. I have never built ball-jointed figures before either – so I was in entirely unchartered territory.

These characters were created in response to Andy’s poem ‘Secessionist‘, here are some excerpts:

I feel a breath at my neck and wake. A dream
only a stranger’s brain could make jolts me back
into my body. Who else roams these bones?

The morning sun cannot melt him away.
He throws back the sheets as I reach for the snooze,
my brain a dead leg he drags through the day…

The poem has three parts – the first part examines the ambivalence of being conjoined and the desire for separation, the second part sees the twins surgically separated, only one survives. The third part is written from the perspective of the surviving twin – it is a searing rumination on absence and loss, and what constitutes wholeness…

I feel a breath at my neck

and expect you there –

but it’s a hard wind,                   your absence

pushing at my bones

through an open window.        Where

are you now?

Whenever I read Andy’s poem I have imagined the face of a boy, fragile, melancholic, enigmatic  – deeply lost within his complex predicament.

I decided to work with Sculpey as I wanted a fragile, fleshly finish – translucent and chalky. As I set about sculpting, the boy gradually ‘showed’ himself. In order to create his twin brother, I made a press mould from silicone from which I duplicated the second head. Due to the pliable nature of the polymer clay I was unable to make an exact duplicate which was perfect – the differences are subtle but the individuality of each character has come about through hand-finishing and handling the raw material. People frequently ask me if the puppets are based on a real person; “Who are they?’ they ask, “someone specific?” –   well, yes and no. They in part, made themselves in reference to the poem, but not in reference to any living person. And could I visualise their exact faces before I began? – no. They came into focus and into being through the making.

The whole process as been highly emergent – after creating the figures, I found a small wooden bed the exact proportions of the puppets. I made a mattress and pillows for it. While pondering whether the puppets had literal bodies I imagined they might be growing from a conjoined/entangled mistletoe mass, so I gathered many dry sticks and fallen mistletoe to experiment with.

the mistletoe…

Eventually I settled on the idea that the puppets do share a midriff and can be bodily reconfigured in many ways that aren’t literal. Sometimes they are disembodied heads, sometimes one face grows from the others rib cage and so forth.

As I started filming with videographer Leonie Van Eyk it became clear that the mistletoe was a psychological space; a space of dreaming in which things are liminal, imagined, lost and found. It is the forest in which dreams of severance occur, but also a place of memory, searching and irretrievable loss.

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lost in the mistletoe…

Like the poem’s three parts, the film has three distinct realms; the bed, the surgical dish and the forest. It is the interplay between these three spaces that compliments the poem and through which we can explore the themes without literally ‘enacting’ the poem with puppets. Here are some stills with fragments of the poem…

I feel a breath at my neck and wake. A dream only a stranger’s brain could make jolts me back into my body. Who else roams these bones?

But every life is a hive of many energies. And tonight, as he slips into sleep, a molecular frequency keeps me awake, sharpening this knife.

Hold me again and forgive me for letting them kill you, those philosophers with scalpels. They make a life normal.

We are in the final stages of our filming now and beginning the first edit – sound is to be the next development, combining spoken word, music and sound effects.

Wish us well.

Re-emerging

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything here – life has hurled some challenges my way in the past 3 years and subsequently theatre making has taken a back seat, but recently I have begun to make work again.

A new piece “Each Map of Scars” is currently in progress and will be featuring at a theatre festival early in 2017. A collaboration with poet Andy Jackson, the piece will build on our previous work Ambiguous Mirrors. Based on a triptych of three poems we will also be joining with videographer/animator Leonie Van Eyk.

Here the blurb for our forthcoming show:

you are disabled

            whether you admit it or not

            did you know that?

(from ‘Unfinished’, Andy Jackson)

What happens when we encounter bodies that are different? What is it like to inhabit one? With great tenderness and power, “Each Map of Scars” probes essential yet rarely asked questions of bodily identity. Based on a triptych of poems, Each Map of Scars probes issues of unusual embodiment from different perspectives.

This moving and thought-provoking triptych of short performance works brings audiences into an intimate encounter with bodily diversity and human vulnerability using poetry, puppetry and projected image.

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Below is the conjoined twin puppet I have been working on. It will be manipulated live on stage and also used to create a stop motion animation. Incidently, the puppets were entered into a sculpture exhibition recently and won a prize at the fabulous Spring Sculpture show at Lot19

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These puppets have been created in response to this poem which appeared in Andy’s 2010 collection ‘Among the Regulars’ :

Secessionist

 I feel a breath at my neck and wake. A dream
only a stranger’s brain could make jolts me back
into my body. Who else roams these bones?

 The morning sun cannot melt him away.
He throws back the sheets as I reach for the snooze,
my brain a dead leg he drags through the day.

 How much can physiology explain? He puts on clothes
I know don’t suit us, eats the food I can’t bear to taste,
loops memories I’d rather lose. I’m allergic

 to the pills he takes that make us well.
My thoughts fall from the tree he grows.
Once I spoke up – he slapped me, I punched him

 in the guts. It hurt us both. On the surface,
all is calm. Skin keeps us singular.
In the gym, in a mantra of movement and sweat,

 tense men furtively scan me for sutures,
questions crushed beneath their teeth. But every life
is a hive of many energies. And tonight, as he slips

 into sleep, a molecular frequency keeps me awake,
sharpening this knife.

~

In the meantime I will keep posting as the process develops.

 

Ruminations on transcending sadness

Lately I have been focusing on sculpting and writing. Performance and puppetry are on hold for a while as I recover from ill-health and reconsider my life and creativity.

I have been writing a series of micro essays on various aspects of living with depression – the most recent can be found here on the ABC Open website.

Here is a link to a short essay “By a River”

https://open.abc.net.au/explore/80829

And here, a recording of me reading my piece “The Clouds”.

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