Introduction to Issue Ten: Ten Conversations anniversary edition
For this issue of Soanyway we have departed slightly from our usual thematic approach—this is the tenth issue since our re-design and relaunch in September 2018, and to mark the anniversary we present ten conversations.
The idea of conversation itself is thus what links the ten disparate contributions; appropriately so, since the conversational is central to our conception of a magazine that takes its title from a mundane figure of everyday speech. In the introduction to our first relaunch issue we described Soanyway as having a unifying framework for juxtaposing a diverse range of content, “a narrative space where multiple patterns of connections and disconnections can exist as sensuous experiences, aesthetic affinities, theoretical proximities, social collaboration and individual imagination”.
It is in this eclectic context that the ten conversational contributions here include transcribed discussions and interviews, correspondence through letters, musical dialogue in the form of a duet, choreography as a means of maintaining an intimate exchange between two moving bodies, human interactions with material objects, overheard conversations, detailed descriptions of dialogue, and purely imaginary conversations. The medium of communication for each of these, as usual for Soanyway, ranges across different languages, textual documentation, fiction, poetry, music, audio recording, animation, film, video and photography.
We imagine this as a space for conversation, like a room filled with voices, crossing language and form, in line with our slogan 'a turn in conversation'. We invite you to celebrate our tenth issue by walking between these discussions and engaging with us in these ten conversations that will proliferate outwards amongst our ever-expanding audience.
Steve Argüelles and Csaba Palotaï - Cabane Perchée
Cabane Perchée (BMC Records 2021) is a new album by Csaba Palotaï (acoustic guitar) and Steve Argüelles (percussion, prepared acoustic guitars), their second project together. In the video, they discuss their roots in jazz and interest in Bartók, Moondog, and a common folklore between these two. As the album description writes, using "acoustic guitar and a percussion set consisting of objets trouvés [...] a special harmony comes into being between desert blues, Hungarian and Balkan folk music, twentieth-century minimalism and contemporary pop music." Rather than playing long solos, they are looking to create atmospheres through their rhythmic compatibility in which people will find their own links and references. Included below are two tracks from Cabane Perchée.
Hana Ostan Ožbolt - From a conversation with Boris Groys: Beyond the Globe
I spoke to Boris Groys (b. 1947 in the former German Democratic Republic), one of the world's leading art and media theoreticians and philosophers, in March of 2018, two years after he curated the eighth edition of the Triennale of Contemporary Art, U3, in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Established and organised by the Moderna galerija (Museum of Modern Art) since 1994, the exhibition has a prominent role in the local space, and to a certain extent also resonates internationally. While we first and foremost discussed his curatorial position and the working process of the exhibition he entitled Beyond the Globe, we also addressed some broader issues concerning the here & now of contemporary art. Groys's answers are sharp, witty, at times cynical, and brutally sincere—and they still resonate today. I decided to share an excerpt from a more in-depth interview with the Soanyway readers.
Hana Ostan Ožbolt: How are the tools of our times changing what art means to us and who can access it? What are your thoughts on "art in the age of Instagram / art of Instagram / art for the Instagram generation"?
Boris Groys: I am not a part of this Instagram generation. I participate in no social media. I also have no driving license. (Smile.)
HOO: Really? I also have no driving license. (Laughter.)
BG: Well, if you go back to the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century... if you take these two centuries, for example, and if you look at the educated population of Europe—everybody could draw, and everybody could paint at that time. And now you have the Instagram generation and the condition that everyone can produce images. You already had that once in European culture. At that moment, when you have it, you begin to differentiate the degree of skill that you have using this medium. So, if everybody can paint and everybody can draw, you begin to differentiate between somebody who can make money by painting and somebody who cannot. And somebody who can make money by painting is a painter; is an artist. And if you cannot sell, then you are not. At the beginning of the twentieth century nobody could paint, so you could sell everything. (Laughter.) And you could sell everything because there were no criteria of skill. With Instagram, it's like we are back in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. What happens now is the re-skilling of art. If everybody does art the skills begin to be decisive. And that means that you introduce the economic notion of art again—and not the political, cultural or social notion of it. Who is an artist? An artist is somebody who makes a living by art.
HOO: Is this is the only criterion in your opinion?
BG: Yes, of course.
HOO: So most of the Slovenian artists, for example, are actually not artists, because they cannot make a living only by doing art, but have to work in other fields, do other jobs, to survive?
BG: (Laughter, pause.) If I had a different background, an American one, I would say: yes, they are not artists. But being also from here, I would qualify (but only qualify) that you can make a living from art in different ways: by selling art, by teaching art or that somebody gives you a position because you are an artist. The ways to make a living by art are more complicated than the simple possibility of being successful in the art market. The difference in a society where everybody is able to produce images is the question of an economic difference. Not only being able to produce the images, but to live and survive from producing them; and the quality of your production, of course, dictates this difference. And suddenly, the question of the quality of the video, the quality of photography, becomes extremely important.
HOO: I understand. But who is the one who defines the criteria, what is of good and what is of bad quality? It could also be the masses, the masses of Instagram, who just "like" everything from someone because he/she might be famous and therefore have many followers. And these "liked" images might not even be of good quality from an art historian's point of view. What is quality cannot be determined only by the taste of the masses but through different criteria.
BG: Yes, of course. Then you have to monitor Instagram. And then you see what happens. (Laughter.) Let us assume I follow your logic, and say: if you like my image, you pay a dollar. So if you put a like, you have to pay a dollar. If you monitor Instagram this way, then you immediately see who gets more money. But, interestingly, I assume that nobody would use it. The principle of the Internet is that everything that is put on there has no value. It has no artistic value, no monetary value and no other value. Whatever text or image you put there, you don't pay for that, and you are not paid for it. To put something on the Internet (including Instagram) is like putting something into a garbage can—or maybe even less. Because you have to pay for garbage, and you don't pay for Instagram. That means the Internet economy is based on the exploitation of your free time which remains unpaid.
In classical capitalism described by Marx, you take people's work if you are a capitalist and they are partially paid for that. Part of their time is appropriated. In terms of the Internet, the companies appropriate all the free time of the people because they don't pay them anything. So it's pure exploitation based on a total devaluation of whatever you produce. The problem of value is central if you speak about art or culture. And the Internet is a machine for the devaluation of things; devaluation of text and image. As far you participate in it, whatever you do has no value. ... And then, after the devaluation, a text or image is revaluated. Not by you, but by the corporations who own the Internet, since all of it is private.
View of “Beyond the Globe,” 8th Triennial of Contemporary Art – U3, Ljubljana, 2016. Image courtesy Moderna galerija, Ljubljana, 2016.
HOO: I understand. But for me, the question of the artistic quality still remains partially unanswered—who is a good artist then?
BG: Not everyone can live on art. There is a book by Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition. She wrote it in the 1950s under the impression of a conversation she had with a New York artist. She asked the artist why she makes art, and the artist said, 'for a living'. And Arendt was totally shocked because she always believed you live to make art. And Arendt wrote a lot about this reverse. A good artist is simply an artist who lives from art, today.
HOO: What is relevant art for you then?
BG: There is no generally relevant art. All these series of the 60, 70s, and 80s is total nonsense: about the art system, art institutions, art world, and so on. It was nonsense at the time, and it is total nonsense now. There is no art world—everything is very fragmented; there are different groups, they hate each other, and so on. Every group thinks they are relevant, and the other group believes they are relevant. It's not pluralistic because pluralistic means peacefully. The art world today is a kind of primitive world society. And what is relevant for one is not relevant for the other.
HOO: But you probably included some artists in your exhibition Beyond the Globe because you thought they were relevant? I heard you went through more than 120 portfolios when preparing the exhibition.
BG: But I included them not because I think they are relevant. Maybe they are totally irrelevant. I don't know. I chose them because they fitted my concept. They were relevant to my concept.
View of “Beyond the Globe,” 8th Triennial of Contemporary Art – U3, Ljubljana, 2016. (Left) Irwin, Corpse of Art, 2003. Mixed media, and painting. (Right) Arseny Zhilyaev, Yuri-1, Fragment of the Cradle of Humankind, 2015. Mixed media. Image courtesy Moderna galerija, Ljubljana, 2016.
HOO: But your selection—although these artists may be completely irrelevant—is a statement that still establishes some sort of broader relevance, based on which the process of canonizing is going on. The relevance I am addressing now is the relevance regarding the question, which artists will remain in our national (Slovenian) consciousness (or in art history if you want) in, let's say, three hundred years?
BG: (Laughter.) Nobody.
HOO: Nobody? But some names will stay because art history is and will be written.
BG: If you look at the development of art from, let's say, Egyptian times to our time, the works became smaller and smaller. From the Pyramids to paintings, texts, and now to Instagram... art is diminishing, diminishing and diminishing. If you ask me what the endpoint is of this diminishing process from, let's say, the Pyramids to Instagram, I would say zero.
At the same time, Europeans have two types of authorship: Plato and Diogenes. One wrote texts, the other produced stories and anecdotes. And we also have Jesus Christ, who is like Diogenes; he also produced only stories and anecdotes. The second way became much more successful. That is my answer to what the situation in arts will be in three hundred years.
Twenty years ago, nobody knew Bas Jan Ader. But if you go to a bookshop today, there are probably ten books about him. Bas Jan Ader did nothing; he only proclaimed himself a conceptual artist and drowned. (Laughter.) And that's it. The whole story with Duchamp and so on is anecdote after anecdote. Malevich turned into an account. So the whole history of art is a combination of stories—stories about strange types of behaviour. And these stories about peculiar kinds of behaviour are a constant in human history. Nothing is more stable in human history than that. The French surrealists understood that very well and very early. People like Artaud. And I am absolutely sure that art history will look like this collection of anecdotes, which will be admired.
HOO: What is the role of the work of the artist then?
BG: The artist was never as present as now; also as a body. Early artists were hidden. Today everyone is interested in the gender of the artist, race, opinion, political position, sexual preference. The body of the artist begins to be much more interesting than the body of the work. So if you ask about the relationship between the artist and the artwork, the importance of the artist is growing and not diminishing.
КОЛХОЗ | KOLXOZ - Post is a Bridge
In a series of letters and communications from Dresden, Rybnitsa, Vienna and Prague, the Kolxoz collective (Viktor Vejvoda (Czech Republic), Maxim Polyakov (Moldova) and Anton Polyakov (Transnistria)) posted their correspondence to Soanyway in the UK. Through the production of printed matter and performance, the Kolxoz collective creates platforms for conversation and, through this space, the building of communities. Their work is focused on peripheries, cultural margins, and produces a dialogue across borders, especially critiquing the divide between Eastern and Western Europe.
In their manifesto, they write of post as a bridge. They claim it is "an archetype of a fascinating institution. Post cooperates with other Posts globally, without exception." If it doesn't work, Kolxoz uses an alternative, what they term 'Fake Post' and 'Human Post'. The manifesto notes the special nature of post:
"You can send Letters to places you will never visit.
Post Marks are Art Works with a special spell. This spell transports your Letters. Post is organised like a peaceful military. It works slow, but steady."
Included in the correspondences here is a collection of postcards, with descriptions in Russian and English. These show spaces across Europe, marked in some way by Kolxoz. One shows a post office space, and there is a correspondence between some of these postcards with each other. Two postcards show the translation of an idea across a year: connected by the slogan 'Slava Trudu' ('Glory to Work'), one is from northern Moldova, August 2020, and the other from Dresden, August 2021.
Back of the envelope sent from the unrecognised breakaway state of Transnistria
Another Kolxoz journey is recounted on the green document, reflecting on their internal Moldovan ride along the Dniester River. This account is written in a hybrid form, with a series of annotations and parts like a letter or transmission, while reading like a story. The type-written papers which announce their arrival in new locations are labelled 'Document from Italy', 'Document from Germany' and 'Document from Vienna'. From place to place, they collect research and observations, building the archive of their portable publishing house.
An extract from the 'Spoleto—Dresden Bridge' recounts and comments on the journey between Kolxoz work spaces, namely from their Quasi-Book residency with Mahler Lewitt Studios and Viaindustriae, to the OSTRALE Center for Contemporary Art in Dresden where they reformed a metal sea container into a 'Kombinát' (a term used in former socialist countries for the combining of several different industrial companies) for the production of 'samizdat' (self-printed material) and where it is still functioning as a 'Slava Trudu contact point'. There is also a 'Progress Report', inviting those who receive the paper to send Kolxoz a report about their work, such that the exchange of post initiates the chance for further conversation.
"The fate of the Bridge is the fate of Cultural precariat workers.
At the end of service, the bridge will be destroyed."
"But then someone builds a new bridge."
(from the Kolxoz Manifesto)
Slideshow including the correspondences from Kolxoz
Sharon Kivland - CONVERSAZIONE
ACCA - ACCA Danst
ACCA are Leeds-based dance theatre duo Anna Cabré-Verdiell and Charlotte Arnold. They created ACCA Danst during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020 as a way of maintaining their creative collaboration despite geographical separation. The work began as a simple tribute to Rosas Danst Rosas by the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (created in 1983 and now an iconic work in the history of postmodern dance) but it quickly became a social commentary on lockdown blues. What we experience here is an intimate and intensely choreographed conversation through the medium of dance.
Gill Addison - SHE IS THE WORK
Jaka Gerčar and Gertrude Gibbons - in conversation with Luka Savić: philosophy, writing and the exhibition
Luka Savić's exhibition General philosophy and the confession of an individual man at Škuc Gallery, Ljubljana, ran from 26th February – 12th June 2020, curated by Guy Robertson. Jaka Gerčar and Gertrude Gibbons wrote responses to this exhibition at the time, and have recently been discussing with Savić their different approaches to his work and to writing about art more broadly. They discuss how this exhibition utilises and creates various forms of dialogue. Gerčar approaches from a philosophical perspective and Gibbons from a poetical, and Savić considers how these work in correspondence and conversation with one another and visual art.
Gertrude Gibbons: When I first encountered your work Negative Theology (2017), the first thing I thought was that's a word—I felt a sense of frustration in a poetic way towards language. I wanted to ask you about quotation and reference in the process of making work, because I think your work utilises the dialogue or conversation that quotation and reference enables between works, across eras and languages, to bring something other than the quote itself to life.
Luka Savić: In the Balkans we have a long tradition of using historical material. While I was studying visual arts and reading philosophy, I noticed there are some parallels in the Eastern European art scene using references as starting points. They all use the same references, but they try to do something different with them. What I wanted to do is have a base we can all discuss in some way. I found that in the academic field of philosophy and others, you have a reference—a base that you then develop. The way I was using references was the way in which I would be writing an article, an academic article. This is the idea I was always interested in, like sentences in writing, in a visual art form.
GG: I remember writing how I felt that walking through your exhibition was like walking through a visual essay with that form of quotation—a dialogue building on these points of reference.
Jaka Gerčar: Evidently, many artists are using a lot of quotation nowadays. But don't you feel as if they feel some shame about using quotation in visual art—something they might not necessarily feel in writing? Luka's method of reappropriation perhaps stems from philosophy, which can be understood as a disciplined way of ordering thoughts and ideas. Approaching what Gertrude was saying from a different angle, Luka, I'd like to ask you about philosophy. It's been an ongoing discussion we've had that there's a kind of strange obsession with having to define art and to assert your work as art. Could we say that your work is in fact philosophy first and foremost, just in a medium that is atypical for philosophy? After all, philosophy has been done almost exclusively in writing, with Socrates as a notable exception, but even that needed to be written down by Plato! Are you doing art by philosophical means, or perhaps philosophy using the means of art?
Luka Savić, Timeness of Time (Časost časa), 2020, in General philosophy and the confession of an individual man at Škuc Gallery,
Timeness of Time (Časost časa), 2020, and Manifesto (Manifest), 2019.
LS: I think there is sometimes a critical attitude towards philosophy: we say, don't philosophise, or you're just doing something without purpose; you're just using words without any meaning. In philosophy, there was always a structure for dialogue in some way; perhaps in Ancient Greece it was common practice that everybody already possesses the idea, and together we bring it to the light. I wanted to use these references, to bring something concrete into art that people can talk about. For me, it's like historical research or philosophical research, but using a different means of mediation of the idea.
JG: Universality is a concept that pops up repeatedly in our conversations. I’d like us to delve further into that as there seem to be several facets to that idea which are pertinent to your work. You paint a picture of some kind of historical regress in the way what in the past was understood to be universal turned into isolated bubbles. In the Middle Ages, for instance, everyone could understand the ostensible “content” of art because most people were familiar with biblical references (and if they weren’t, at least there was no confusion as to where an explanation could be found). I'm curious about when you think we lost that kind of familiarity and what hope there is for us actually to be able to see and experience art in that way. Is the solution in finding ways to create and display art that relates to a larger number of people? Does your interest in universality also stem from searching for that common ground so that we can all share the experience of art?
GG: There's something about finding a common language through metaphor. Obviously metaphor can take on many forms; whether it's biblical stories, or what an object might represent.
LS: My idea is to try to talk about art not in a way that everybody understands it, but that everybody understands the entry point. So the entry point or these references, this is where you can find universality; we have to make a common ground. And this is a thin line of universality; the thin line between what we see and then there is something behind it. It's an entry point that everybody can stand on the same ground and then imagination and interpretations can begin.
GG: This makes me think that a form of universality is the moment that a thought comes into being, because whatever language it ends up being in, or whatever form, there's a moment in the shift between being inside the mind and being outside it. That is a common point, and an entry point as well as an exit point.
JG: There's an important difference between universality and generalities. General knowledge or something that's common to many but not all people doesn't mean it is universal. Seeking for universal character in art is a difficult if not impossible endeavour. What you're talking about, Gertrude, is getting closer to what I think may be truly universal in art—the experience of art rather than any common entry point, no matter how simple or familiar.
GG: Experience. This makes me think of Locke’s concept of being born as a blank page and sensory experience writing across it. It's a nice image that perhaps one can relate to, like a moment of birth at the point that the pen meets the paper.
Negative Theology (Negativna teologija), 2017.
Send my love to Gabriel (Pošlji moje pozdrave Gabrielu), 2020.
LS: I like this idea of universality, because it is the only way I think we can escape the chaotic paradigm of Postmodernism. I think about it a lot because I get many questions about my understanding of universality. It is often perceived negatively (especially after Lyotard's critique of Hegel). Universality is not a totality, but is frequently understood by philosophers as close to nothingness. And it's in that sense that universality is not general, total or the ultimate truth. It is also not general knowledge or common knowledge, but the binder of things and ideas. And perhaps like Wittgenstein would say, the border of our knowledge is our language and what is beyond our border of language is metaphysics. We use language not to illustrate, but to communicate or to translate ideas that come to our mind. And how they come to our mind has something to do with universality and metaphysics.
GG: Pre-linguistic thought—this does make me think about your reference to apophatic discourse with Negative Theology, the question of how you can use language to somehow frame or circumnavigate silences and things that can't be said. And yet, words are used to find their way around it, and they're kind of 'non words'—they've got these extra bits, prefixes, added onto words that do exist, to make them not exist.
LS: I find this whiteness and apophatic or negative theology interesting in relation to art because of ideas of being able to define something in another, different, or new way. Negating a part of an artwork creates and opens new questions. It sheds new light on an artwork. It's practical to have definitive and defined thoughts, but also the important thing is that we have something that is not that determined, and it works through some sort of a negation. In my artworks, for example, what happens if you recreate something and just negate the colour or the materiality of it, if you repeat the same gesture? I believe these negations create empty points. I think a good artwork creates empty points that can be filled with interpretation.
JG: I wonder if we can actually replace interpretation that you're both relating to empty space with a better, more precise concept. Because that space is not necessarily interpretation. For me, visual art or writing, or if we come back to the original theme, even philosophy and art, have the ability to summon this empty space, which is a new experience, new knowledge. I believe there is an essential difference between the interpretative process that happens as an applied set of meaning and fresh experience, supplying new knowledge for you as the spectator, a formative experience that you couldn't have without actually engaging with that artwork.
GG: I think there's also the idea of gaps. In narrative theory, the gaps are where the imagination does its work, or is at its most active in giving movement to the parts between. These aren't for interpretation, it's for a movement between things, and giving a life to them, which, as you say, is something new. It's not a reading of something, it's actually an experience through it. And it's the gaps that enable that journeying through something, rather than just kind of running alongside it.
JG: Exactly. It's interesting that gaps can take many different forms. When you say gaps, I quickly think of literature that made intentional gaps; those gaps can also be created without making formal interruptions in narrative.
Manifesto (Manifest), 2019.
Manifesto (Manifest), 2019.
GG: Yes, what actually defines an interruption? Probably the most interesting interruptions are the ones that don't obviously seem like interruptions, they're more subtle. You'll only realise them by looking back. I want to ask you, Luka, about language and translation, returning to the idea of universality. Your work Manifesto (2019) references the Tower of Babel, where all language was broken down and left everyone confused. No one could communicate with each other; no one could converse. I wondered about your thoughts on translation because you work between languages, but also between, as we were saying, translating thoughts and pre-linguistic ideas into an object. In that shift between the idea and the object, what's lost or gained?
LS: Leibniz said, you have a plan for a machine on paper, and then you have the real machine that was built from this plan. He would say these two things have the same essence, so he can make a translation from the paper to the machine. There is something actually universal in that connection between a plan on a piece of paper and a physical machine. This is an idea that I like, because I make plans and then have physical objects that are produced by other people. So to return to this universal language and the Tower of Babel, also with the marble put back together on the proportions of the sacred geometry, what I'm trying to say is we won't get back to the same point. The whole process of trying to reunite this lost language is already the process of finding some sort of universality.
GG: I wonder about words as material. How to go about that naturally, making use of their natural limitations and faults, potentially like with the cracked marble. With the reference to apophatic discourse in Negative Theology, I think you do refer to that raw naturalness of words as a material.
Negative Theology (Negativna teologija), 2017.
LS: I wanted to ask you both about your view on the relation between visual artworks and text? Text can obviously be used as a part of the artwork, or can be used as an explanation next to the artwork. Historically artists like Magritte or Art & Language used it in a very interesting way. Do you think that nowadays text is used to make art more understandable and it doesn't have the same potential as it did in the 20th century? Are explanatory texts destroying the metaphysical potential of art? For me, it is important to think about the nature of the sentence as having a different regime time-wise to a painting or an object, etc., because you have to read it. But in the field of visual art, in some ways, you see it all at once. This is your first experience and this experience is actually what takes you over? Also, how you see a book and you would say, okay, this book, I know what it is about from an image on the front? They try to show what the book is about; they try to experiment with this.
JG: Roberto Calasso, the Italian publisher and writer, had an expression for capturing an entire book in a single image. He called it 'ekphrasis in reverse', echoing the Greek concept for a verbal description of something otherwise visual. He considered it of utmost importance for a publisher to invest effort in choosing an image that performs that paratextual function as well as possible, ideally lending the book an added dimension which it didn’t have before publication. So, on the relation between the visual and the textual, I think that the two rarely relate to each other in a very direct, translation kind of way.
GG: Yes, I do think there is a danger in the explanatory exhibition text. Perhaps, for example, wall text in exhibitions and museums is a problem because it's automatically kind of asserting itself as this visual thing, being displayed on the wall, and I think that it can obscure the work. Often it's at the entrance of an exhibition as well, so from the very start, people have their sight affected by this explanatory text. For me, with writing about visual work or any medium of work really, the fear is that writing to explain ends up obscuring, because I think a text should accompany the visual, but it shouldn't explain it, it should have a dialogue with it.
LS: Writing about artwork is creating a new artwork, so this is re-creational for an artwork; it's not a thing making it more clear or making it more visible in some way, but no, it's a work.
GG: It should also, in its own right as a work, be able to stimulate thoughts in others, to go on either looking further at the other work that it discusses, or is in dialogue with, and also in itself; it shouldn't be the end point, and that's why I get annoyed about the kind of obstructive wall texts that are explaining right at the beginning of an exhibition—that ends the conversation.
JG: I couldn't agree more because ultimately the text should be stimulating. It should stimulate the experience of the artwork. It should stimulate an unpossessive desire for the artwork.
Images from Luka Savić: General philosophy and the confession of an individual man at Škuc Gallery. Photo credit: Jaka Babnik. Courtesy the artist.
Sara Nesteruk - Recipes for Baking Bread: Jerry Berman’s Letters
This is the fifth film in a series of short films exploring stories from Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932–33.
Marion Harrison and Stuart Mellor - To Hear Over
"This sound work was developed as a direct response to feelings of inhabiting, moving around and introducing people to a new ‘art’ space. The first iteration of the work was experienced through a lump of sculptural material you held in your hands which acted as both a sensor and a listening device. Frequencies above human hearing act as beacons within the space for the material to locate itself and give you access to a sonic world, experienced only by you. Moving at your own pace, the material was in conversation with you, guiding you through the activities, life and breath of the building."
Frank Wasser - A SHADOWPLAY
The text is loosely based on conversations overheard through the veil of a hospital privacy curtain.
His mother ends every call telling him that she will pray for him and then abruptly hangs up the phone denying him any sort of response or reaction. He is left with this thought ringing to the sound of the beeping on the line.
Having been passed from ward to ward all through the night, the patient is spent and sapped. At intervals he reluctantly observes a brown brick wall adorned with a redundant half rusted, grey satellite dish which has become the nest of a family of seagulls that holler in an aggressively provocative manner. The gulls’ cries resonate with a dislocated pain albeit undeniably located within his corporal. The dearth of capacity to articulate from where the smarting stems causes him to writhe. His legs trusting against the thin cotton sheets that cover protective plastic bedding create a peal of abiding crackling as if a lump of flesh thrown upon a greased pan. The day begins again.
In front of the patient a blue curtain hangs, wrapping around the bed making a translucent wall of blue to his left. The purpose of the curtain is to provide privacy for the patient; however the curtain, not unlike the patient himself, belongs to its own institution, a constitution which can easily be subjected to perversion and subversion.
In the shadow play of midnight, the witness recalls a light from across the ward illuminating the surface of the divider. The silhouette of a man rises slowly up from his bed to a seated position. The penumbra of the man afforded such detail to reveal him bedecked with wires attached to every limb and orifice. Muffled by an oxygen mask the man begins to shout, ‘Where am I?’ Although he senses the other patients on the ward must be awake and capable of answering him, his calls go unanswered. The man's catechised desperation creates a pronounced unease throughout his own body. With every proclamation the pain increases until eventually it causes what the doctor calls a vasovagal syncope.
He wakes on an entirely different ward which looks similar—not necessarily similar to all the other wards, just similar.
Returning to his present moment and perturbed by the recollection he puts himself into a recovery position, lying on his side with one hand under his sweating head and the other across his frail chest, he remains like that—apprehensive, alert—can he trust his body not to choke on its own effulgence? His breath is low and shallow, his swallow is hesitant... on eggshells and loath to upset his bowels again. Throughout the day, around him the other patients endlessly call for assistance. Bickering ensues each time the nurse arrives. Now and again, he crooks his head on his forearm and allows a mundane exchange to distract him momentarily from the feelings inside his own body. ‘I said, Milk, two sugars, do you even speak English?’ he finally acknowledges the world internally and his body wretches again in response.
During visiting hours, while his own curtain remains pulled, the sound of the ward is so much that it forces him to reach for the cardboard bowl sitting on the bedside table beside him. Before the patient vomits, he notices that the doctor has left a small scalpel in the bowl from an earlier procedure. Its alluring severity and pristinely polished blade provides a tiny mirror for the gaunt gaze of the patient. As a gesture that is unaware of its impetus, he swiftly removes the scalpel with his right hand and vomits into the cardboard container. Hot liquid pours from the patients open mouth as he grasps the scalpel with all his strength. In contorted winces, and still grasping the scalpel, the patient counts 139, 140, 141, calls for the nurse from other patients and he wretches almost in tandem. Some yielding nothing but bile, some yielding nothing at all.
The nausea remains for the afternoon reaching its apex around the hour of three. Every utterance and scraping of objects chafing against one another make his innards twist and spasm with increasing severity and amplitude. Having expelled all the contents of his guts he is unsure whether or not the pain has begun to alleviate or if he has just become accustomed to it.
Remarkably in the most unremarkable of ways the silhouette of the man rises once again from his slumber.
‘Where am I?’ He begins to muster up the energy to answer the man only to be interrupted by a separate voice that comes from an adjacent bed. ‘Who are you?’ ‘Who am I? Who are you? Where am I?’
The calling man has awoken another patient who in the midst of slumber is also completely unaware of where he is or why the other man is calling out. Acknowledging the humour of the situation but not relenting to laughter, he feels compelled to document the situation in the faint light emitted from across the ward.
He takes his pen and decides that he will attempt to scribble some sentences into a journal. His hands tremble and stagger laden with gravity, the weakest of earthly forces. He pivots his elbow using a puffed pillow to lever his arm, angling his wrist crooked above the page as is his manner; with curved hand and bent wrist to scribe from above. The notebook, atop an adjustable, grey tilting tray ... pages smoothed flat—pressed open to break the spine. Ready.
The patient makes indentations into the page and promises himself to rewrite the text in ink at a later date. He thinks that upon recovery he might take a graphite rubbing from the notes, to reveal these indents.
‘Can you come here and help me; I am stuck, and I don’t know where I am?’ ‘I can’t I am stuck too, where am I?’ ‘Who are you?!’ ‘Where am I?’
With no sign of the nurse and the feeling of agony returning to his bowels he decides that he will answer the two men in an attempt to pacify them. Dumbstruck and inexplicably gagged, he is alarmed to discover that when he attempts to construct a sentence that will inform the two men where they are, he is unable to do so. Despite how familiar his environment looks, he too doesn’t know where he is. A fear falls over the patient and the pang in his gut returns. He presses the buzzer for the attention of the nurse and joins the other men calling out into the night.