Thursday, 18 September 2008

Strangers All - 'Duende ... in this place' Webb, P. Wilson`s Bowl

Come what may, sooner or later under the influence of our 'becoming' Massumi, B and Bergson, H , rather than 'being', eventually we are removed from known others and places. Traversing time and space ensures that we become strangers in a strange land where we must encounter others assuming the same mantle. I assert this deliberately, while simultaneously something deep within me seeks to dodge the notion. Even so, if you have read my earlier posts you will know that I do not intend for this direction of thought to imply that the human condition as it articulates and finds a voice, either in each of us or in the collective sense, necessarily possesses by nature the truncated vision of a depressed soul. Rather, I am suggesting that 'Leaving' is as it should be - a necessary element within the wider scheme of what it means to be human.

I maintain then, that the manifestation of 'Leaving' as an action, ostensibly subsumed into the norm of any given day of activity becomes essentially, an occurrence of significance. An ongoing event in itself. Rather than happenstance, 'Leaving' emerges as a force to be reckoned with, possessing the quiet and largely unnoticed capability to modify our behaviours with others and to impinge occasionally on our perception of the dynamics inherent in arriving, residing and departing both people and places.

'Leaving' will make strangers of us all. It is easy for the spirit to rebel at such an assertion. I am aware myself, since I have lived a somewhat diasporic existence through my childhood and then moving to the other side of the world to 'make a life', that despite this upheaval (the process is no small thing) I have people 'back home'; family and friends, who I like to think will never make of me a stranger, (The old adage holds true: 'Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in'), the kinds of people who you may not physically see for literally, years and years and yet when you do meet again, a core of recognition, of acknowledgement, an empathy emerges to celebrate that connection that between us we possess, but which has lain dormant for a time. I have written on the Notecard Dispenser outside my simulacrum of Wellington Railway Station in Second Life; ‘The Duende for me, speaks of ‘Le Petit Mort’ – the Little Death which resides in many a parting. The demise of connection, the fear of intimacy and recognition failing to outlast time and distance’.

We talk of friendships made in our formative years, which will always exist for us come what may and frequently, so they do. So we continually invest in our own makeup in the way that we conduct our lives, an energy and concentrated intent which ensures that some at least, of our connections with others are not entirely ephemeral. We derive strength from this knowledge to enable us to continue on and most of us know the feeling when we are leaving on a journey, that no matter how far we may go, even if we travel without the expectation of being welcomed on our arrival, if we have someone who awaits our return or at least, is conscious that we are gone, this may in itself assist us in the process of leaving.

'... in this place'. We are inexorably drawn away from both, places which have meaning for us and also one another and although we are also drawn back, the involuntary shove in some form or another, is away again.
'... in this place'. Belonging. This post title is taken from a poem by P Webb in the collection, 'Wilson`s Bowl. It denotes for me, the subtle unspoken paradox that although we may find ourselves at times, attached to a given place, the span of occupation is not timeless - it will come to an end and the knowledge of this makes for us the time we do have in-situ all the more poignant. We tend to gather to us and harbour those qualities which combine to shore-up those spaces with a sense of place; emotions, objects and connections with people which assist us in sustaining the feeling that we are grounded in one situation, that we belong, together with a certain sub-set of humanity which has been arrived at to some extent, through our own choices - we like to think that we choose our friends ... and this is the case, whether in real life or apparently virtual world extentions like Second Life.com. With Clare Atkins` (aka Arwenna Stardust) permission I quote here from her Second Life blog: It was the first time that I had felt a different sense of community in Second Life. I have long felt at home in the virtual community of educators both on Koru and in other educational sims but here were 5 RL individuals, most of whom would never have met even in SL if not for being virtual neighbours ... it was surprisingly reassuring to know that we have a neighborhood in which we belong ... It reminded me of the PhD research that a NZ student, Archmunster Toll, is doing into how far the concept of nationhood extends into Second Life. His survey questions including several that ask after your sense of ‘belonging’ to the region that you have as your SL home ... I have finally begun to realise that I DO feel a sense of neighbourly community with other land owners in my home regions and that I have developed some pride that the sim and its surrounds are developing in a way that I find not only friendly but aesthetically tasteful too. These comments by Clare reflect the sentiments of many residents in Second Life. When I first arrived in-life a year ago I was investigating SL as a potential 'non-place', anticipating a lack of sensed 'belonging' after the French-Algerian anthropologist, Marc Augé`s theories of 'Non-lieux'. (non-places, Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London, NY) To my surprise, I discovered that many avatars I spoke to in-life insisted that Second Life held all the empathetic qualities we would associate with Real Life locations and people. A sense of belonging for residents was very much alive and well, in-life.

'... in this place' then for me, is both relative and diverse. I support and applaud the sentiments which allow us to remain optimistic about the apparent stability of our existence and our conviction that we can belong across a broad range of contexts, whether they be perceptual, philosophical or physical. Yet pathos can also be a constituent of our belonging, the poignancy of change through becoming, the bittersweet draught which at times inescapably juxtaposes the centredness of ‘being’ at home.

In my Second Life Wellington Railway Station I have placed a bilboard requesting written responses to my concepts of ‘Leaving’ and the Duende (the great sense of longing for the Portuguese surfaces here too, in the Saudade) and the build itself. What follows is a Second Life Notecard response written in-life after visits to the Station by Johnnie Wendt. (I quote him here with his kind permission). He told me that he needed to sit on the Station bench in the Concourse for a while and reflect, before the words would come:

There is a certain sadness in the smell of newly mown grass on a late afternoon, morning dew glistening like teardrops on a pasture and the scent of summer in a brownskinned girl`s hair. They exist for the moment in a time and place but only for that moment although the memories may return for the flicker of an eyelid, sparked by a perfume or a trick of light. The ineffable sadness contained in all beauty is engendered by the fact that time moves on inexorably. Nothing ever stays the same. Inevitably everything moves towards death and decay. Summer will always end no matter how long one wants to hold onto the golden days or feel again the warmth of the girl`s skin, or see the sunlight sparkle in the golden down on her arms.

Old-fashioned railway stations, with their Gothic grandeur, bring back all those memories: Fleeting memories of the people who have moved through our lives – have entered or left or who are leaving as everyone must do eventually: The sadness of limited mortality contained in all our encounters. Even the sadness amid the laughter and the precious laughter of the precious solace from loneliness which can grow from the smile of recognition across a crowded hall.

In this station, with the sounds of unloading and loading trains, the pavement clatter of many feet, the birdlike chatter of the throngs, that sense of duende can become overwhelming. The loneliness in a crowd – the inevitable alienation of the human condition – and yet at times the companionship or welcome and touch of close friends and then again the pain of their departure: the memory of companions who you left behind for no good reason or because of words that should have been left unsaid; and the memory of words that should not have been left unsaid in that meeting with the girl with the smell of summer in her hair who has now gone, departing on another train at another station.

This railway station is my heart, my memory, my life; like everyone, I cannot stay here with my memories and my happiness. From one entrance or the other I too must depart, always leaving some of me behind in the memories of the station and the people who pass through it.

Perhaps in the moment I die I will understand.

Johnnie Wendt
Sept 2008

I am humbled, moved and indebted to Johnnie (Second Life name) for this response. It strikes at a part of the heart of my own sense of Duende - first real love at the age of eighteen after having found one another in our final year at school, seeing off on a train from Oxford Railway Station in England the girl of my then dreams, after a few days of sharing Shakespearean theatre in rose-laden walled gardens, punting on the river Cherwell, with the summer weather perfect. Standing there on the platform in agony, on what should have been another perfect day with the train receding in the distance, it seemed that we would both surely die. She left for a home in Alberta, Canada; I stayed, to go on to Art College in Devon. We wrote to each other for a year, but I was never to see her again.

Those remembered summer perfumes, almost synesthaesiast in the richness and orchestration of their overlap ... a world of memories embedded and brought forth instantly with the scent of a daffodil thirty-six years later - or a mixed-reality Railway Station build redolent with history and countless stories in the contemporary artifice which is Second Life.

The pathos of leaving. Will 'Leaving' make strangers of us all?

In my next post I will be posting two more video clips from the last dance sessions in the real-life Station, together with a critical commentary on the work. This will include an update of the commuter crowd in the SL Station in the form of images. After this I will re-visit what it may mean to be a stranger within the context of 'Leaving' as catalyst.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Strangers All - 'This place ...'

Come what may, sooner or later under the influence of our 'becoming' Massumi, B and Bergson, H rather than 'being' eventually we are removed from 'known' others and places. Strangers in a strange land. Strangers to one another. I assert this deliberately, while instinctively my spirit seeks to dodge the notion. Even so, if you have read my earlier posts, you will know that I do not intend for this direction of thought to imply that the human condition as it articulates for each of us or in the collective sense, is either melodramatic or depressing.

The manifestation of 'Leaving' then, as an action, ostensibly subsumed into the norm of any given day of activity becomes essentially, an occurrence of significance. An event in itself. Rather than happenstance 'Leaving' emerges as a force to be reckoned with, which possesses the capability to modify our perceptions and our behaviours with others.

'Leaving' will make Strangers of us all. It is easy for the spirit to rebel at such an assertion. I am aware myself, since I have lived a somewhat diasporic existence moving to the other side of the world to 'make a life', that despite this upheaval (the process is no small thing) I have people 'back home'; family and friends, who I like to think will never make of me a stranger, (The old adage holds true: 'Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in'), the kinds of people who you may not physically see for literally, years and years and yet when you do meet again, a core of recognition, of acknowledgement, an empathy emerges to celebrate that connection that between us we possess, but which has lain dormant for a time. We talk of friendships made in our formative years, which will always exist for us, come what may and frequently, so they do. I like to think that this condition will always prevail, indeed, without being overtly optimistic, I am sure that it will.

A natural extension exists here of course; that over the twenty odd years that I have lived here, in New Zealand Aotearoa, I have partnered in relationships with friends and family that equally, would exist in the same way if I were to decide to no longer live in this place. So we continually invest in our makeup, in the way that we conduct our lives, an energy and concentrated intent which ensures that some at least, of our connections with others are not entirely ephemeral. We derive strength from this knowledge to enable to us to continue on and most of us know the feeling when we are leaving on a journey, that no matter how fare we may go, if we have someone who awaits our return, or at least, is conscious that we are gone, this may in itself assist in the empowering process to leave. As we are inexorably drawn away from one another, we are also drawn to and back to each other - and away from each other again.

I used the words, 'in this place' in the paragraph above. We tend to harbour and gather to us those qualities which combine to shore up those spaces we term as places; emotions, objects and connections with people which assist us in sustaining the feeling that we are grounded in one place, together with a certain sub-set of humanity which has been arrived at through choice. We like to think that we choose our friends (although not necessarily our families).

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

A Murder of Crows















Black was the without eye

Black the within tongue
Black was the heart
Black the liver, black the lungs
Unable to suck in light
Black the blood in its loud tunnel
Black the bowels packed in furnace
Black too the muscles
Striving to pull out into the light
Black the nerves, black the brain
With its tombed visions
Black also the soul, the huge stammer
Of the cry that, swelling, could not
Pronounce its sun.

Hughes, T. Two Legends, Crow - From the Life and Songs of the Crow,
1972, Faber and Faber, London

* Please remember to click on the image to see an enlarged version. Thank you.

I have been considering for some time, the identity, tilt/rush and ambient effects on the Concourse space, of the Wellington Railway Station evening commuter crowds, (the morning for me is quite different - loud with light and a focus on the new day; less furtive, less drear, less dark and less orange [the evening lights cast an orange glow in the station] - the fixation upon destination realized in a step with somehow, a more wholesome timbre and mood, affecting the spaces with a correspondingly rounder echo).

That linear stream of dark humanity launching through the station doors into the Concourse, between 5pm and 6pm on a working day feels at its height, as if it should last all night; at times, massive, endless, inexorable, echoing. Mostly dark. Bent on moving through those spaces. Bent in thought. Bent under baggage. Bent on not noticing the surrounding environs unless it has to, or unless something impinges or intervenes in its traverse.

A Murder of Crows

I was fortunate enough while still at school, to have listened in awe while Britain`s then Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, read some of his works to us. He was passionate, driven, so much so that his hands shook as though with the palsy; he spoke huskily and drank, I remember, from a glass of water while he recited works from 'Crow'.

Hughes has said that the poems of 'Crow':
...were usually something of a shock to write.
Mostly they wrote themselves quite rapidly ...
and several of them that seem quite ordinary
now arrived with a sense of having done
something ... tabu
39.

'Crow' was a ravenous dark blot, a mischief-maker,
something of a trickster
figure, full of ironic, sardonic and sometimes
foul humour. Crow for Hughes,
was a figure who appeared to be
beyond God`s ability to manage; The epitome
of the sacriligeous,
the unspeakably awful - everything.

Sometimes, God gave up:
God went on sleeping
Crow went on laughing

Hughes, T. A Childish Prank, Crow

Yet the poem above, one of two works which makes up 'Two Legends', speaks to me of the Duende too.

'Crow' was 'Crow'. He could be nothing else. He was stuck. Yet part of that description which defines him is made up of that passion rising, lifting in a surge to find an exit from his being - a noble passion from the core of even such as 'Crow', notorious, bad to the bone; tension in existence constantly created and itself, creating that surge of '... the cry ...' surfacing in the act of arrival, although tragically still falling short, Crow mischievous, spiteful - his personna dominated by black, breathing black, surrounded by black and dark plotting. Perhaps 'Crow' is the Duende ...

'Scratch an Englishman find, not a Lion - but a Crow', said Hughes and this sentiment goes back in England, it would seem, to 1475. "A Morther of Crowys" was used to describe a flock of crows at that time, which evolved into 'A Murder of Crows', describing the behaviour of large groups of crows apparently putting to death one of their number in a cold-blooded, methodical kind of way. Ornithologists tell us that this does not actually happen, that crows are scavengers, not killers, but the phrase stuck. Contrast this with the phrases, 'An Exaltation of Larks' and 'A Chandelier of Hummingbirds'. Hughes` 'Crow' would be delighted at the distinction.
The video clip immediately below is concerned with my investigations
into how the crowd that I am constructing from cutouts and screens
is articulating in the space with regard to rhythm and flow through
the space, the density of the effect with varying degrees of
transparency, the varied scale of the individual screens/cutouts and
the character of the crowd itself. The clip begins with my initial
formation of screens which, over the past two weeks has morphed and
evolved (as my experience with making cutouts has developed) and
become more focussed upon the 'crow' element - the darker, more
ambiguous aspects of the atmosphere I am examining. I wanted a
sense of the crowd looming over the avatars in the space, but I am
also interested in the unexpectedness of encountering a range of
scale in the figures.





video

My current focus in the Second Life Station is concerned with the crowd identity - that 'crow' factor in the Station, where I have been working with transparent cutouts of people taken from my photos and video footage. I am exploring aspects of this dark personna while endeavouring not to make the reference too literal or overt. I have made the cutouts and screens transparent on one side so when you are standing in the Concourse looking back to the entrance, the space appears relatively empty. I have done this because a) the real Concourse space is, at intervals, very empty with a hollow echo, b) it provides visual relief from a feeling of congestion in the space when looking in the opposite direction and c) I want avatars when they visit, not to feel too overwhelmed by the crowd mass.

I will be including video clips of my investigation in the SL Station into this idea, as it develops. For me, between the dark reality expressed by Ted Hughes`'Crow' and the flock as 'a murder' I am attaching significance in feeling to that dark, flapping body of intent coming through the Station doors. Shaped like an entity all its own, forbidding in tone, the crowd surges past us, mostly uncaring, mostly shy of stopping, mostly cold-hearted it would appear, (people just really being people, innocently on a mission to get through the drafty spaces and home to the hearth yet for us, driven by ideas of pathos, uncaring are they all - that wondering/judging murder of crow(d)s). The crowd as an organism though, is pragmatic, separated from us by its own rhythm; other worlds, other intentions, other deadlines, creating a river-context into which we can dip, comment upon, subtly intervene with but never bring to a halt. The crowd and our back-eddy at the edge, is Bergson and Massumi`s 'becoming' made visible.

The video clip I have posted below is the first of my work carried out in July at the Station. I wanted to work with/introduce more tension into the conversations we as dancers were having. The results were slightly shocking for myself and Fiona as dancers, where we imbued the duet with considerably more feeling toward another than had hitherto been brought into the dance. The 'conversation' was on the edge of traumatic, which was, I feel, just what I wanted and what was needed. Certainly, we attracted attention from the commuters, some of whom were openly curious (90% still appeared to want none of it - although without asking, you never actually know and indeed, the work is not dependent upon affirmation from the crowd - it is enough to know that there is happening, a range of perceptions of what we are doing) about what was taking place. I have left this footage largely untouched other than to introduce the 'Pleasantville' effect again, to introduce a more sombre atmosphere into the work, but more importantly, to suggest that our perception as protagonists is altered and slightly different from that 'norm' being experienced by the crowd. To extend this idea, I added three blurred moments of crowd-rush in normal colour, to enhance this feeling of separation. So the crowd here is 'normal' yet removed, innocent yet unwitting of the dramas we are playing out and of course, equally so with regard to any other essays in emotion being carried out around them. I will be adding more duet works shortly, where tension was also investigated, seeking to express levels of poignancy.

At this point I would like to offer my very grateful appreciation to my wife, Fiona, for being such a supportive dance partner through the period of my Masters study thus far. Also a huge thank you to our co-dancer, Sylvie Haisman, based in Wellington. Without Sylvie, my work would not have been possible in the forms in which it has been expressed to date. The video clip below of myself and Fiona, together with the clips which will follow of my July 08 work, were made in collaboration with the improvisation flautist, Edouard Heilbronn. He joined us for the duration of the work over the three days of dance and filming. I am indebted to him for his expertise and patience, energy and empathy for my concepts and his tolerance while creating his own improv sound score in response to our movement, in what was a cold and drafty Station.

In the Company of Strangers - tension

video