A Steady Backbeat - Exhibition text.
Me talking to my child Ruben shortly after arriving at Banff, Canada for a residency a couple of months back. I wrote it down on a piece of paper thinking it was very poetic of me and it may just be a great thought to begin working with:
“When I was a child I believed stars were tiny windows into light. Like a mantle, the night was pierced to let the light on the other side come through.”
A couple of days later I borrowed The Parable of the Sower by the great Afro-futurist writer Octavia E. Butler from the library and on page five I found myself reading the following:
“When I was your age my mother told that the stars - the few stars we could see - were windows into heaven. Windows for God to look through to keep an eye on us.” These words were said by Corazon, the stepmother of the central character, who like me is from Latin America.
That it was a very uncanny feeling to read this would be an understatement. I am glad I had a witness in my child otherwise no one would believe me! I mean what are the chances?
But it makes sense in this way: In Mayan cosmology the stars are referred to as the “eyes of the night” and of course without the judgement added by the colonial catholic layer much later and where one is watched by God.
This got me thinking about how in many colonised cultures indigenous ontologies are still a big part of how one sees the world. In my case a whole 500 years later. How stories are told without thinking and even if we are so far away from where they were once first told, they keep going and how political culture can be when it works this way. Also, what do we add to these stories that is new as we tell them again?
I think sound works like this too. Picking up layers here and there.
As for shells, there have been over centuries questions of what it is that creates that sound of the ocean which we hear when we put our ear to a shell. There is the theory that what we hear is the sound of our own blood flowing through our ear canal as well as folk who believed that trapped human spirits is what one can hear sounding through the intricate internal structure within. Stefan Helmreich wrote a detailed essay titled Seashell Sounds and says this:
“The blood-echo explanation winds the scientific back to the fantastic. The echoing ocean, once dethroned by vibrating air, has now been displaced by brute blood, something of a solipsistic surrogate for the salty sea. But what the ocean wave and blood pulse explanations have in common is the idea that human experience reaches into depths we cannot fathom—that what we feel in the moment arrives from far away or inside, from zones that evade direct apprehension.”
Thank you to NAVA for funding my trip to Banff via the Sainsbury Sculpture Prize and to
Bopha Chhay for sharing this beautiful article by Stefan Helmreich written for Cabinet Journal’s issue 48.