the room is very small
Inspired in part by Eve Tuck and C. Ree, “A Glossary of Haunting” (2013)
“Haunting doesn’t hope to change people’s perceptions, nor does it hope for reconciliation. Haunting lies precisely in its refusal to stop.”
In general, I develop a symbol while sitting with the river. I practice it a few times and note a translation in English:
Characters created in ink on paper:
Characters made on woods walks:
Letters to the river, written in characters with translation:
River Penobscot artists Jennie Hahn and Cory Tamler have begun a monthly check-in process that includes a creative prompt. The prompt is intended to connect us with the project's central research topics through place-based experiences and interdisciplinary artistic practice. Last month, this was the prompt:
1. read GEWH HUZ* by Ssipsis
*Muskrat. Passamaquoddy language.
2. choose at least 2:
spend an hour listening to a language you do not understand
converse with a wild animal
leave an offering
3.write a song
Cory's response is a sound poem that utilizes sounds she collected during a week-long solo kayaking trip in Palau in the fall of 2015. Enjoy!
Team Check-In Assignment #1
- read Val Plumwood's "Being Prey"
- let the content of the writing guide you/inspire you to visit a place you have never been before
- create something time-based in that place (video, performance)
- if it includes any text, the text has to come from the Plumwood article
I will tell you the story of my morning, because my efforts at documentation were not as successful as I had hoped.
In fact, this little performance seemed to cunningly resist capture.
First thing I could not find my camera or the Gorilla pod that would allow me to manacle the device around a tree. I have a lot to learn about working outdoors with rapidly changing materials I have little control over while attempting to record myself in the process. But at the very least I needed a camera that could be bound to a tree.
I could not find it.
For a week now, my only clarity on the subject of this assignment: I want to lie my body next to a river and think about crocodiles.
And then a bunch of far less clear thoughts of manipulating the impression of my body in the soil, climbing in and out of it, filling it with six feet of water, decorating it with red a simulation of blood.
I thought I was looking for mud.
I left the house and it was raining. The final throes of a nasty cold are still strangling my voice box, itching my throat, filling my head between eyes ears and sinuses with drip. I was not eager to tramp about in the damp but I could see no way around it, and I had to admit the rain was fitting.
I struggled on, through driving rain, shouting for mercy from the sky, apologizing to the angry crocodile, repenting to this place for my intrusion.
I got out of the car and realized of course I needed to use a restroom and would just have to wait so I had several forms of physical discomfort layered on top of my experience of the day
all of it conspiring, every bit of bad “luck” and every poor choice placing me inside this story you know, assisting my climb into character.
Last night it snowed a bit. I find the path and follow a single set of tracks walking in the direction opposite to mine. An animal’s footprints cross them here and there. Then geese, mucking about
this place is called sanctuary. I wonder who I might have consulted for advice and permission to visit.
I was looking for a flat sort of spot where I might lay my body next to the river
I thought I was looking for mud.
Snow covering the ground, the material of the bank was difficult to discern. The edges lined with long grasses covered over in whiteness. I’m not going down there, there’s probably nothing underneath all that grass
In the place where I stopped, the ground sloped down from both sides of the path and there was a long stretch with no trees. Something alerted me to halt and consider this place. I was still pretty skeptical. All kinds of grass down there and no sign of solid ground. This is wetland where I’m standing, marsh really, who knows what is what
Yet something suggested I pause
So with a shrug, I took my snowpants out of my backpack, put them on, looked around me a few times, and tentatively slid down the bank on my bottom whilst feeling about on the ground for squishy bits.
It all held.
At this point I considered setting up the camera. Who knows what I might want captured? But no, I reasoned, I would experiment first, make a plan, and then turn on the camera.
All right then.
Gingerly I lay my body down.
Imagined crocodiles circled in the water as coporeal geese cried above me.
Technically I could hear the traffic from Congress St. but in my mind it was quiet.
Eventually I sat up and pondered. Beyond this lying down, what was I going to make or do? I check out the impression I’ve made in the snow, but it’s not very interesting, hardly discernable.
The grasses that surrounded me were enticing. I tried pulling a tuft up with my fingers. So long! And human-hair-like they were embodied somehow, or maybe I mean they were full of intention
And so I begin arranging grass. It molds so easily beneath my fingers. I surround the silhouette of my impression, the spot where I was lying earlier, and quickly assemble a direct copy of Mendieta’s siluetas. I give this body a head. I am frustrated. A direct copy of Mendieta is not what I’m after. And yet
I begin to give my lady arms, and they splay sway outward
she’s really taking on life now
I will begin to record.
I scramble up the bank to my camera, eventually found, and when I turn around to see the silhouette I gasp. I mean genuine shock. Her left third is submerged in water.
The water around the spot where I had been lying was full of crocodiles. That spot was under six feet of water the next morning, flooded by the rains signaling the start of the wet season.
I’m scrambling now. Take a few pictures of her the way she is. Try to find a new spot to copy this, make it happen again, before it is too late.
But in the new location, the grasses are not as long. The water from the river has risen over every inch of the longest grasses and I realize I was lying on top of millimeters of ice, now melting by the second, ice that separated me from about four inches of winter-cold and murky mud water.
I give it a try but she will not be recreated. Anyway my real priority is to capture her as she disappears. Capture her location as it is submerged. Capture her lanky arms as they float and sway in the approaching current. My camera settings are off, I realize too late, this is why everything seems out of focus.
It seems as though where I am standing the bank is more compressed. I reason that my new impression is not likely to completely submerge. No point waiting to try and record it. I trip down the path a bit to try out a new spot, looking for a place where the long grasses are still trapped in a layer of ice thick enough to hold me.
But here, too, the grass is short and matted in leaves, I cannot stretch long arms, lingering fingers. In my heart, that first experiment was the action of substance and discovery, the true communion with place. Each new effort to recapture its magic is a facsimile impression of an impression, gaunt and starved of meaning.
I head for home. Walking back along the trail toward my first location I see that the water level has indeed risen. Quicken my pace to see what has happened to the second impression. I bet she’s submerged after all. And then I look for the original. I can still see the long blades of grass that formed her neck, shoulder, and upper arm holding the shape I gave them, somehow, even in all that water. The snow is trampled right up to the edge of its existence and my footprints are clear here and there. Otherwise the place is unrecognizable. I estimate that in fifteen minutes, every trace of my presence there will be gone.
So important is the story and so deep the connection to others, carried through the narrative self, that it haunts even our final desperate moments.
italicized text from "Being Prey" by Val Plumwood