Musings on art and life.
“It’s funny to think of how simple things can transport us through time and space. Well, it’s not always ‘haha’ funny.”
I think this as I sit in the garden, reading, writing…thinking. Snippets from my past get forced into my temporal present, stimulated by my surroundings. Like the car full of men, who visit the lot on the other side of the fence. The clouds of smoke they send through the latticework transports me to Amsterdam, where I mentally sit in a rain-drenched tent surrounded by a lush green forest, or a lakeside dock, not far from here, surrounded by stars and lapping water. That smell can have this affect on me is a privilege (one of many) that I can’t take for granted. I have a very good friend who has anosmia (your tattoo design is one the way, I promise) and I have often wondered what it would be like, if I was not able to appreciate the nuances scent brings to my life experience. A lot of my past would be lost to me, if it weren’t for this completely intangible and invisible force of nature.
The smell of rain in the city and how I would run, excited, around our garden in suburban Johannesburg, sniffing the walls and grass after a storm to locate the source.
My grandmother, lovingly trapped in the hand-knitted cardigan in my cupboard, its sleeves too short for what she used to call my “orangutan arms” (I have normal proportions). Close by, soft leather and foot sweat brings back the miles traipsed around European cities in worn cherry-red Dr. Martens, long lost in the endless series of moves and relocations. (There’s a reason why the nose and feet are located on opposite ends of the body.)
Perfume—gifts or mementoes of friends far away and happiness that cannot be distilled. Or of lovers who have long since drifted or passed away, the joy and playfulness of our relationships erased from tangled sheets and clothing by generic detergents and vigorous shaking.
The fragmented nature of pasts that cannot be returned to are captured and recalled through the random nature of things and the resonance they posses, but only when encountered intimately. This resonance isn’t always communicable and the love of it can easily be misinterpreted as a materialistic love of the objects themselves (except for rain, that’s special). The real-life stories that objects possess, poured into them through transient contact and the care of making cannot ever truly be told, but can be read. Scars (both psychological and physical), piercings and tattoos are similarly legible, but just like the most intimate conversations; can only lead to partial understanding of others and ourselves.
For me, a love of objects was born from a love of words. Books, with their fragile pages filled with the thoughts and feelings of others, committed to paper to carry their weight through time and space, only to be rediscovered through a series of comprehensive strategies and actions. One of my most treasured personal items is a poem, written for me at the age of 17 during the turbulence of young love, recorded alongside sketches in letter books passed back and forth. This poem often acts as a wormhole, connecting me with a past life in ways that nothing else can. I keep it with me always. A reminder that there are aspects of myself that remain embedded in people and objects that have left my life, just as I carry their marks with me.
And what of photographs? They possess their own unique power of stitching frayed bits of our past together through the visual representation of specific times and spaces. We have the ability to trace the trajectory of our lives, as they exist today in an intangible digital world that increasingly reflects the fractures in real, lived experience.
In museums and galleries we encounter things that have passed through hands uncountable, each individual and the entirety of their private stories unknowable to us, even through detailed accounts, thoughtful didactic panels and one-on-one conversations. But all these encounters, intimate or fleeting have the ability to forever change us. We would hope, for the better.
To carry the weight of an incomplete story, cobbled together from fragments and subjective experience into an unclear future, until the inevitable end, is a beautiful, powerful and transformative thing.
A little box
To keep your tears
And keep them ‘til you’re wed
You’ll be happy
It might take years
It might be tomorrow instead
A bigger box
To keep your fears
And keep them ‘til you’re safe
When fear is nothing
And life is lived
You’ll think and then you’ll smile
A little room
To keep your thoughts
They might make you go insane
But you should just laugh
Forget the pain
And get used to having compassion
A bigger room
To keep your love
Between fairy lights like stars
You gave it once
You will give it again
Just give it out in jars
Untitled, Declan Kelly, 2002
All images are from my own Instagram feed, out of sequence, without captions and presented as a curated section of a transformative life experience, punctuated by other’s curatorial and personal creative choices.
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