Old Troubles

I come from a family that was troubled by The Troubles. Family folklore has it that my Irish Catholic Grandfather escaped Ireland just before he got into real trouble with the IRA (Irish Republican Army).  I loved my Grandfather, and as a child, I was confident that I was his favourite. I also knew that he troubled the rest of the family. Over the years that knowledge has caused me – trouble. One cousin claims my Grandfather and Grandmother damaged the entire next generation and as is the way of these things (intergenerational family trauma). It doesn’t stop there.

Being troubled is my way of being, staying with the trouble of art is my way of connecting to the trouble of the world and trying to find salvation in it.  

The title of this blog post was given to me by Professor Pam Burnard from the University of Cambridge it was her description of what I am doing in my creative practice of artful-relational-cultural-mediation. (AKA art appreciation.) A practise that I am now calling impactful-artful-relational-cultural-mediation. I am adding the word impactful due to Associate Professor Liz Mackinlay’s (2020) evocation of the arcane meaning of the word impact – to press closely into something.

Current Troubles

The space I am currently troubling is between the actual and the virtual; as I translate my ritual of being in relationship to artworks in a physical space into an inter-textual relationship with artworks through my blog or vlog posts. 

When becoming acquainted with an artwork in person, my practice is to honour the object by acquiescing to its ownership of the shared space. I accept my position as postulant and honour the exchange with the dignity of time as the artwork and I soften into each other. I am always looking for a new way of knowing, in the liminal space between the object and my-self, as I seek to discover ‘knowledge in the making’. (Ellsworth, 2004, p.2)

To think of pedagogy in relation to knowledge in the making rather than to knowledge as a thing made is to think of something that cannot be easily captured in language... If the experience of knowledge in the making is also the experience of our selves in the making, then there is no self who preexists a learning experience. Rather the ‘self’ is what emerges from the learning experience... When my self and what I know are simultaneously in the making my body/brain/mind is participating in an event that exists outside the realm of language. As a non linguistic event, the experience of knowledge and self as simultaneously in the making can even be said to preexist cognition. (Ellsworth, 2004, p.2)

Troubling Art

In this blog post I spend time with Bow Echo, by Aziz Hazara, exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of Nirin, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020), The word Nirin means ‘edge’ in Wiradjuri, the language of curator Brook Andrew’s mother.

Introducing Bow Echo:

Afghani children play toy plastic trumpets on a windy mountain top overlooking the city of Kabul. Wearing thin, cotton clothes that flap around their bony bodies with, one imagines, toes clenched inside scuffed, dusty shoes as they try to find purchase on their rocky outcrop. Buffeted by the ferocious velocity of the wind in the mountains, each boy-child navigates their circumscribed piece of terrain as they climb up and occasionally get blown off the same rock pile. Each solo actor’s performance captured and presented on a large suspended video screen in a cavernous gallery space.

The looping video traps the boys in a Sisyphean task – each scenario similar and yet in the specificity of its performance, unique. One continually wipes his eyes, one slips down the rocks and clambers up again, one wobbles but remains upright, each valiantly trying to perform the task they’ve been assigned: to play a toy plastic trumpet from atop this particular mountain.

The plaintive sound of the trumpets carries the rhythm of each child’s breath, imprinting their vitality on the insistent, tuneless noise. Battling to be heard above the ferocity of the gusting winds, the small purchase that the boys gain on the aural landscape, slowly becomes almost totally engulfed by the ominous, mechanized whirr of circling drones with their promise of military and political violence. A sound that has been heard in Kabul for over twenty years, infiltrating the childhood memories of a whole generation. Making prescient the following line from, Kahlil Gibran’s, much loved poem, On Children.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. (Gibran, 1923)

This is an exhausting work with: five enormous screens suspended from the ceiling, five vulnerable young lives playing cheap plastic trumpets, a symbol of the commodification of childhood by the unrelenting advance of capitalism; the unrelenting velocity of the wind, the incessant sounds of the technologies of modern warfare; the dust; the valiant effort of each child as they perform; the intimacy; the searing vulnerability and individual vitality of the boys as they each attempt to maintain their tenuous position on the mountain. Each child evidence of life’s longing for itself. (Gibran, 1923).

The work’s title, Bow Echo is the name of a kind of meteorological phenomenon, a cluster of storms that looks, on a radar screen, like the shape of a bow. An apt title echoing the cluster of volatile situations that impact on these children’s lives. A title chosen by an artist who grew up in this region with the soundtrack of warfare in his ears.

Epilogue

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
(Gibran, 1923).

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. Places of Learning : Media, Architecture, Pedagogy, Taylor & Francis Group, 2004. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uwsau/detail.action?docID=214857.

Kahil Gibran, ‘On Children’, The Prophet, 1923