Essential Departures

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Rosekill Farm (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures.

By Máiréad Delaney

We gathered at Rosekill to examine our relationship to nature, to the land. As women we are subjected to discourses around property and bodies, whether those bodies be our own flesh, soil bodies, bodies of water. In a sense, “reclaiming” a relationship to nature is part of a decolonizing process.

Yet nationalism is often an essential turn in a decolonizing process. In nationalist discourse, the colonizer’s damage to the land—to a paradise lost—is linked to the damaging and ravaging of bodies, particularly fecund, female bodies. The colonizer rapes the mother country. Nationalism, which is ethnocentric, xenophobic, tribal and homogenizing, is a post-colonial reaction. The ensuing narrative of returning to the land becomes problematic. We must examine the impulse to reclaim a relationship between women and nature in this context.

Restored “fertile grounds” become the exclusive property of newly “autonomous” men and their state, to serve their explicit purposes. No longer to be corrupted or tampered with, men now have the power to ensure their land remains pristine, their women pure. Controlling women’s bodies in place of the colonizer becomes national defense. The land and the very air, but also the bodies of women and what they produce—all reinforce new notions of the independent identity, must be guaranteed to male progeny as inviolable state property, and the harvest reaped from them is an essential component in the molding of a nation’s future. In this context, any use to which the state puts its reclaimed women will never be considered violation.

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Rosekill Farm (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures.

If we are to further the decolonizing process, resisting retaliatory and amalgamating nationalism, we must acknowledge that we are contested ground, and that no matter where we stand, how we traverse it, where we come to rest, we will find ourselves on contested ground.

To Michele Foucault, we are permeated by a network of convergent powers, and there is no sacred space over which it does not hold sway. Where the apparatus exists outside us, it is created and multiplied through the multifarious powers of institutions, rather than erected by their restrictive, material enforcements. These powers are religious, judicial, legislative, political, medical, familial, societal and psychological. The architecture is physical, consisting of a network of interconnected institutions, legislation, and procedure. But it is also abstract, internalized. Our actions, far from reinventing a story, are considered micro-practices of the same mechanisms. We are conditioned to re-produce their workings within ourselves, to recreate their cosmology in our most immediate and intimate surroundings. We are all complicit, neither forever victim nor flat perpetrator, and we must examine ourselves in our relations to narratives surrounding bodies and nature. We have a responsibility to author our own narratives. And to Foucault:

“there is a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case…inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior… producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting re-groupings, furrowing across individuals themselves…remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them. “

At Rosekill, during Essential Departures, we are perhaps in a position to buck binaries and explore the cracks that appear on this contested ground, and are revealed in the marks on our skin. We might problematize and examine dichotomies of subject and object, presence and absence, labor and action, intervention and assimilation, transcendence and objectification, nature and artifice.

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Valerie Sharp (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Depatures

Exploring these cracks may allow us to consider our own complicity in oppressive colonial and neoliberal discourses. In boundary spaces and on liminal grounds, in spaces of exile, in-between-ness and borders, identities may be negotiated, modified, and sometimes transformed. Performance claims liminality as its operating space, but it is up to us to act radically in this place.

We considered mythologies in our time at Rosekill. Often myths are read by the conqueror and by the “recovering native” to be a manifestation of backwardness, superstition and savagery. Myths supposedly emanating from uncouth people in need of tutelage or reform. Alternatively, they are romanticized. They portray the fierce, the fey, the ethereal and whimsical, even the gothic. It is essentializing and part of colonial discourse to reduce long histories of resistance through oral tradition as nostalgic pre-occupation and breathless emotion.

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Group performance, Fire Ritual (2015). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

In Ireland, for example, there are myths of resistance surrounding the deeds done to women, their origins and consequences. Outside the parables and tropes of the Catholic Church, there are many instances in Celtic myth where a young woman is seduced by the Good People, by the Faerie, the Sidhe. There are stories of supernatural liaisons and trysts. A woman will give birth to a changeling child. Or a “good mother’s” human child will be stolen and replaced by a changeling, a faery child—always sickly, insatiable, even devious or demonic. This child is one to be rid of, often through violent means—by fire, for example. I see these stories as the reframing of very real violations of social taboo. They mask instances of rape and incest, they make magical the delivery of illegitimate children and justify infanticide, all outside the realm of the church’s punitive social apparatus. A supernatural cause suits and vindicates pain when its real cause is dangerous to name. Victimhood becomes slippery. Perpetrating or incriminating figures—men and the illegitimate children, respectively—actually become liminal. The events discursively, mystically bridge between two realms. Myths fill in the gaps, give surreal context while speaking to real events, real disruptions. The power of myth against colonizer lies in ambiguity, but not salvation.

In Ireland the land feels and is described as though it is sodden with myth, age, trauma, remembrance, even violence. It is crossed by old British property lines, standing stone walls.  They raise visible scars of the occupied past. Mass graves settle into hollows behind convents where “fallen women” washed laundry without pay and without finite sentence, purifying their souls with symbolic labor and religious penance. These hauntings reside in the landscape, stemming from the damages of an oppressor or a punitive, reactionary nationalist state. Yet hauntings extend to living bodies as well. The untraceable scars left on the psyche, as well as the visible scars on bodies are present and cannot be relegated to historical time, vacuum place of defunct institution, nor a mythical alternate reality. I came from Ireland and the consideration of herniated land both a dissonant and analogous companion to the colonized body.

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Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York (2016).
Courtesy of Essential Departures

As we came to this land, to Rosekill, with our bodies, what surfaces? What can be thrust upon our psyches? What churns in our bodies as we stand in physical space, grappling with fissures in time, with distress and quietude? Content at odds with environment encroaches, sometimes forces itself upon the mind. If it makes itself felt, it shouts about absence. What humans have done to each other, what we do to ourselves, seeps into and out of space, into and out of comprehension. And this perhaps makes us feel at odds with our skin and the now psychically crawling surfaces around us.

This fracture of worlds overlaid in one state, this hernia of the psyche, holds the cognitive dissonance between external reality and felt experience; between normalizing discourse and embodied knowledge. And this ringing paralysis may be seen as a prison, if trauma and only trauma—what is held below language and out of discourse—seizes the mind. Yet resonant spaces, broken places, and cracks vibrate as such because they hold alternate versions of history. Their continuous existence perhaps speaks to the “inability of the institutional regime to defeat the individual imagination,” wrote James M. Smith. In them, if we act with due insight, perhaps we have the power to rebuff an intrusive state and intrusive and internalized misogynistic discourses.

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Poppy Jackson, Hay Barn (2015). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Photo: Maria Forque, Courtesy of Poppy Jackson

Poppy Jackson made her performance of Hay Barn at Essential Departures in 2015. The piece was performed as Site (2015) for London’s SPILL Festival of Performance later that year.

Jackson straddled the peak of Rosekill’s red barn. Her legs ran with the rooflines, her torso rose atop the old structure, our communal meeting place. Jackson’s pose referenced a figure from Irish mythology. With the wide eyes of a child, the bald head of seeming androgyny, Sheela na Gig is a woman’s masturbating form. She holds open the lips of her vulva in play, welcome or warning, she is carved in stone. She still exists, left untouched over the entrances of Christian churches in Ireland. Her pagan menace is perhaps what saved her, or what served acceptably as baleful reminder to sinner and heathen—She squats as both guardian of and open hole to the underworld.

Was Jackson delivering the building or was she impaled on it? Was she on high to be worshipped or targeted? Seen from a distance, from the fields below, Jackson’s action was quiet. She might have loomed formidable on her aerie, and indeed she seemed to merge with the architecture of classic Americana, but one thought of her flesh on the metal roof, the skin of inner leg at first touching daunting heat and then perhaps transferring body warmth to cooling metal as the sun set. Vulnerable sentry turned to silhouette.

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Máiréad Delaney (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

Launching bales of hay, I kept baling twine slung around my hips. A bundle of sleigh-bells hung between my legs, concealed by my dress. The bells were audible but visible only as pendulous mystery—swinging horse-phallus, half-delivered calf. ‘Good For’ was labor, struggle, and failure against but inescapably alongside grace, purity, and authenticity. I baulked and embodied my own foundering as rural woman made beautiful by endurance, whose must sweat fall cleanly, becoming the salt of the earth. My body was demanded as sleek animal, broodmare, to bend and sway, thrust and curve under the unremitting, inexorable test of work as the only measure of virtue. I strove under sun for one grim nod of ‘good enough. “For now.”

When we returned to Rosekill the following summer, Agrofemme stood akimbo in high sun, filling a rut in the ground with the stream of a hose. Two mud flap decals, curvaceous woman-forms, knees cocked, stuck to her flanks—her lower back, above her ass. The bodies of the stickers sparkled with the confederate flag. When the rut was brimming, Agrofemme rounded its edge, stood still. Then she let her body drop, dead-weight, headlong into the water, cracking her nose and eye socket on impact.

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Agrofemme, mudflaps (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

mudflaps was durational, it set in: her prone form, her naked, baking, goose-pimpled flesh, the flashing stickers, the abandoned hose, the bright grass, the draining water, the passing, saturated day. The forensic interest of passerby. Her body was site of violence done and left for dead, her body was the body of wounded white woman to be avenged, her body was cause, justification and face for the flag of racism.

I was naked at the border of a field. There were invisible arms rising above me, protecting, hovering, threatening to descend in rushing judgement, threatening to drop with an exhalation like last breath. They were the arms of hard men, broken men. Broken men covered in hardness, broken places iced over, suited to the starkness of tall ash trees. Indistinguishable from the iron sky, they flattened unthinkingly the mud lying too-warm, fallow. I marked with a cinderblock a furrow in the ground: push-pull. I lifted the block to my chest, looped its loops over my wrists, thrust my arms through to the biceps. I reached for the tree branch above my head, on tip-toes, the block in between. I jumped. The block followed me back down, hitting my crown as my feet hit the ground. Yet I jumped. I hurled the hay and my hair blew gold in the wind. We are compliant. We love our tyrants. What happens within a bruise? When impact is lifted, color expands, blooms.

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Máiréad Delaney (2016). Essential Departures, Rosekill Farm, New York.
Courtesy of Essential Departures

Through performance we have the power to act in these in-between places, activating their kind of embodied understanding. Performance is immersive in sense and environment, and herein lies its power. Yet insight through this embodied knowledge does not require traumatization as penance for understanding. We must be discerning about this power. Felt knowledge in the body is explicitly sentient, aware: it recognizes. Perhaps gestures in live art perform Foucault’s resistance, “inflaming certain points of the body, certain moments in life, certain types of behavior.” They may accompany the critical eye in its often discouraging work of astute deconstruction regarding false narratives and complicity. Through resistance we salvage fragments of ourselves, creating new bodies. New narratives can arise from the rifts and breaches created by imposing a dominant discourse over resisting bodies, they emanate from the bodies themselves, from their felt experience.

We have a responsibility towards decolonization. In this space, we have the opportunity to become aware of our position and proximity to this process, and we have a choice– to keep that position or to change it.

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SITE

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Poppy Jackson performing Site, SPILL Festival of Performance 2015, London.
Courtesy of Poppy Jackson. Photo by Marco Berardi

By Poppy Jackson

www.poppyjackson.co.uk

Last October, for the eight total hours of my performance Site, I sat astride the weighty history of Toynbee’s architecture in the East End of London, in the building then housing SPILL Festival of Performance. I was witnessed by office workers, tenants, workmen, traffic and passers by, as well as SPILL’s festival audience, remaining radically still in amongst the loud bustle and fast pace of London. My physical position followed the contours of the roof, uniting body and building within a paradoxical rite of birthing and penetration, an act of support and conquest, and a cultural critique of innocence and sexuality in relation to the female body. I believe that the body contains within it a basic set of instinctive human rights that proclaim denial of dominance and freedom of expression, this performance pared gesture and action back to these.

“While she sits on the gable for an hour or more at a time, with legs astride and her body vivid against the skyline, she seems to be staking a claim to the air itself. She is a formidable figure, not to be messed with, gazing across the contemporary city as if protecting it. Perhaps from itself.” – Lyn Gardner, “Naked Artist Poppy Jackson Straddles The Personal and the Political” – The Guardian, 2015

By sitting naked in public space, I was extending a gesture of trust out to the world in the hope that it would be reciprocated. My latest works have experimented with the poles of power and vulnerability, joined at the nexus of the self. I was definitely an unusual sight in this context, and this was also a novel experience for me to be undergoing. By breaking the invisible codes of conduct of the city I connected with the instinct of freedom deeply wired within the human body, to express my own self-sovereignty and system of beliefs. Over time the softness and warmth of my body seemed to erode the hard rules and sharp architectural lines of prescribed urban space.

The occasional physical discomfort and emotional unease from the concrete and stares on my naked body was resolved through using the cold itself as material. The low temperature had been my greatest fear in the lead up to this work, but in the process of the piece it became my ‘gateway’ in to full presence in the work and its transformative potential as I allowed it to bring full awareness to my body. In the last few weeks before Site I had grown all of my body hair so that I could provide some small barrier to the cold myself, and consumed meals high in carbohydrate to combat the low temperature. In the intensity of live performance, the will and spirit can overtake physical limits, so I had researched the early warnings signs of the onset of hypothermia. I used slow breathing techniques influenced by an inspiring studio visit from the performance artist Kira O’Reilly. My fear of heights was combated through performance artist Heather Cassils’s mentorship in rock climbing in the months leading up to the performance.

My physical position referenced two specific historical carvings. The Sheela na Gig previously adorned numerous churches in the UK until they were layered with shame and most were removed, and the painted wooden Dilukai figure (with golden clitoris that I had visited in New York’s Metropolitan Museum) removed from the Caroline Islands after missionaries also attributed shameful readings to these painted carvings. Both sexually explicit figures were bold celebrations of the life/death forces charging the female body. My live position felt powerful and even erotic at points, stating a clear invalidation of any shameful readings that could be placed upon it. My self-directed and proudly embodied physical autonomy could not be objectified, my elevated position could not be trespassed upon.

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Poppy Jackson performing Site, SPILL Festival of Performance 2015, London.
Courtesy of Poppy Jackson. Photo by Guido Mencari

I considered my herstory that had led me here, presenting my body as an autobiographical archive. As Site progressed, many thoughts and topics crystallized at points in my mind: the moral codes of the era the building was erected as compared to the present, the female body as contemporary ‘fertility figure’ in the ubiquitous advertising of public space, and how women are so celebrated and crucified at the same time for our sexuality in our culture. I began questioning how awe for female sexuality is ironically celebrated through this ‘crucifixion’, that I felt stemmed from a frustration at the impossibility for anyone else to possess it, within our consumerist capitalist culture that promises the opposite.

As I fixed my eyes steadily on one small point in the brickwork opposite, I heard the voices of Pauline Amos and Kahlo, child of performance artists Bean and Andre Verissimo, in the courtyard below. Realizing that they were there boosted me with strength and resolve. Not only had they pushed me in the process of this specific work but in my practice for many years, particularly by making, sharing and discussing their groundbreaking work. Their voices signified the supportive community I was grateful to be part of, a community that SPILL Festival also worked to consciously extend. I have found the field of performance art to be defined by a form of companionship that intently challenges, encourages and guides artists to hone their craft and raise consciousness of their position in the world, free from any goals associated with monetary reward. The network of people surrounding me, particularly through Dartington College of Arts, ]performance s p a c e [, Grace Exhibition Space and SPILL, had enabled this performance and acted as a family.

Earlier in 2015 I performed my first rooftop performance, Hay Barn at ESSENTIAL DEPARTURES in New York, a feminist performance symposium curated by Jill McDermid, Tif Robinette and I. In this piece I sat for three hours across day to nightfall, in the heat and humidity of a New York State summer, on the building that had been the fifteen participating artists’ social space for the week. The red 1940’s hay barn was where we ate, worked, danced, and debated within Rosekill, a performance-specific venue of 100 acres of wild land, co-run by Jill McDermid and Eric Hokanson. The artists there had again provided this challenging and supportive community, with Jamie Morgan – physically demonstrating that I could fulfill my intention for the performance when my fear of heights suddenly overtook me in the lead up to the work.

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Poppy Jackson performing, Hay Barn, ESSENTIAL DEPARTURES 2015, Rosekill, New York.
Courtesy of Poppy Jackson. Photo by Maria Forque

Again I was positioned above a social meeting space on the Victorian architecture of Toynbee during Site, making a physical version of the ‘topping out’ ceremony, the ancient form of Christening for buildings. The building houses many community and arts organizations and has a radical history, designed as an active center for reform to bridge gaps between social groups. This time the audience (including the non-festival audience that has offices in the building) could move through this inhabited building and ascend stairs to gain an aerial view of the work and the city, using the architecture themselves to explore the work and the building.

I finished the performance action by descending from the roof at 4pm on 31st October. Whilst wrapped in a shiny thermal blanket on the mossy tarred platform below, my SPILL Festival Producer Emma Møller poured a cup of tea. As I warmed up Møller gently informed me of the viral effect of the piece, which had spiraled out from a single tweet by Raquel Rodrigues, at that time a stranger unaware of the Festival context who worked in an adjacent office. It was at that point incomprehensible to think that images of the work had made headlines around the world while I had been sitting up on the roof. I digested this in my hotel room whilst numerous messages from people curious about Site streamed into my inbox. Mixed in with this attention were remarks in some of the articles comments sections that judged my body by standards extremely alien to my own standpoint. Feeling exhausted post-performance, I decided not to read the misogynist responses that now existed in juxtaposition with my work on these media outlets webpages. The next day the performance artist Victoria Gray sent me an email with ‘With You’ as the subject line:

“I see your body on the roof as a catalyst. I sense your body as a weather vane. Like a weather vane, which revolves and points to show the direction of the invisible wind, your body in SITE has pointed to and shown the direction of the voices of violence which, like wind, are all too often invisible; invisible forces that bodies are often weathered by, moved by and shaped by — against our will. However, the words in those articles, comments, blogs, websites and online news platforms serve to make visible the violence that is always already done everyday, albeit usually covertly and silently. The power of your work lies in how it has made this insidious voice visible — it has outed it – it has made it manifest – so we can see/read what usually can only be felt. And so, it feels both painful and powerful to have this dormant violence/voice made manifest in and through your action – which is to say in and through your body.”

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Poppy Jackson, Site, 2010, Pen & Menstrual Blood.
Courtesy of Poppy Jackson

It remained important for me as a practitioner to not absorb any of the negativity in some of the comments intended to silence, even if they were directed at and reacted to my action. Just as I am careful not to risk my health in physically demanding works, I protected my psyche from any negative effect that could foster this intention. I returned to the experiential mix of power and vulnerability that I embodied during the piece and was then surprised at how easily I could dismiss these attempts to demolish a female perspective through attacking her body and sexuality. Initial dialogue with SPILL in 2013 included the sentence, ”society often reacts negatively to the ‘blasphemous’ appearance of a woman who acts for herself rather than at the service of others.” As the work was in part a critique of the treatment of women in our society, the misogynist responses went to prove how important the piece was. As Gray stated, Site had mirrored aspects of society back onto itself. However, the treatment of the representation of my body by the media platforms themselves already spoke of a way forwards. The majority of the tabloid headlines centered on the word ‘confused’ and raised concern only at the low temperature. Their content was respectful, citing my education and demonstrating research into my previous works.

Performance art is a genre where the body is used as a vehicle to communicate and as such is able to speak to everyone, so it can be a powerful and radical way to deliver a message. To have a genuine communal and live experience on the deep, authentic level that performance art provides is vital in our age of increasingly detached and isolated electronic communication. Furthermore, it provides clear moments of freedom in our heavily surveyed lives. Site took place in a festival and public setting to speak to both arts and non-arts audiences, and occupied virtual as well as physical space. My lasting memory of the work is the embodied feeling of being a transmitter and a receiver simultaneously. I believe in the artist’s role as a lightning rod or conductor for current issues within the collective consciousness. Being up on the roof felt at points like a defiance of gravity and above all else it has come to symbolize for me the connection we all hold to higher, larger, forces than can be contained in any one small body.

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Poppy Jackson, Site, Menstrual Blood on Glass.
Courtesy of Poppy Jackson. Photo by Manuel Vason / DARC

Reflections on ‘WIN’, A Performance By Poppy Jackson

A letter to Poppy (Miracle) Jackson from Benjamin Sebastian:

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Poppy Jackson holding eye contact with each audience member as they enter Grace Exhibition Space. Photo by Anna Martinou.

Art is never an end in itself. It is only an instrument for tracing lines of lives…” – Deleuze and Guattari

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
– Audre Lorde

Poppy,

As I write this I am overcome by a nervousness (fear) I am all too familiar with. It is that nervousness that Audre Lorde describes often and so eloquently with regard to speaking out, being heard/visible. This to me is important, specifically in relation to your work; being heard/visible, but a self-owned visibility. Not a visibility imposed from the outside.

It is now six months since we were in Brooklyn (NYC) together. Six months since we paced two blocks in Bushwick convincing each other that the only failure possible would be self-censorship. We were both scared of opening ourselves up (literally), becoming vulnerable and showing that which so many (still) do not want to see or have exist; the penetrated male and the self-owning woman. Although I would normally consider myself a non-binary identifying body, I find it productive at times to identify on the basis of sex and gender strategically, but we can talk more about that in person.

I want to share with you some of my memories of our time in New York and my experience of your install-action, WIN, which took place at Grace Exhibition Space.

Grin and Bare It.

I have been thinking about how much unwanted attention Bean received, apparently due to ‘looking different’ and when she was researching the legality of states of undress and found that (as in England) it was legal in the state of New York for women to be topless in public. I can’t remember why you were not with us but I want to recount when Bean and I went for that walk… Two bodies, both bare-chested, walking across the Williamsburg Bridge. Yes it was a provocative act, but does not research dictate a rigorous approach? Talk about a reality check. Reactions varied from humour to aggression and disgust. One man, on jogging past (topless) commented jovially “Now there’s something you don’t see everyday” and asked to take a picture. With a reply of no, the man proceeded to take the picture anyway. After being informed he was operating within the same power dynamics as rape, this enlightened creature replied: ‘If you want to dress like that, I am within my rights to respond how I like”. This was the first of many people (men) who felt it was there right to objectify and capture (digitally) Bean’s body for their own desires. I remember Bean and I recounting this experience to you and the myriad of discussions that ensued. What I remember the most is the absolute feeling of frustration and anger surrounding the inequality of it all.

Targeted.

On return from a trip to Coney Island, you and Bean had won a fish (which you later gifted to me, where was I that day?) from the Win Fish & Critterz fun stall. From the stall operator you had negotiated a sticker in the style of a target with the word WIN printed on it. You placed this on your solar plexus and left it there, documenting its disintegration across time (10 days?).

I remember feeling this was just as provocative as Bean walking topless through Brooklyn and Manhattan. The sticker drew attention to your cleavage, labeling your body/chest (your heart?) as a target. The word WIN insinuating domination already achieved. Was this an act of defiance, eroding the misogynistic ownership of your body? Or was this an act of resignation, accepting and becoming that target fully, enabling self-ownership? I perceived it to be both and something more still.

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Our time in New York was almost over, 6 weeks had past. It was the evening that you and I were programmed to make our install-actions. I had finished my install-action (after having almost suffocated in a full head bind of gaffer tape) and you helped me to calm down. It was time for you to begin. Prior, you had instructed me move the entire audience out of the exhibition space for the beginning of your work. The audience obliged and were instructed that in a moment they would re-enter the space, one by one. We began to re-enter the space.

As I entered, I was forced to move through a narrow passage, between wall and counter. I instantly felt controlled and manipulated. The layout of the room channeled me towards you – naked, cornered, inverted. Supporting your body weight through your neck and shoulders, your arms flowing out across the floor. You looked to have been thrown there. Your thighs where I expected to view your shoulders, feet in place of head. Legs splayed wide apart, a tatty homemade sign was inserted into your vagina (it read WIN – a digital copy taken from documentation of the target you had worn on your chest). In one hand you held a small blade and in the other, a handful of gold leaf, spilling, floating out with air currents in the room.

Silence.

Your position and my height facilitated an awkward, topical view of your vulva, penetrated lips separated by the shaft of the sign. Your body suggested the fallen, pornographic choreography and somehow, a misuse of the female body, particularly the vagina. Yet there was no misuse: you had orchestrated this scene, claiming the space, body, time and vagina as self-owned. I remember feeling as though I was in a temple and reverence was required, perhaps demanded. Even before I had made eye contact with you, I was uncomfortably aware that your eyes were upon me.

You were gazing at me.

As I traveled past your body into the open area of the space, you traced my movements, only your eyes moving. You controlled that interaction totally. Over and over again your defiant gaze silently ushered each audience member past your contorted body and into the space. Some shocked by your install-action, others laughed nervously. All were unsure of how to act and where to look.

You knew exactly where to look.

With everyone beyond your gaze, you slowly rolled your head to face us, momentarily, you lifted the blade to your left shoulder and began to cut a long, curving line. Shoulder – solar plexus – shoulder. Like the line of a bird’s wings in flight, a red mark followed your finger tips and blade. The blood began to trickle down over the tops of your shoulders, in sporadic little streams. You then began to gold leaf the curved, now bloodied lines.

This echoed in me of the Japanese pottery practice known as Kintsugi, whereby broken objects are repaired, not in an attempt to hide the damage but to highlight cracks, fault lines and breakages with gold. The belief is that the objects become more beautiful because of their history, because of such damage and re-assemblage.

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Jackson gold leafing the cut to her body during her performance, WIN. Photo by Anna Martinou.

Gilded, you paused. You withdrew the shaft of the sign from between your labia. Carefully, you lent the sign against the wall, upright, folded yourself down from the wall and stood before us. Staunchly, you searched our faces momentarily with your gaze before slowly starting to shake your hands. Your Head followed, hair flowing across your face and chest. Eventually your arms began to flail and your whole body violently convulsed until the action was no longer possible. You regained your balance, gold leaf fluttered and glistened around you in the air. As you shook, your body was freed of all rational, socially-required calmness and the gold leaf radiated from you. Sparkling, almost suspended in space and time. That moment felt like a new world where we could be and do anything. You slowly swept the hair from your face, paused, regarded us and walked through our mass, parting us as you left.

I often think of New York and WIN. In turn Poppy, I think about the opening quotes in this letter. I think about the ‘lines of lives’ you traced with WIN, the bodies (women, men and everyone in between) damaged by misogyny, sexism, heterosexism and cis-sexism. It seems the world becomes more multiple and complex with every passing moment. I wonder, if we can define ourselves and not be ‘eaten alive’, where might we end up and what lives might we live?

Remembering the final moments of your install-action one particular element blazes in my mind. In the golden, quite calm that followed your convulsions, I noticed the blood lines (the stream like tears that had trickled away from the lines that you had cut), that had aptly run with gravity over your shoulders towards the floor, were now inverted. Uncannily, they now ran up your chest, seemingly weightless, as though droplets of blood were about to lift from your shoulder tops and float up and away from your body. In this moment I felt light. Everything felt light. There was hope and the potential of something… New?

I wanted to reflect here Poppy, share some memories, write a personal letter to you rather than write an essay referencing theoretical approaches. There seems to be more than enough academic activity surrounding our field and sometimes I think this is to the detriment of the actual work.

My finale thought for you is this: Do you remember when we met Tehching (Sam) Hsieh? Do you remember how terrified we were to know he was in the audience, viewing our work? Why? Why were we so scared? Both you and I are exploring the world and everything that has come before us through our bodies in our time, in our space. No one can tell us how to do this or that we are doing it wrong. There are no benchmarks, no one has ever lived in our bodies, here and now. Watching you reclaim your body from the violent histories of misogyny and patriarchy was so inspiring and gave me courage to dream of other ways of being. I will hold onto this lightness Poppy, thank you.

With love and autonomy,

Benjamin. Xx

Poppy Jackson, "WIN" at Grace Exhibition Space

WIN by Poppy Jackson at Grace Exhibition Space, New York, 2012. Photo by Anna Martinou.

http://poppyjackson.co.uk/

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http://www.performancespace.org/

WIN was curated by Bean and Benjamin Sebastian as part of the residency program/performance festival; Alien(s) in New York (Funded by Arts Council England and the British Council through the Artists’ International Development Fund awarded to the curators). Grace Exhibition Space, Brooklyn. NY. August and September – 2012