Monday, 24 October 2011

Black Flood and other Phantoms

The Dark Matters exhibition at the Whitworth, part of the Asian Triennial, was an excilleratingly physical experience. While I was awed by many of the exhibits (facing a slow-mo pixelated version of myself, courtesy of Daniel Rozin, at the entrance forced a switch of internal gears  best suited to wander the rest of the space), the one that moved me particularly and really got me thinking was Black Flood by Barnaby Hosking.

Four carpet screens of about four metres high, a metre wide, create a square container to stand in. Projected black 'water' rises higher and higher on them and so around you. Firstly you get the (to me) soothing effect of being immersed: the hypnotising roll and surf of waves at the upper edge, the surface of the water, from the inside or beneath them. It's a kind of dry swimming pool. And dark. The water has a mercurial thickness. As the water slowly sloshed upwards and its level rose, and I watched (probably swaying with it) I realised it wasn't (technically speaking) the water rising but the lights that represented the sky above it that were diminishing, narrowing over the black water. And this is where my brain kicked it. I got excited. We think we're looking at water, but it's the 'sky' that's governing us.

How else is water so often seen but through the sky above it? I seem to be regularly preoccupied by this in my writing, starting in Host and now seems to figure in most of my current writings:
("This pitted stream smudges a version
of grey clouds hammering anvils.
Its glass distorted by air.
Wind made visible by water. Held briefly." from 'The Three of Us')

The definition of things through their relationship with those around it is another way of looking at our interconnectedness, which seems to me to be one of the functions of poetry: making connections between things that may otherwise seem separate. What (or who) are we looking at when we look at the sea?
And in the case of Idris Khan's work: what are we looking at when we look at a piece of text? He'd have us look at the entire book:

His photos (of the Koran, the Bible Art history books and many others) are images of every page stimultaneously bound as one. Each word holds the resonance of the word preceding it, the page preceding it, and the book preceding it. I imagine my brains looks a little like this. It also hints at the overload resulting from quick accessibility provided by ebooks/Kindle/iPads, but that's another post.

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