Friday, 23 June 2017

Writing: Dear Us 2007

"Dear Us (2007); and Writing Like This (2016)"
in forthcoming publication 2017
Kira O'Reilly: Untitled (Bodies)
Ed. Harriet Curtis & Martin Hargreaves
Live Art Development Agency & Intellect Books 

 ~ writing in response to performance work by Kira O'Reilly ~ 

Dear us      2007      

by Fiona Wright

Written for Untitled (Syncope) by Kira O'Reilly
April 7th 2007        
(SPILL Festival London)
Dear Kira,

you’re asking me about writing about dancing.

Years ago, I wrote:

We write to each other about ease  and  anxiety and the pull between them in a performer’s body... remembered traces, documented versions and imagined, planned, projected, new manifestations. Our bodies are also more than these things. 1

And this was the conversation across the years, our uncertain bodies opening up, entering into the movement of performance time, then looking back at it. Looking back over it and even just looking for a way back. Finding a way back to everyday time and night time – a way through this. Looking for other ways to have this body.

Dear Kira,

you ask me to take the art to the page.

I can’t seem to think straight.

I open the book and I read:

Suddenly time falters.
First, the head spins, overcome with a slight vertigo. It is nothing; but then the spinning goes wild, the ears start to ring, the earth gives way and disappears, goes away . . . Where does one go?2

Dear Kira,

you ask me, what did I see? And I remember how we all stood in the dark to wait and watch. A crowd, a group body observing this solo body heading our way. She is a dim light approaching us slowly. She is carrying a light and she is changing this space, simply by arriving.
    We watch the skin of the back of this woman reversing towards us, looking back at us, looking at us in the mirror.

My words, writing about my performance, years ago, here again, for this moment:

This is how women check their faces in order to survey the crowd in the dance hall. This is how prisoners keep an eye on activity in the corridor. Seeing around corners. I am looking over my shoulder...3

Dear Kira,

you speak about reflection and I recall recognitions. You are thinking about documentation and departure, asking for our remembering in writing as a way towards “some new ground or even groundlessness...”
    Ways to tell about disappearing and continuing.
    What does this remind me of?

It’s been ricocheting around my head –
feeling someone else’s movement by looking.

- so I can’t see it and be sure of it
as I struggle for words 4

There was something that you wrote to me that I then wrote down. Your words used by me, years ago. And here, your words used by you:

the you and the i
the you and the eye

she advises: don’t spill.
you do all your spilling in the work.

falling, shifting, losing my ground.
a wound. unwound. unwinding. 5

Something you wrote. Funny mentions spilling. Sounds like maybe something I would say.

Dear Kira,

I can see you love this dancing that you’re making. You know what to do. Sensation is the image.

Choreography is so much like writing.

I’ll write you a poem then. Now. Here:

the back of a woman reversing towards us
carrying a mirror
walking slow, backing off, but in our direction
backing towards a moment of stepping into the light

light stepping
carrying the light
carry the fire
and then I think:
carry the fire
there will be others
but in the meantime
until then
trust no-one
travel only at night
and keep off the road

carry the mirror
towards a moment of appearing
changing this space simply by appearing
skittering across the stone floor
lurching behind walls
scattering the crowd
changing space by disappearing

and the back of a woman arching
white skin
black hair
and dancing
bloody heels
an untitled dance
bloody heels
one body or two bodies?
bloody heels
what words attach to this?
bloody shoes
is this body bloody angry?
and what does this remind me of?

Dear Kira,

I copied this out for my notes on lying and syncope – I’ll it wrote it down here for you too:

Physical time never stops. That may be, but syncope seems to accomplish a miraculous suspension. Dance, music, and poetry traffic in time, manipulate it, and even the body manages to do that by an extraordinary short circuit. . . . People vie to describe the causes of syncope – circulatory, nervous system, neurovegetative; a cure can be found – cardiac massage, smelling salts, a slap. But inside, what is going on?  6

In the final print version the words dance, time and extraordinary seemed to be in bold. Think they were thinking keywords, lexicons, clues, etc. That kind of thing.

Another poem:

we’ve both been reading this

it’s been passing between us
for years now

and the book
that I carried back
across a continent, across an ocean,
I read mainly the beginning and the end and that particular chapter,
which I remember most for its title,
Choosing Night.

Dear Kira,

When I didn’t feel like dancing, I looked for lying in the subject indexes of all my books.

In the Index, immediately above Madame Edwarda and bridging the gap between L and M alphabetically is a rather more obscure reference to Lydwina, Saint – she is on the line below Love in the Western World (Rougement) and above where lying
would have been. The first of three page numbers sends the reader to images of the Saint’s death rather than her life. Mystic bodies offer wondrous physical narratives, manipulating time and, temporarily at least, escaping death even as they move towards it.  7

I look now for untitled in the subject index and it’s not there, so, as I did with lying, I write it in at the edge - as they say, as marginalia – where it would have been – between Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Bergson) on page 173 and Untouchables on pages 172 &190.

Now I find I scan the pages and certain phrases catch my eye, here and there: “..the Untouchables are still impure..” on page 190 and “ at first sight..” on page 191.

And this, she writes:

Renouncing the world is not without influence on the philosophy of the world one has left behind. Renouncing the world produces a reformed perspective on the world; one does not return from the forest the same person as when one entered. And if I think again of syncope, which as I said has a power of protest, here is one of the first manifestations.  8

Dear Kira,

One more poem:

renouncing the world
shaking flesh
two selves
an open soul
bloody soul
fucking soul
once more with feeling
dance, dance, dance

and two more things we wrote to each other - here, I quote me quoting you and me:

It’s fucking amazing.
I’m going to watch it again.
Can’t wait.
My body itself identifies (with) much of it, almost like your actions
were triggering body memories of mine, my muscles literally
straining inside my skin with a weird recognition.
How can I say this?...
At moments I felt like I was watching myself, what is that?

And then:

It is often the less clear acts (like the cutting) that I want to talk about.
And, can you imagine a time when you won’t do this, like this?

And again:

It’s been ricocheting around my head -
feeling someone else’s movement by looking. 9

With love.

1 Wright 2002: 89

2 Clément 1994: 1
3 Wright 2002: 88
4 Wright 2004: essay 18. citings from emails and a translation (and a word about nakedness)

5 O’Reilly 2003
6 Clément 1994: 5
7 Wright 2007: 82
8 Clément 1994: 172
9 Wright 2004: essay 18. citings from emails and a translation (and a word about nakedness)


Clément, Catherine
1994 Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

O’Reilly, Kira
2003 The You & the I Performance Research 8 (2): 138-139.

Wright, Fiona
2002 uncertain bodies: fragments. Performance Research (On Archives and Archiving) 7 (4): 88-91.
2004 amino essays: twenty short performance papers. Newcastle upon Tyne: amino.
2007 notes on lying and syncope Performance Research (A Lexicon issue) 11 (3): 82-85.


Writing like this...  2016

by Fiona Wright

For Kira, from Fiona (September 2016)

Furthermore, the four elements which make up the physical body are by nature void; they are like images in a mirror of the moon’s reflection on water. How can they be clear and constantly aware, always bright and never obscured - and, upon activation, be able to put into operation sublime functions as numerous as the sands of the Ganges? For this reason it is said; “Drawing water and carrying firewood are spiritual powers and sublime functions.”
Chinul, Tracing Back the Radiance

Writing like this, takes time. 
Words reach the page as thoughts collapse in on each other. 
Finding a way through this, still. 
Finding ways to be in this body, still. 

We change the space by appearing. 

Writing like this, needs the words that matter most to rise up early on.
Writing like this, takes space. 

Writing like this, reminds me that when we talk we are really always talking about embodiment and presence, as if we know that this is the only real work. Perhaps this is indeed what bodies are for. The conversations across the years are becoming part of this - moving towards performance, away from performance, lingering long after performance. 

Changing the space by disappearing - this can only happen in real time.

Writing like this, is a way of saying: 

Dear Us,
what if we imagine a time when we don’t do this anymore. What kind of a time will that be? Measured in years, now, it is almost a decade since I was writing something like this, to somehow speak about our life and practice, to find a response to the work of art and the work of the artist. And now, this year, we find we are fifty years old, and I am again re-reading some earlier writing, reflecting once more on parallel practices. That was then, and this is now.

Now, am I dreaming?

Now, and all the time, we continue to work, to train ourselves, and to ask: what is needed here? We inhabit beautiful new forms and practices. The forms themselves are transparent - considered and investigated with joy and clarity - and all the time, they are only ever these forms. Over time, we get a feeling for this kind of awareness. Intention connects with the integrity of the practice at hand, and if it resonates as true enough, then we can indeed make an art of that moment, in any form. 

The words slip and almost fail here, and yet my sense of this in experience is that, in this way, we really could do (or even be) anything: something limitless opens up.

Is writing like this something like dreaming?

Experience tells me that my mind can come to know very full and rich images of events and actions that I have never seen or done.

I read this somewhere, or I heard this somewhere - I wasn’t there myself, but this is what I remember. It was a description of a group on a trek, climbing a mountain. One person in the company has particularly severe vertigo. And during the journey, whenever an attack of vertigo overwhelms, by necessity, there is a moment of pausing, waiting, and then, when it feels possible, standing and resuming the walking. Each time it becomes too much, then the group of companions will simply pause too, and wait, as long as is needed, until it is clear that it is again safe enough to continue. This rhythm becomes their walking practice. In my mind this now becomes an image of a slow, patient pilgrimage, regularly punctuated by rests. Waiting faithfully for the moment to pass, for things to change, before continuing the journey, walking on, together.

This account is now, for me, like an experience or something known. It can be repeated and even changed, over time, becoming like a memory.

Writing like this, is not only looking for the right words, it is also something like learning to find the gaps between these thoughts. Noticing thought as it begins, as it lasts, or as it ends, and as it changes. Noticing the movement of the heart, thinking constantly. Listening to how the body experience comes before thought, before words. This suggests a different kind of time.

The word radiance is here in my notes. I have been spending time contemplating this word, and reading parts of Tracing Back the Radiance, a book written in the Twelfth Century by the Korean Zen monk, Chinul. I have also begun to sometimes look for the word itself, in the subject indexes at the back of various books, to see if it is there and also to see which words, listed above and below, catch my attention. This was something I used to regularly do when contemplating a particular word over time: lying, syncope, light, salt, bone... This formed a particular research habit, somehow chasing the arbitrary resonances thrown up by the alphabetical order and the content of whichever book had been chosen - or found, or given. When the word in question was found to be absent, I would notionally insert the missing word - actually writing it in with a pencil - into the gap between other words, where it might have been, if it had been included in the index. Earlier this year, as I cleared the shelves and gave away most of my books, I found many more of these scribbled one-word notes than I remembered. They appeared on the pages like peculiar marginalia and phantom subject headings, directing attention to their absence as well as the other words close by and clusters of possible, unexpected references and associations.

Tracing back the radiance is a sentence which certainly holds my attention. Reading some of Chinul’s text, it is an unfolding of questions and teachings around the luminous nature of mind. It is also a clear instruction for meditation. This seems to describe practices which use a focus on consciously tracing the movement of thought, with a kind of skilful use of memory and reversibility, “back to the source”. This offers a metaphor for looking inward, with the intention of carefully following a specific line of thought, back to where it began, to “follow it home”. Sound is pointed to as a specific phenomenon to be recognised and used, to trace the quality of awareness. The call of a crow or magpie is one example. Perhaps sound vanishes when hearing becomes effortless. Strangely enough, by thinking it through, the tangle of thinking might lose its hold.

Writing like this, I remember, years ago, writing a poem for you and your work and it began like this:

the back of a woman reversing towards us
carrying a mirror
walking slow, backing off, but in our direction
backing towards a moment of stepping into the light

Recently I wrote:

most of the work unseen
what is left out
or left on the cutting-room floor
like good acts that seek no attention

Today I wrote:

returning from the forest 
(or the mountain) 
she will need to know 
the way back
and this is the art now

And now, there is something else to include, from the century that we were born into. Written in the 1940s and not published until 1977, this writer really gave her work time. This writing is documenting her experience, knowledge and observation, and reflecting on the art of her mountain walking. It is also truly cultivating her practice, in a way which I sense does resonate with our own searches and those of so many of our friends. In the penultimate chapter, The Senses, in her book The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd writes:

Having disciplined mind and body to quiescence, I must discipline them also to activity. The senses must be used. For the ear, the most vital thing that can be listened to here is silence. To bend the ear to silence is to discover how seldom it is there. Always something moves. When the air is quite still, there is always running water; and up here that is a sound that one can hardly lose, though on many stony parts of the plateau one is above the watercourses. But now and then comes an hour when the silence is all but absolute, and listening to it one slips out of time. Such a silence is not a mere negation of sound. It is like a new element, and if water is still sounding with a low far-off murmur, it is no more than the last edge of an element we are leaving, as the last edge of land hangs on the mariner’s horizon.

Writing like this, as an ending:

one last thought
a memory
of the woods 
quite alone
and I saw
a young fledgling owl
standing on a branch 
near to the ground 
broad daylight
very quiet
very close
the head turning to follow me
although the eyes were half closed
patiently tolerating 
my presence
I stayed a long time
eventually left
with something 
like gentle enthusiasm


1983 The Korean Approach to Zen. The Collected Works of Chinul. Trans. & Intro. Robert Buswell: Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press. [page 146]

Shepherd , Nan
2011 The Living Mountain: Edinburgh & London, Canongate. [page 96]


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