what if

what if

Many of my favourite installations from The Parallaxis were made during this early phase. Looking through my documentation photos I experience anew the delight of unexpected encounter; the sense of wonder; the attunement to place that I would eventually come recognise as distinctively my own. Each installation is novel, having not yet fallen into patterns that would come to shape the game.

But about a month after emerging from winter hibernation my notes begin to voice a discontent. I once again felt that I was not playing for real. The game was just a game, all of its magic accounted for with equivocations of philosophy. What is, what is, what is. Thinking mind had been displaced by the no-mind of Zen perception, a reflective surface free from the distortions of what if. Impervious to the possibilities of what might lie sur les pavé.

I was resisting uncertainty again; resisting speculation, proposition. Despite my endless talk of the unknown, I felt safer in the bright light of the rational. But I was also bored with being safe. The weird, the dark, the inexplicable: these things had always called to me. And now they were voicing their frustration at being so long ignored.

Where’s the witch? You’ve become afraid of your own shadow; afraid of anything that hasn’t been sterilised by a good meditative boiling. Walk it out, walk it off — maybe you should try to walk it in. Walk deeper into this than you ever have before. Play the game you want to play, not the well-mannered game that you think you should be playing.

If you want to make a magic that’s real, you have to play for real. T1

T1:Where’s the witch? My frustrated epiphany owes itself in large part to the contemporary Australian artist Mikala Dwyer, whose work I had become acquainted with during my winter reading.

While I hesitated to embrace the weird, Dwyer’s work suffers from no such hesitation. Her installations and performances clearly articulate her fascination with forces unseen: ritual, spiritualism, the occult. ‘One could read her works through the “cooler” lens of contemporary installation practice,’ writes critic Anthony Byrt (2014, p. 9), ‘or recognise what they actually are: spaces of invocation filled with invisible energy.’ Byrt attributes this aspect of Dwyer’s work to her own ‘witchiness’ (ibid.) — and indeed her 2012 exhibition Drawing Down the Moon takes its name from the most well-known of rituals in contemporary witchcraft (Adler 2006).

As I familiarised myself with Dwyer’s work I repeatedly found reassurance of the witchiness in my own methods, through similarities that were surprisingly specific.

‘I think all matter is conscious to some degree. Everything has a frequency,’ Dwyer remarks. ‘Sometimes, it takes a while for material to warm up to you so you can actually sense it. You have to be in an attentive state. I try to get to a point where things can speak for themselves rather having me impose my voice upon them’ (Dwyer in Leonard 2014, p. 57). As Byrt notes, this attunement is central to Dwyer’s way of working. ‘Rather than arriving at a site with a fixed plan, she comes bearing objects — sometimes truckloads of them,’ he writes, ‘and allows works to develop in situ, based on a particular relationship with the site and the way those objects “speak” to it’ (Byrt 2014, p. 12). This brought to mind my own installation methods, and the various attunements involved. To place, to equipment, to my image collection. A constellation of entities in conversation with each other.

But it was more than just the particularities of method that made me take note of Dwyer’s work; it was the larger possibilities that these methods proposed. ‘Art and real magic know subtler paths still,’ writes the anthropologist Michael Taussig (2014, p. 29) in the exhibition catalogue for Drawing Down the Moon. ‘What if the human-thing couple actually persisted all this time despite centuries of confident pronouncements as to its demise? … What if, in Latour’s phrase, we were never modern, and, apart from heated verbiage, there never was a mechanical universe with dead objects on one side and lively humans on another? What if that picture of reality is stupendously false and silly, yet we adhere to it same way as people — so we are told — once thought the Earth was flat?’

What if, what if, what if.