From February 1st to March 15th 2010, Rajni was resident at Wooda Farm as the recipient of the Wooda Arts Award 2010. Below are a selection of blog entries and images from her research time. Special thanks to Elspeth Owen, Max Burrows and Gary Whitbread for creating the space and support that this award offers.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010 - 3:58pm
I wanted to write about a dream I had. In this dream, there was a woman being attacked at a bus stop on the other side of the road. I knew her, and we had been talking just before. She signalled that I should go and get some help. When I went to get help, the others (we were part of some kind of community) just said something like 'Oh, she's always like that, don't worry, she'll be fine'. I suddenly couldn't tell whether this was a crisis situation any more. I didn't go back to help her. Later, when I saw the woman, she had a red crusty mark on her forehead where the gun had been pointed. She said she was going to be okay. She didn't treat me as if I had done anything wrong, because she was used to dealing with this kind of situation on her own, I got the impression that it happened regularly. The way I had acted was acceptable to her.
On waking, this reminded me of an informal showing I once did at Chisenhale Dance Space, where we were exploring the stereotypes and issues around the (then newly fashionable in the arts world) term 'cultural diversity'. We had some sections of the evening planned, and between these we wandered in and out of variously extreme and provocative personae trying to engage in dialogue with the audience in various ways. It was some way into the evening when I decided to use one of the other performer's make up to 'black up'. I smeared face paint on, and looked in the mirror. And somewhere in my mind, on seeing my reflection, whiter teeth against the darker face, I heard the word 'savage'. This was a shock for me. I think I might even have laughed it seemed so surreal. But I didn't want to pull away from it. So I went out and started talking to people about what had happened, wanting to explore how deeply racial stereotypes were embedded within us, all of us. This felt like a pivotal moment for me. But this is when it got really scary for me, because the more I tried to delve into the question of the inherent racism inside me, the more the audience resisted. And they resisted by insisting I was a good person. They resisted by telling me that I wasn't really racist, that my reaction was okay, was normal, it was just because I wasn't used to seeing myself this way. And I couldn't push the conversation any other way. They wanted me to be good, fair, untroubling.
morning flashbacks: the most beautiful show on earth
Lucy keeps showing us videos of the most beautiful shows on earth. Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati. I ponder about finding a way to embrace this delight and artistry whilst creating a space within which participants, many of whom won't have engaged with the arts very much, will be comfortable.
screens and skies
We want to have a long shot of walking at the beginning of the show, so we went into a field to try this out. I walked to the top of the field while Lucy and Lucille stayed at the bottom with the camera. I walked all the way out of shot so we could have a minute of film before the long walk down towards the camera. As I crossed into the next field to wait, a hundred sheep slowly started walking towards me. They all came. And then they all stopped. And each one of them looked patiently at me with seemingly kind but expectant eyes. I told them about the idea for the film and what we were doing. I invited them to follow me down the hill. Then they became disinterested and walked back into the field. Then I entered the frame.
I've been thinking about talking directly to people, with audiences for example (this will eventually be a beginning of that action).
Thinking about landscape, land, walking, having connection and having no connection to the land on which we walk. Lucille suggested that the reason we all find the sky beautiful is to do with evolution - those that did not like the sky were too sad to reproduce.
We talked about the physicality of screens, and I remembered the very beautiful Safety Curtain at the Oxford Playhouse - one of my strongest memories of being young and going to the theatre was this strange white thing that would come down in the interval with the quotes: "What, has this thing appeared again tonight?" and "For thine especial safety" and then the name Hamlet and some numbers. It took me a long time to figure out what it was all about - neither the physical object nor the words made sense to me - I had some notion of Hamlet relating to cigars but the rest was a mystery.
Lucille is planning to make a whole collection for Glorious - I imagine Victorian crossed with twenties, with landscapes emerging from within and around the fabric, the internal landscapes breaking out at every gesture. I imagine tracing the line between glamour and nature, what those things mean, or not really what they mean but how we navigate between them and how we might beautifully collide them. Ah Lucille.
When I was five, we were set an exercise at school. We were asked to write out a few simple sentences about the life of a plant, from seed to tree. This was easy, as I seem to remember we were copying from a book. But there was one sentence that kept tripping me up.
"The rain falls on the seed and helps it grow."
My hand was so used to learning to write my name after "ra-" that it just kept insisting on taking this path. So I ended up, several times, with:
"The rajni falls on the seed and helps it grow."
This made me laugh - it was a funny image, and the unwilling repetition of the mistake made it absurd. It got to the point where I would just write "The rajni" and laugh and rub it out. And I remember thinking, how strange, I'm laughing out loud in the classroom at my desk and sharing a joke with myself - a joke between my mind and body.
Like you, I saw that land and language are bound in the rocks at Crackington Haven
the lines across them not just symbols but the surprise undulations of earth
What we call continents have been crushed together and yearned apart
years ago, again and again, so that (of course!) north america was a step away from this beach.
I always wondered why it was not easier to walk here and there.
In my mind I step down with the rockbeds that dive so comfortably into the sea
and I too become continuous
as if yoked to ancestors, who lay claim to the dusk
where ashes of memories and visions fly light and loose
and we shape landscapes by the pearly fragments we choose into our eyes
each making present what we wish.
Celebrate your choice to be crushed in the city!
We too are landscapes, colliding and retreating in tides of generations
I, like you, am marching within the constraints of my own time and place
and my own time and place carelessly map the temporary storage of body
locating and unlocating from random memories.
Last night a shrew adopted the poised quiet of grass
and quickly puzzled the cat
Not playing at running or rutting familiar paths
it placed itself carefully in harms way, and took on the surrounding stillness.
You and I notice bodies or tongues that are borderless
No - not borderless - those that unknowingly overseep boundaries
embarrassing our finely-tuned and lawful inner sketches
upending entire continents with streams of chatter and desire.
But what of those who wander tirelessly over the same ground,
making moats and traditions, scars and openings
without awareness of the time that has passed
Perfectly balanced, in an environment oiled by necessity.
Things are cracked at airports
Trust, jokes, champagne, nerves, faith, bones
It takes a lot to remain whole in this place filled with reconfiguration of goodbye
And do you think that tagging, border patrol, passports, visas
are attempts to make something visible?
I just can't talk about it any more
I wonder where I lost my voice. Where I decided that it counted more to stand for in-betweenness. When I became afraid of the dusk and the dark. Why I cried at exactly 7pm each evening for a year. I have a kind of hankering to do something extreme. To dive into it. But I am growing more and more cautious every day.
She wrote a manifesto against shapeshifters
Others decide what makes good art. Me, I just suggest images to them, and those images, they come from outside sources - they are plastered on to my mind daily. Maybe this is why I liked the clairvoyant - she and I are just regular people at the end of it, no special powers, awkward with our words. In performance, for other people, we can take on the mantle of articulacy.
How we are using up our bodies
I tried to tell you a nice story, about walking and falling, and Laurie Anderson. But you said, "Yes, I know, we are all always falling, because of gravity. I know that already."
Sunday, 14 March 2010 - 4.00pm
A short song, for my final presentation (everybody shut their eyes):
Oh…. the way is not long but it’s wide
and the grass it is falling inside
and the windows are locked
and your eyes have been blocked
but the roof has eloped with the tide
So the hills have been tidied away
they can tell it’s the end of the day
they are ready to rest
and they’ve all done their best
which is all that I really can say