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“We are all going down, together”(1)
This lyric from Laurie Anderson, one of my primary spirit guides, sits with me far more comfortably than “We are all in this together” frequently spouted by politicians and the media during Covid19. For many of us it is the first time we are directly impacted by the enduring global suffering of the times, rather than witnessing it from afar. If you are only feeling suffering now because it impacts your particular circumstance directly, then you have not been paying much attention.
“We are all going down, together”(2) has been ruminating in my cranium for a few years, employing a constant soundtrack of Laurie Anderson philosophy. My text painting of the same title is from mid 2019 and part of a much darker unmade show, a show too dark for the times and for myself to make right now. Anderson writing / singing from 1982, really presciently captures the ‘now’ of our global society. Things are in deep flux. Things have got to change. It is imperative.
In this work, along with Laurie Anderson, I take Lewis Carroll’s Alice, falling “down the rabbit hole”(3) as my guide. I feel, more than ever, that this is not a time for trying to project too far into the future. Rather a time to embrace change and hold the wild unraveling of all sorts of things with open curiosity. It is a time to pay attention to the significance of the ruptures. The rising voice of BLACK LIVES MATTER calling for deep systemic change, bushfires killing millions of animals, trees burnt to shadows of ash, suspicion of one another’s bodies, contagion and lockdown, unemployment, an opening of big, spacious rifts of time. Alice falling down the rabbit hole, in a slow glide becomes a chosen archetype I can continue to align myself to – falling as an active state, falling as a prelude to transformation.
“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.
Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next.”
I am taking the image of the falling figure (multiple falling figures, sparked by Alice, as a stand in for myself) and replicating a field in the gallery with a nod to Magritte’s painting ‘Galconda’(5) with its vista of men ‘raining down’ in an urban sky. This series employs a number of different repeated figures rather than a singular figure, speaking from my own experience but in an imagined, shared falling together.
This recent period has been marked for me by the nature of facing my parents’ increasingly punctuated mortality and loss of both physical abilities and mental order. There is a loss of control and a falling away of the self, as well as a series of very literal short falls onto the floor. Torn skin, broken bones and the loss of mobility. Gravity sucks. This holds a challenge to my own ego to gently accept and tenderly hold this falling away.
My series of falling figures allow a sense of this contemporary moment to coalesce with myriad falls. Alice, Icarus, falls from grace, falls from favour, the small falls of our elders, falling trees, falling forests, the collapse of society. Then of course there is my predilection for that great fall when one meets love’s fresh eyes. Of all the falls, this is the one I am most explicitly open to. Water falls, it is always moving and falling and yet we only articulate this, at the most dramatic moments, when it meets a cliff edge. A tap is a waterfall. Bruce Nauman spitting is a fountain. A waterfall, at the cliff edge, is ‘a more dramatic falling of water’. Fresh love is like this. We are always moving, feelings flowing everyday, but when we meet love’s fresh eyes, we meet the cliff edge and a more dramatic falling occurs. I Fall. Sail down with me a while.
When I jumped out of a plane free-fall, after my first year of art-school in the early nineties, my instructor explained the ‘sensory overload’ that occurs just after you jump and you feel your body in an infinite well, ruled by gravity. As the body experiences the extended moment of falling through the air, the sustained gravity at play on the body in freefall, the brain experiences sensory overload and essentially, it momentarily switches off. The question is not if sensory overload will occur, it is a given. The question is of, how long it will take to recover, before one can attend to observing the fall and preparing to open the chute, assuring one’s survival. Many of us right now (or for much longer over history) are experiencing our own version of sensory overload, triggered perhaps by this new set of phenomenon. How long will it take to recover our senses? I am not interested in falling as a finite state – the final action of a life, but rather, falling as a gateway, an open metaphor, the state of floating, self aware within the rupture of this “very deep well’(6).
Like Alice, I have no fucking idea where I will land. And no idea for how long the fall will continue. “Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?” (7). Like Alice I would have certainly dived headlong into the rabbit hole without thinking where it led, because the lure of a white rabbit with a pocket watch sparked my imagination.
I am falling. I do not suppose to understand, just yet, where I shall land. But more than ever, in this moment of wild disruption, that has brought strong voices to the fore, a moment of daily teachings and challenges for me to digest, I dare not suppose it is simply into the Abyss. This state of falling is a prelude to transformation and I ready myself, almost joyfully for what comes next. I am not hopeful. Hope is left stranded in Pandora’s box. I am post-hope. But I am open to anything and I expect, surely at least, that what is ahead is not merely a return to ‘normal’.
Alice sails down the rabbit-hole. She glides because she wears her own parachute, in those billowing skirts. No More falling for me. I am dressing for the apocalypse. I am putting on my own skirt, stepping into my ball gown at the precipice. This time I am jumping, with my eyes open. Sail down with me a while.
This is your Captain.
We are about to attempt a crash landing.
Please extinuish all cigarettes.
Place your tray tables in their upright, locked position.
Your Captain says: Put your head on your knees. Your Captain says: Put your head on your hands. Captain says: Put your hands on your head.
Put your hands on your hips.
This is your Captain-and we are going down.
We are all going down, together.
And I said: Uh oh.
This is gonna be some day.
This is the time.
And this is the record of the time. “(8)
Lionel Bawden, 2020