Touching Ghosts

Alyssa Critchley

Thursday 29th April, 2010, from 7pm

Serial Space

Performance: 20mins

At Sydney’s margins are buildings where the ghosts of things that once transpired can be felt as “seething presence” (Gordon 1997, p. 17). Where autonomous performance has taken place — buildings that reverberate with experimental noise; that swell with people eager to hear music, to see a kinaesthetic blur, to feel the tug of the performers and what they create, and to be amongst a crowd and feel hot breath collect on the back of one’s neck. These places have names like Yvonne Ruve, Dirty Shirlows and Serial Space.

Over the past year I have visited and re-visited such sites – at times of performance, on weeknights when the sounds are only those of machinery and workers in factories surrounding, at times after tenants have been evicted and signs of habitation have been stripped away – makeshift curtains no longer on small utilitarian windows. I had come back to these places in order to touch and feel a history there and to write – to perform – such histories. This history of autonomous performance would be one made from memory, collected from unfurling tongues performing again experiences of autonomous performance culture in places of performance, memories that are embedded in the sounds, smells, sights, textures and sense of place.

Foregrounding place, I was able to write in a way that performed histories of both Yvonne Ruve and Lanfranchis Memorial Discotheque, utilising mimetic excess to allow my words to become more than representative, to become instead visceral links into the subject (Taussig). I sought to gain a closer bodily connection with my subjects – these places and this performance culture. With abundant, felt description I wrote to do real justice to the subject and to avoid seating myself in a position of judgement above the subject. I wanted to affect and be affected in writing this history rather than explaining autonomous performance culture and the places this culture inhabits … haunts. But while the words performed the textures, the sights, smells, sense of place, could we get closer to the subject through not only writing performatively, but performing these words back in the place. What would we call such a performance whereby the ghosts of place are conjured in that very place – a séance, perhaps, where words that perform are cast out and we wait to be affected.

What I propose is to perform a ‘séance’ within Serial Space – to perform histories of the site within the place in which they happened. To use ‘word magic’ of mimetic excess to allow the space to affect us (Taussig). In doing so, we should realise the power of place and the power of words beyond representation. I will be calling upon oral histories, upon Kathleen Stewart’s work on affective places, Michael Taussig’s work on mimetic excess, Della Pollock’s work on performance, performative writing, and oral history and Avery Gordon’s work on place and haunting. The history of Serial Space will be performed within Serial Space, but should not be mistaken for a definitive history. I will ask for those willing to share further experiences, memories, textures, sights, sounds, senses of the place to add their memories. In this way, history is always a process of emergence, not a static, unchangeable fact waiting to be illuminated. Fact with be bypassed, traded in for a different kind of history more concerned with affect, in particular the affect of place.


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1 Response to “Touching Ghosts”


  1. 1 Alyssa May 3, 2010 at 1:49 am

    Just wanted to add that if anyone has any memories of warehouse venues and ARIs in Sydney they would be happy to share, please let me know!


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