Lost for words: a conversation between three me’s

In the tanks;

        concrete makes me lost

        for words.

I feel and taste its texture and looking and seeing is feeling.

Moving around pillars and odd-ness /

leaning and unstraight and what we’re not meant to think is normal performs incongruence between form and function.

Shadows dance; extend my body in/as/with art form.


I realise something:

that the theatre we have encountered relies heavily on its temporality. Whilst this temporality may be linear or multiple or wobbly or broken, it endures.

What we have started to call ‘poetic hooks’ – that which connects the abstract, play, space to dream, be and think to the more concrete,  universal or personal – are multiple hooks within this medium. They pull us in and create resonances at various points to create some sense of meaning and what is potentially meaningful to an individual. Meaning-making here is a process in which we reflect on the whole, even if we cannot fully grasp it; holistically, if not also fragmentarily.

In visual art, my own encounter relies on an immediate hook. Whether aesthetic or on the level of affect. Something that with some quickness grabs me and pulls me to the work even if I can’t say what that is.

I usually do this before the framing offered to me in the form of a title or blurb or context of the artist. You could say that I like to enter the encounter with the death of the author prevalent.

Sometimes, against my instinct, I struggle to find that initial hook if it does not jump out at me. So I take this framing to find a more tangible hook with which to enter the work. Sometimes gratefully, sometimes not. This often happens with work that is conceptual; enabling me to get a glimmer of the intended/interpreted concept to get a sense of the work.

Non-artist me says: “Aah, okay I get a sense of what is going on here.”

I feel a bit less alienated (and stupid) by the work and the inevitable power structures at play – curatorial, institutional, linguistic, narrative.

Then artist me says: “Yes,  I appreciate what the artist is trying to do here. Isn’t that [insert word here*]”

* funny/clever/powerful/interesting/profound

And then artist-researcher me chimes in and says: “hmmm, as an artist I fully respect the work, its form, content,  BUT I actually feel frustrated because I have to exert so much effort and be told something about the work for it to be meaningful.”

And so ensues a tension.

Some of the work we have experienced has hit hard, beyond words – immediate and multiple hooks, sometimes subtle hooks ever so lightly brushing the surface of the skin. But there has also been some work where we’ve felt a total disconnection; where we’ve been told how to read the work in some straightforward way and space to dream has been flattened with this weight, if there at all.

This invariably points to the complexity and subjectivity in encountering artforms. Grayson Perry’s ‘Who decides what makes art good?’ wonderfully highlights this.

But there is a difference: good or bad art and things being meaningful. C and I have discussed this a lot.

Concrete – jungle – wander.

I enter Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work Primitive.

Something stops me before I enter and I tentatively read the blurb for the work:

In this multiple-screen narrative, Thai artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul invites us to piece together a narrative that spans history, fantasy and the supernatural . . .

Non-artist me, artist me and artist-researcher me all exclaim together: “Oohh! Piecing together a narrative? That so resonates with our (wonderfully exciting and fabulous) work right now! Go in! Enjoy!”

Boosted by the unexpected hook I enter.

I am moved, enthralled, a bit of me changes.

I don’t stay long – less than five minutes in this huge space. But this is enough. Artist-researcher me very quietly but purposefully says: “Well, now this f*cking confuses things. I read the blurb, was told something – even though I didn’t want to – found a hook, enjoyed it and it was meaningful! This is complex!”

Artist-researcher me could analyse the formal/narrative/structural elements of the work but actually I don’t think that’s so relevant here. What is, is that perhaps that’s what makes it art: going against our expectations, our priming as Greg talked about or our safety as Kate discussed and having an openness to be transformed or affected by the experience itself, pushing against taste and what we think we know.

Artist-researcher me would like to add that she wants to theorise the above – quickness and lightness (Calvino); death of the author (Barthes); taste of language (Cixous); seeing and feeling (Fortnum) etc. etc. Artist me and non-artist me have told her to save it for another day.


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