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Claire Robertson and Dave Clark, Black Box, 2019, colour digital print. Image courtesy of the artists.

Black Box, Claire Robertson and Dave Clark

St Heliers Gallery, Abbotsford Convent, 2019

I was invited by Claire Robertson and Dave Clark; Clark-Robertson, to write a response to their work Black Box which showed at St Heliers Gallery in 2019.

In a world of growing border tension, displaced peoples, and disconnection through distraction, we’re losing our sense of belonging. Black Box is a superfiction—it depicts a cathartic crossing through the interzone, back to the natural environment, a state that we’re all innately a part of. 

The response was read live at the opening of the work and at the artist talk, which was part of Open House Melbourne, 2019. You can read the text response below. To read more about the work of Clark-Robertson head here.

Black Box, Text Response

I must confess, we are a little nervous - we being, the words and I. We are a little nervous because we feel we have crossed a threshold, that we have entered a space / a place, where words aren’t usually so present. Here it is the visual, the image, both moving and still which reigns, sometimes as a rebellion against words, or an extension of their limits and borders, But language is swirling around us at all times, words seemingly hidden in plain sight / site. If I look closely, I can see the words floating in from the space adjacent, dancing in the air above us, skipping out of your ears. They bump into one another, with tenderness, with force, they dance and wrestle, combining to make new words and new thoughts. It is difficult to find space without language, to find quiet, to experience silence, the word itself is so loud. Maybe external silence is more attainable than internal silence, why aren’t we heading out more often? It is language that seems to separate us so clearly from the world of flora and fauna, yet, poet Gregory Orr observes that,

“the river has a single song,

which is itself.

The tree has a song.

The bird also.

Neither the river

Nor the bird can write.

The tree moves

It’s branches against

The sky all day

As if it’s thinking

It’s own alphabet,

But nothing comes of it.

So it’s still up to us…

To make a place for them in our poems.”

- Gregory Orr, Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved

What is our language of the external, “natural” world, of open space, where is such poetry? I went looking, and here’s some of what I found;

Alpine

Base weight

Big three - sleeping bag, backpack, shelter

Beta

Bivy sack

Blaze - of the sky? no, coloured marks, usually painted, nailed to a tree, 4 inches by 2, to guide, if the trail gets hard to follow, makes an abrupt turn.

Bluebird - this is referring to the sky!

Book Time - not reading but walking, climbing, mileage, elevation, numbers, notation

Bushwhack

Cache

Cairn - in place of a blaze where no trees are present, aesthetically pleasing, can’t help but add

Camel up - water, hydration, survival

Carabiner - also known as bina, basically so you can carry more shit, not slip, from the mountain

Cat Hole - for your shit, literally

Cowboy Camping - no shelter

Declination

Detritus - dare I say, death

Dirt Bag

Emergency

False Peak, False Summit

FKT - Fastest Known Time

Ford - river crossing that does involve getting your feet wet

Glissade - Sliding down a snow-covered field on your rear end, like sledding without the Sled

GORP - good old raisins and peanuts

GPS

Herd Path

Hut

HYOH - Meaning "Hike Your Own Hike," all live and let live on the trail.

Lean To

LNT - leave no trace

NOBO

NOLS

NPS

Peak Bagging - now your pack is really fucking heavy

Posthole - deep snow pocket

PUD - pointless ups and downs, get me to the end already

Redline

REI

Rockhop

SAR

Scree

Slack Packing

Stealth Camp

Switch Packs

Talus

Topo

Trail Angel

Zero day

It seems I have found not poetry but another club, more borders and boxes into which I do not fit, have we turned the “natural” world into another sport? A dangerous place, something we are seperate from, which needs to be conquered, with times to beat, more apparel than one cares for and a clear image to boot?

have you looked out your window

do you linger long on the doorframe

the wooden frame once tree

tree hidden in plain sight

how to cross over

how to walk out

in order to walk in

moving, in-between

footsteps too fast

to be here, or there

footsteps too difficult to see

they are up and off

just as they land

isn’t it exhilarating

an action so difficult, yet so easeful

so familiar, yet such a feat

mastered while young

is there anything more to learn

I find stillness

through movement

we meet the self

and walk with it, wounds and all

no wonder everybody is staying inside

have you looked out your window

there is an ever changing landscape

that seemingly stays the same

when one walks for long enough

is one hidden in plain sight / site

unnoticeable, by staying visible, in a setting that masks presence

not seperate

nor noticed

the heart beating

is the song caught in the birds throat

we echo one another

I stand looking at the mountain

as the mountain looks at me

who is it that is weeping?

reciprocity, buried deep

no need to dig

head out

cross the border

which does and does not exist

you reach a river

that cuts the landscape

will you cross, will you get your feet wet

to dry them in the sun

what lies on the other, side

you cannot step into the same river twice

are we waking yet

are you walking yet

out to go in

borders hidden in plain sight

dust rising

speaking soft whispers

of a history we cannot bear to hear

there is knowledge here

sensual, erotic, dripping

decaying, dying, living

is that my own heart beating

or the first tremors of an earthquake

which may destroy us all,

if and when the time comes,

how will we proceed,

with open hearts

or more terror,

more devices,

more borders

when all that is built crumbles

will we bow down, to the earth

to whisper desperate apologies,

scream our sorrow,

will we all finally weep for mother,

floating in her tears out to oblivion,

out, to go in,

rekindle your relationship

engage your erotic intelligence

your sensual sensibility

which you will not find in a camel pack, carbiner, thermal sock, sleeping bag, bivy sack, switch pack,

have we lost the ability to converse

what is the language of open space, new and old place

as more and more people are displaced, borders broken, undone, remade, resisted, shifted,

can we find a new language,

will it be homogenous and tired

or alive and dynamic

shining with all the threads of it’s lineages

I pack and unpack and pack and unpack and pack again.

I stand at the door, turn around, turn back, turn around, walk away, toward, again.

I want to know the weight of my bag, body, mind, spirit, soul

the weight of so many words

is it possible to know it, once I am out,

once I have crossed this threshold of the known,

an illusion we sell to ourselves every day

before the work begins of

chipping away and chipping away,

detritus, death, decay helps,

you will find it out your door, down that dusty path

and don’t think the birds aren’t laughing at you in all your ridiculous garb,

can you hear their joy in the simple beauty of the day,

isn’t it enough for us also?

we understand the nesting, the gathering

but not the singing so much,

not the flight, the leap,

the only way

up and out.