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;
Big three - sleeping bag, backpack, shelter
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
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
Detritus - dare I say, death
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
HYOH - Meaning "Hike Your Own Hike," all live and let live on the trail.
LNT - leave no trace
Peak Bagging - now your pack is really fucking heavy
Posthole - deep snow pocket
PUD - pointless ups and downs, get me to the end already
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.