She’s Not There: a photo story in three parts. Interventions at Chateau Sacy
1. Part One. Reverie: a descent into the unconscious
I spent a week in the ancestral home of Hermine la funambule ‘femme fantastique’. Also known as ‘Chaos’ in Derek Jarman’s iconic punk film Jubilee, where she sang ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ whilst walking the tightrope. ‘you had to find out for yourself how to put off the moment of falling’ (Hermine)
‘The gestures of the tightrope walker would look absurd to anyone unaware that she was walking over the void and over death’ (Jean Cocteau).
Perhaps it was this precariousness that inspired the interventions I made in and around Chateau Sacy: the house itself is a not-quite inhabited space, it echoes with absence, traces and remains. It is a richly imaginative space and ‘imagining will always be greater than experiencing…the house provides a space for secrecy as well as for visibility’ (Bachelard) It is also ‘one of the strongest powers of integration for the thoughts, the memories and dreams…’ (Perla Korosec-Sefaty ‘The Home from Cellar to Attic’).
In the attic I had seen a photo of a can-can dancer in an old Paris Match magazine: she was standing on her hands upside down with only her lower legs visible as her skirts swallowed up the rest of her body. Then I found a dress that was similarly theatrical, with its ruffles and faded stripes: it was a showgirl’s dress.
She makes a show of herself. She puts herself on show. She only shows what she wants to…My use of the dress plays out notions of appearance, the relationship between private self and social self when in a state of grief. The separation of the two selves are made visible somehow in the form of the dress and its slipping in-between. It’s in the corner of your eye, on the edge of your peripheral vision. It’s always on your mind.
The dress occupies a liminal space on the threshold between life and death: a transitional state. It became an exploration of subjective interiority whilst simultaneously responding to the sensory character of the dress itself and my deep association with it. Thus, it possesses a real materiality, yet it’s also a phantom.
2. Part Two. Objects of love, loss and anxiety
Old objects allow remembering and forgetting. People discard objects when they are ready to. Do things own us as much as we own them?
I happily inhabited the attic with its chests full of old clothing and accessories whilst avoiding the cellars, contents unknown. In the Poetics of Space, the attic, for Bachelard, is a metaphor for clarity of mind and is the place where dreams and imagination reside. It is a hidden place. The attic has been associated with the social oppression of women, of their physical confinement, as well as a place for the release of creative freedom.
A pair of faded once black dancing shoes. Abandoned in the hallway. They would probably dance themselves to death if you let them. A very worn and torn silk dress ‘for best’ but it can no longer hold its own weight and is almost in shreds with its tattered blooms. Handling it with great care, I spread it out with its gaps and holes laid bare. The irons sailed across its sea of silk whilst brutally weighing it down. An old kid glove. There’s always something sad about a single glove, a lost thing. Its absent hand made elegant yet malignant gestures. Silk stockings from the war era, much darned and mended at heel and toe but also new unworn ones, gossamer fine, such objects of desire. What a woman would have done, to get her hands on those. Officer boots. Intensely masculine intimidating objects. I hauled out the heavy wooden ‘trees’, on the concrete floor they split apart like broken limbs with all their splayed vulnerabilities.
The attic ‘allows dwellers to forget things temporarily…relegating something to the attic means giving oneself time to grow indifferent to it, but also the possibility of re-discovering it, or re-appropriating it at any time…’ (Perla Korosec-Sefaty)
The attic hides the useless as well as the precious.
3. Part three. Mother, Martyr
All through the day and night the church bell tolled the hour and the half-hour. The quality of the late afternoon light and the heat of August in rural France creates a somnambulist state of mind. Soft glowing colour, detail of texture and unexpected shadows and reflections all altered my perception of the dislocated dress and its environs, while exploring the grounds hidden spaces.
The self finds room to be actualised.
The dress was petite but heavy enough to hold its own weight. It was perfectly faded and crumpled. It was whatever I wanted it to be. A shadow self: hidden, repressed or unacknowledged.
The maiden, the mother, the martyr.
In half-conscious reverie, the visualiser becomes the visionary…
‘Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self
…Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
…Do I wake or sleep?’ (Keats)