I have been re-reading The Waves, by Virginia Woolf as well as other texts, all in researching and preparing for my return to New Brunswick and the second phase of my residency at the Université de Moncton and now to Mount Allison in Sackville. One of the reasons for choosing The Waves is Woolf’s multiple references to spinning and threads connecting words and ideas. “How strange to feel the line that is spun from us lengthening its fine filament across the misty spaces of the intervening world. He is gone; I stand here, holding his poem. Between us is this line.” pg 89. I also chose it for how she uses time as a structural element in the construction of the narrative of the book, a work she described as a “playpoem”. From sunrise to sunset, the waves repeat rhythmically in nine descriptions of the ocean that act as metaphors for stages in the lives of six friends. Through a series of monologues, their voices intermingle, echo and conjoin – until one wave rises and falls. Her descriptions of nets are particularly inspiring. “I netted them under with a sudden phrase. I retrieved them from formlessness with words. ” pg 170. I look forward to making my own ‘playpoems’ -video projects using the nets made earlier this spring. I plan to cast them into the ocean and specifically into the tidal bore of the Peticodiac River. There, twice a day, the tide from the Bay of Fundy rises into a steady chocolatey-clay coloured wave that pushes the Peticodiac River backwards over 35 kilometres into Moncton!
Men Explain Things to Me,by Rebecca Solnit jumped out at me recently at my favourite bookstore, Drawn & Quarterly. I was delighted to discover that she too has been influenced by the writing of Virginia Woolf. Here is Woolf in her words, “Woolf liberates the text, the imagination, the fictional character, and then demands that liberty for ourselves, most particularly for women….All Woolf’s work as I know it constitutes a sort of Ovidian metamorphosis where the freedom sought is the freedom to continue becoming, exploring, wandering, going beyond. She is an escape artist. (…) But her ideal is of a liberation that must also be internal, emotional, intellectual. ” pages 95-96. Woolf called for social change. Solnit suggests that social change is inhibited by the failure of language and discourse. “The tyranny of the quantifiable is partly the failure of language and discourse to describe more complex, subtle , and fluid phenomena as well as the failure of those who shape opinions and make decisions to understand and value these slipperier things. (..) Ultimately the destruction of the Earth is due in part, perhaps in large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters.” pg 97-98.
Woolf was a master at describing subtleties, the unknown, and unknowable. “To speak of knowledge is futile. All was experiment and adventure. We are forever mixing ourselves with unknown quantities. What is to come. I know not.” pg 118. “The surface of my mind slips along like a pale-grey stream reflecting what passes.” pg 113, The Waves.
What interests me in this project is the writing body – the woman in the room with an inkpot and the body written. My work with The Waves points to the etymology of the word ‘to spin’ – an Anglo Saxon and Greek word meaning to draw, to draw out or to pull. I have always imagined all words waiting to be spoken or written as hovering like fish in the ocean, or birds in the air. Words are transient; language is fluid and changes constantly. Writing for me is pulling the invisible from the air to make a body of words visible on the page.
We live in our minds probably much more than we live in our bodies. In this work, I am interested in exploring the movement back and forth between embodiment and disembodiment. Although I am interested in creating moments of stillness – suspended moments between embodiment and disembodiment, moments I experience as both empty and full, my work is ultimately about transformation.
I imagine suspending fishnets from the ceiling, fishnets taking the shapes of absent bodies.