Our Fringe Festival basement installation was held last weekend.
The team who do these installations are brilliant. Putting on these spaces is such hard work – physically, emotionally, communally. Working with this team is such a gift. We were light on, on Saturday, due to babies and weddings, but got some amazing extra help from a couple of people, and we even had 15 minutes breathing space before the space opened. I am in awe of their energy, humour, creativity, pragmatism and commitment. Putting these spaces on is bloody hard work. Luckily, it’s pretty rewarding in return.
What we always hope for, from the spaces, is that people will encounter a moment of transformation; where they can put their story against a bigger story of life; where they can have their story held and honoured. There’s only a tiny part of that equation that we have control over. My nervousness in advance isn’t ever about whether we have prepared a gorgeous space [that's a given, with this team!]; it’s about whether we have prepared the kind of space that people can enter into and make their own. Over this last weekend we saw people changing in the space – coming in boisterous and belligerent for example, leaving hopeful and calm. We heard whispered stories of grief and promise and confusion. We had repeat visitors from people who just wanted to keep coming back, because they’d thought of another story they wanted to tell, or a truth they wanted to whisper: I think I might be gay… my girlfriend has just found out she’s pregnant… am I ever going to do more than this?
It was a beautiful space… and it went something like this:
at the entry we had three black plinths.
Written on the plinths, in tiny font, to be read with magnifying glass, were the following words:
We are here by virtue of an infinite number of stories
that have collided and colluded to bring us to this moment
They give us our truths, these stories:
glorious, unfinished, inelegant, contradictory truths;
none of which seem to make sense
and all of which are all we have
to make sense with.
We spend our lives searching for the language that will speak of both our stories and their truths,
and for the courage to tell what we now know out loud.
There are spaces inside for you to move through
Take as long as you need
to find truths that are written out loud
and discover those in a type too small to read
to find where your story is told
and where it doesn’t quite fit.
It’s your space to do with as you will
You are welcome.
Below are images from the space inside, which was set up with more black plinths. Some were interactive: add your longing for the world [black ink dripped into a large vase of water, we filmed the water from inside the plinth and projected the ink dropping and dispersing onto the wall]; hold a worry doll and if you can let the anxieties that hold you go, leave it here; write the beliefs by which you live your life with the cut up words from the bible. People were invited to tweet their stories, which were displayed via visible tweets onto the wall. We had a gorgeous old dictionary, in which people were invited to sew a knot in the words that tie knots in them…
They say we rework our memories of each day
to fit the truth we have already decided about ourselves
and each other;
that we rewrite those events and conversations that don’t prove
what we believe we are.
Sometimes it’s just too hard to own
that we might be loved
What are the words that you erase from your life? The things that are too hard to believe?
Find them in the dictionary
then take the needle and thread;
sew a line under the words that you find too hard to hold onto.
Leave them for us to name for you, when you can’t for yourself.
… Hold a worry doll,
and with it take hold of the worries that have always been part of your story.
If now is the time to let them go, leave it here.
If you aren’t yet able, take them with you…
Our lives are a constant dismantling and reconstruction
of truths and beliefs.
Maybe you find yourself here
wondering just what it is you can be sure of
and wishing for the days when things were clear
Use the words of faith
[dismantled; waiting for reconstruction]
and write the belief that holds you now
when all other truth is found wanting
or write your prayer or longing for truth
in its place
This water – like all water –
has been part of the world
Imagine what stories it can tell:
it knows the salt of human tears
and the parched throats of desperate thirst
it knows the hardness of rocks
through which it’s had to force a path
it’s been suspended for millennia in barely moving glaciers
The water knows the truth of the world’s waiting
the world’s pain
the world’s thirst
the world’s sadness
using the eyedropper and the ink
write or draw your prayer or dream or hope for the world
into the water that already holds its stories
Other spaces were just for contemplation – a lovely projection onto supermarket receipts that had been doctored with a reflection on the tiny lies that add up to us having no credit, an upside down plinth hung from the ceiling, made of fabric, behind which there were voices – playing on ipods – whispering the secrets the walls might hold, a slow motion loop, back and forth, of a wine glass smashing with a written reflection next to it about the moments in our lives that we replay and reconstruct over and over in the hope that this time they might end differently:
We all have those moments that we replay
over and over
in desperate hope that this time it will end
with who we were still whole
but no matter how often we relive the moment -
how often we tell the story again -
it always ends with the sharp edges of who we are
shattered on the floor around us
and we can’t tell whether they will cut our truths or our lies to shreds
if we so much as try to pick them up.
I always love a space where people don’t just say ‘this was lovely’ as they leave, but where they tell you why it’s made an impact on them. The really moving thing about this space was that as people were leaving, everyone pointed to a different part of the installation as being the thing that made the most impact on them. And their stories of interaction, and reflections on the spaces, were incredibly moving.
I get feedback sometimes that what we do is a bit pretentious, a bit too cultured. The feedback we got over the weekend – from the three lads from the outskirts of Melbourne who were in Melbourne for a night of drinking, and kept coming down from their hotel room to go through the space again because ‘this is more interesting than drinking’; from the young vietnamese woman who so proudly showed us her tiny tweeted story as it projected onto the wall; from the people who talked about bits of their lives that were smashing around them as they watched the wineglass smash over and over – is that pretentious or not, this works.
And I have to say, there’s something incredibly moving about watching people be moved by a space you’ve been part of creating, that holds a bit of your story as well. How very lucky we are to not be alone.