I went for Ila’s first solo show at Coda Culture last month, the spirits of echoes, and she asked me to share my thoughts. This is the email I wrote to her.
My encounter with your spirits begins with a locked door. That’s part of the illicit thrill, I think, of standing on the threshold of a haunted place, and knowing you are not to enter. Not yet, at least, because it isn’t time. I’m leaning over the parapet and looking for you on your bicycle, a full canister of salt heavy in my bag and the heat heavy on my skin. You arrive, shimmering faintly with sweat, and squat by the foot of the glass door, its insides papered up, and turn the key. The door remains clamped shut. You push the hair from your face and try again, with a different key this time, and still the door rattles and shudders but does not yield. I worry that this is a journey wasted for you, that you’ll have to loop back on your bicycle in the sticky sunlight, but you shrug and say it’s okay, you must have brought the wrong key. And we leave the door and its secrets – soon to be unstuck, unsecreted – and I wonder what I will find when I come back the next day.
The next day is opening day, and the door opens for me. The space invites me in. It is dark, and cool, and my eyes take a few seconds to readjust from the fluorescent glare of the corridor to the gauzy red glow within. I hear the sound of the fan first, how it’s oscillating from side to side, turning its neck and sending the sheets of cloth strung up across the space fluttering. Once I can see, I see the nodes and paths of salt you’ve marked out on the ground, taking care to step over these talismanic rivulets that ward off the darkness even as they welcome me into the dark.
“In Specters of Marx, Derrida asks us to turn away from dialectal compulsions and to think outside of the identity of a thing as the marker of truth. More specifically, truth is not found in the identity of the thing as the thing itself but through our interactions with that thing. For example, a box is not a box simply because others say it is, but it becomes a certain kind of box once we paint the walls black, hang lights in it, and start moving around inside. Therefore, perspective is shaped by interaction and how each interaction differs. However, to play hauntologically, as we imagine it, is not only to acknowledge that multiple perspectives exist, but to purposefully create spaces in our work where they might emerge and/or insert themselves. Derrida uses the term hospitality to describe this epistemology. He asks that our approach to a thing be hospitable, that we forego trying to pin the thing down, thereby reducing its complexity, but rather to let the thing be superfluous, ghostly. By readjusting our theoretical and practical orientation in our writing and performance practice through hauntology, performance studies scholars might turn away from the question and instead be haunted by both doing and writing about performance(s).”
(On the Haunting of Performance Studies, Benjamin D. Powell & Tracy Stephenson Shaffer, 2009)
I’m struck by the everyday-ness of your images, the ordinariness of them all, your eye on all the places we cut across and through and over, the places ignored and unthought-about, the places displaced by repetition and the paths we walk and re-walk each day. The images move and then they are still, every turn of the fan startling them, every one of your photographs a manifestation of that uncanny feeling that you’ve seen something in the corner of your eye, and you turn but it’s gone, but you are sure you saw something there. So many of these images: A cluster of balloons, the helium seeping out of them, sinking and hovering just a few centimetres above the ground of an underpass. That light flickering along your corridor as you come home in the night. The stacked chairs casting strange and monstrous shadows on a tarpaulin. The line of clothes, still, then billowing, on a line.
Death, haunting, mourning, remembrance. The Singaporean landscape feels marked and scored by each of these things – that there was something there that now is not, something that still snags on, nags at our peripheral vision. We are a city inhospitable to the ghost, but here you have allowed them a space to gleam and glimmer at their edges. I can’t quite make out the words of each story when I step through the door, but I find myself in a corner of the room, half-watching the images flicker and dissolve and reappear, half-listening to you collecting stories of hauntings and possessions and mysteries and encounters.
Writing this now I wish I’d had the time to return and to sit on the floor and listen to more than just one of the 60 stories you’ve collected that are being piped into various corners and edges of the room through different speakers, but then and there I feel as though I’m taking up space in the room for others who want to come in and linger, the narrow long room where we must navigate the lines of salt and the privacies of each other’s bodies and the watching spirits all around us. The conversations from each interview swirl about the room and I can’t always make out a specific narrative, but there’s something in the storytelling – isn’t there always, when there’s a ghost involved – the caution and the thrill in each voice, the sharpness of the personal encounter or the second-hand, vouched-for, absolutely-certain ghostly truth. We construct and re-construct our hauntings with every telling of them, each re-telling allowing the ghost to take shape while also smudging their edges. Our memories sharpen what we think we must remember but we never, ever remember what we think it is we are remembering. Our neurological processes of recall and retrieval contaminate all our memories, adjusting them and nudging them away from “what really happened” each time. As we conjure our ghosts we are also reconstituting them in our own image. What remains untouched is what we cannot remember: those precious few years before the ages of two or three that infant amnesia will erase – but also preserve forever.
And I think this is what I deeply appreciate about your reconstitution of our urbanity. You’ve summoned the ghosts we have lost, that we’ve renovated and demolished and constructed and built away. You’ve invited a dis-remembering, a telling-in-your-own-words, an unofficial narrative that resists the authoritative, the cracks and alleys and passageways that evade the representations of space marked out by our social engineers and urban planners. Isn’t that what a haunting is? To be able to linger in the spaces in-between, to be intimate and acquainted with impossible places, to pass through walls and bodies and leave no traces but also leave us profoundly moved. I imagine your ghost behind the camera, the flash, and then you are gone – but you go always to return.
Ila wrote back to me, and I’m reproducing the following excerpt of her email with her permission.
Just sharing the starting point of how the whole work was made, aside from what was shared in that little booklet. This was taken from The Resonance of Unseen Things by Susan Lepselter. […]
“In mainstream psychology, apophenia is called an “error of perception … the tendency to interpret random patterns as meaningful”. But the people I write about here cultivate apophenia, not as an “error,” but instead as a way to begin seeing those things that have become invisible. They foreground the naturalized patterns that normally go without saying. It is in one sense an endless bricolage, but rather than building something concrete from the “odds and ends” at hand, here the product is never finished; you select the part for the rush of its echo to another part. Here each found or revealed sign leads on to other resemblances, other openings. The people here pay close attention to parallels and resemblances between stories. And the parallels produce a feeling of, and an aesthetic sense of, resonance. And, I argue, the resonance itself becomes another story. The sense of uncanny resonance becomes an expressive modality, a vernacular theory, a way of seeing the world, an intimation of the way it all makes sense. It becomes both performance and theory, creating a sense of an occult design that might someday be apprehended below the jumbled surfaces of the ordinary. Accumulating and recursive images, and the felt connections between them, reveal how historical trauma gets lodged in the bright, broken bits of fantastic things.”
I thought a whole lot about resonance when I was making this work. In sound, resonance can be described as an echo (immediate), a delay (a slight shift in duration, where the source is still pretty clear) and a reverb (which is… reverb is created when soundwaves from any sound source reflect off surfaces in a room causing a large number of reflections to reach your ear so closely together that you can’t interpret them as individual delays) and filling up the space with these three elements with both the recordings and images, an attempt to create something that stays with a person without any specific reason why it does.