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PIP ADAM

Instead

 

Rebekah Rasmussen’s exhibition A Material Thing is set up in the room which faces the street in the 30upstairs Gallery. It’s a cold night. Howling. I fight with Brent on the way in about something I can’t remember now and Tallulah tells us to stop. It is freezing, driving rain, like a flock of tiny sharp things, all about the same size, all coming for you, no matter how far under the awning you walk. When we reach the top stair something snaps in Tallulah and she suddenly becomes wide and ranging and erratic in her movements. She flings her arm and runs fast and then stops in the small space of the hall that leads to the gallery rooms. It’s horrifying because I want us to look good, erudite, perhaps we know art other people don’t and I couldn’t stand it if she broke something. She hangs off me – not figuratively – she grabs one of my arms, lifts her feet off the floor and swings. There’s a trestle table, and right at the edge of the trestle table is a small pile of dust, moulded perfectly in the shape of a polystyrene cup – you can see the ridge of the cup, you can see the small spot in the middle of the top of it which would be in the bottom of the cup if you looked into it as you drained it of warm, sweet tea. It’s like how a sandcastle is, when you pack the sand into the bucket and tip it upside down, if you do it right. Tallulah swings some more, her feet come down heavy and loud. She is probably wearing gumboots, she is definitely too close to the trestle table.
The dust in the shape of the polystyrene cup is from Rebekah’s vacuum cleaner. There’s about three metres of greaseproof paper in the other room, which she’s coloured in with a graphite pencil and hung from a wire coat hanger. I’ve sat with her a couple of times this year when she’s pulled a ziplock bag full of playdough out and proceeded to roll the salty, bright stuff into tiny balls like hundreds and thousands while we’ve talked – at the exhibition there are a hundred thousand of them in a flexible container. When she told me she was making a hundred thousand hundreds and thousands I thought they’d take up a whole room but there they are on a small shelf, on a low wall. You could pick them up in one hand, squeeze them so they all return to one multicoloured wad of dough. The temptation’s there, it’s like the call to jump off something high when you get to the top.
I send Damien a short story. This is years ago but I guess this sentence wants the immediacy of present tense. I haven’t sent Damien a story in years. But I might send him this one, to check I remember it right. But probably not, I know I haven’t remembered it right and neither probably has he because that’s how memory works, it’s made up over and over again – it’s not really memory at all, it’s imagination, it’s a story the first time it comes back to me and it’s fiction the first time I put words to it but I’m never quite sure who owns it. If he remembers at all. The ‘story’ (because is it fiction or is it documentary?) is a series of emails my father and I exchanged about C. K. Stead and how my father sees him swimming when he walks around the bay beside Kohi Beach. I arrange them cleverly on the page and give them a title, I think I called it ‘Instead’ or something awful like that. I know I called it ‘Instead’ because I was proud of the title but now I can see I should be embarrassed of it, so I get to rewrite it as ‘I think’ and ‘awful’ and make myself look smarter than I was. Damien replies, ‘There doesn’t seem to be enough pressure on the language.’ But maybe he doesn’t, maybe that was Bill writing in the introduction of Are Angels OK? When I tell this story, though, it’s always Damien and he’s writing in response to ‘Instead,’ the story I wrote as evidence that my father and I live in different places and rarely meet. This is both metaphor and literal. It makes sense immediately, although when I try to explain this idea in workshop I have trouble articulating exactly what it means and am unable to clarify how one might put more ‘pressure on the language’. There is something about lifting the words straight from my inbox and putting them on the page which lacked something that made it a story or even satisfying. These by-products of my life needed to be pushed into something tight and that thing needed to be turned on its head and slowly lifted away so that the stuff of real life could stand by itself, reordered, worked over. I’m not sure how one would do this practically but it sounds nice and there’s some problem in my work which seems answered when I look at Rebekah’s work but maybe it’s not this one.

 

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