Spill Writing

Spill Geist: Four meditations on stillness and the body (and an epilogue)

by Carolyn Roy


Poppy Jackson, Site


First viewing. 30 October.


I caught sight of Poppy Jackson through a window as I went up the stairs. She was sat astride the apex of the building outside. I saw her from behind and from above. I felt as though I had caught her unawares. I could see the backstage workings, her safety harness with its rope, her hands grasping and releasing the concrete coping, seeking stability somewhere in a precarious pose. She seemed too close, too exposed to my gaze even as the window cut through the space between us, tracing a mesh over her body and screening out sound. My angle of view was oblique. Was it that – I felt almost a voyeur, seeing sideways through the window of a shadowy stairway where I stood unseen; almost, but not quite. She was so far away, a remote image of a woman sitting still on a coping surrounded by the formal accretion of brick, concrete, glass, ceramic, iron, slate, that makes this site, her naked flesh just another material rising to the surface to cap it all. Later, looking upwards towards her from the ground I saw other insubstantial watchers in the position I must have held, standing back in the shadows, present but not quite.



Second viewing. 30 October


Do not call it fixity. At the still point. Being still. Naked. Neither flesh nor fleshless. Neither anchored nor adrift. Neither from nor towards. Sat apart. Quite still. There the dance is, ‘the vibratile microscopy’ of a barely perceptible dance, neither arrest nor movement.  Where past and future are gathered. At the still point. Do not call it fixity.1


I’m considering stillness as an activist action, the act of taking and enduring a position, the meaning of which is left open to speculation by others. A stance that is neither for nor against. Though neither is it neutral. Sitting astride the apex, not supporting, not resisting, but laying bare a site of negotiation. This is not only the stillness of dance. This act of being still is a form of negotiation. To be still is to be present between stop and go, between the desire to leave and sense of arrival, between acting and sleeping, between participation and absence.  Stillness calls our attention to now. Stillness opens the space of now to any sensations, memories, thoughts that might emerge and ask consideration. Stillness asks us to dwell in our presence. Stillness asks us to negotiate our humanity. Stillness does not offer a point of view but gives us a site for reflection.


I’m considering the neutrality of the naked body. Or rather I’m wondering, is it because I am a dancer so accustomed to bodies as abstract that I look at a naked female body astride a building without any sense of the significance of her gender, her sexuality, her cultural transgression? She is purely and simply present, inhabiting her site. Not that I see her as an object. I am looking beyond her subjectivity, beyond body-image, beyond corporeality to the microscopic dance that is stillness. I am purely and simply attending this act through training my own micro-perception.


I’m considering the way she touches and invites the touch of her situation. The cold abrasion of delicate flesh against raw concrete. The cold penetrating damp of the autumn day as it fades towards evening. Legs graze lightly along the line of the apex, braced against falling; pelvis thrust forward, chafing against the rough surface to facilitate balance. What kind of preparation does it take to endure such a time in such a place? Something reptilian perhaps, slowing down the metabolism to survive in response to a changing climate, barely breathing to conserve a little warmth? Or something more spiritual or transcendent? Mind over body? A meditation? What does it take to form an enduring proximate relationship with a hostile environment?


3rd viewing. 31 October.

On arrival at Toynbee Hall I had a glimpse of the space where yesterday Poppy Jackson sat astride the apex of the building. I had a sense of emptiness, of something missing. A presence felt no longer seen. A site no longer inhabited.


4th viewing. 31 October.

A leaf falls.

Where is her gaze? What does she see?


I notice her discomfort. She fidgets and tries to find poise through the residue of yesterday’s endurance still present today. As she left her trace in the empty space, so the site is painfully branded on her body. Each time she recomposes her limbs to find relief I too am unsettled. I had counted on a quiet presence, and the detached space of contemplation afforded by a remote and neutral body. All yesterday’s thinking is disrupted.  Mere paper words. She is no longer a still presence but more vividly here, now. These signs of suffering and her palpable desire yet unwillingness to endure, make her a person. I could place myself in her place and suffer too. This is what it takes to move me to a visceral response. A glimpse of humanity. Is it because I am a dancer?


1 A mash up from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Burnt norton’ in Four Quartets and with reference to AndreLepecki ‘Still: On the Vibratile microscopy of Dance’, In: Branstetter, G. & Völckers, H. (eds.) Remembering the Body. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers. pp. 334-366.





Sarah Jane Norman, Stone Tape Theory


No trace of a body here. Nothing physical or corporeal to house the spectral voices that trawl this dark landscape as if searching for a place of rest to carry out their final disintegration. We are witness to the last moments of their dying presence. Is this how it is, this slow and inevitable transition from being absent to being irrevocably forgot? Or will memories perpetually rise to the surface, even to the surface of Lethe.


Lethe, the river of forgetfulness carrying our drowned memories underground.

Memories slowly eroded through repetition.

Elusive memories fragmenting from the moment they are made.

Telling and retelling does not fix them but wears them down.

Insensible Lethe, the river of forgetfulness running through a tomb dark space.

I am at rest here. At peace from my own memories whilst those of others crumble around me.