Spill Writing

Spill Geist: Proximities of witnessing

‘Show them life, and they’ll find the means to view it’


As daylight disappears, as the vantage point becomes bathed in London mist, street light blurring in the cold autumn air, we walk silently across the stretch of power from Westminster, down Whitehall, to Whitehall Gardens, led by Kris Canavan’s Dredge.


The body on concrete, past black metal gates, tracing lines of power and silence, discourses and histories unacknowledged, marked over, forgotten. A kind of exercise in surveillance, a swapping of power dynamics that shows the dirt around.


[What can action be here, in the space of writing, in the space of experience, without its collectivity, its site-specificity, its desire for not letting go, its sacrifice, its representational nuance?]


Behind him, a space of tension, a vantage point we’re privy to as witnesses that he cannot see. Our own position shifts as the march, the walk, the silent protest progresses, the occasional distance, the loss of the horizon.


From Parliament Square, past Cabinet Office, past 10 Downing Street, past the Ministry of Defence, past the Old War Office building, deep into the darkness, into Whitehall Gardens where the burning begins (the burning, I think, it’s just started, and it will keep on lighting up). Past the statues that mark this journey, past armed officers with their hands across their chest, past black iron gates and silent buildings, past occasional flickers of light, past masses of paperwork, impenetrable walls (you realise, you remember, that there’s no room for accountability amongst these layers of bricks, guarded and closed, and that slow meditation, it imprints itself onto this body, it becomes heavier with time, gains actuality).


The gathering of sediments, the splinters of executive offices and the judiciary, police reforms and social responsibility acts, organised crime acts, eviction, hunger marches, histories recent and forgotten (we hear of the Jarrow March of 1936, of proletarians and labourers, of the impossibility of representation and historical distance that buries agency).


This action is marked by an insistent, palpable tension (a collective process and a sacrifice too). Excavations from underneath, off the sides of buildings, from the gaze of onlookers and those who join in, across this legislative, legislating space.


These sediments get imprinted on the funereal sheaf of white lilies – a mouthpiece (a poetics of silence). This body is encased in an archaeological, psychic, material process of recollection and purging. The undertaker peels off layers of history, marking the politics of space (and what triangles of power emerge in the silent march, through the tension of presence, through the position that the undertaker takes).  This is an offering, I think, cracking the pavement open, a careful and caring procession of visibility.


[We are then, underwater after all, and someone has offered to go down and dig everything out, and we also need to get our feet wet, too.]


Dredge is a strategy of temporary recall, of accountability and of forgotten struggles, a joining up of collective dissent, but also a gentle ritual of sacrifice, because we need a figure after all, we need the body as totem, the burning as catharsis, the gaze at the end of our journey as we disperse into the night.


Questions emerge silently, meditatively, whilst the body begins to show signs of exhaustion, whilst we remember that this ritual comes at a cost, whilst we ponder the politics of labour and embodiment, of redundant institutionalised power and invisible ideological oppression (isn’t that what neoliberalism is best at, appropriating affect and representation?). Yet this gesture is open, situated at the space between the collective and the political, displacing this power triangle.


When labour is deployed in this manner, dimensions of power become palpable, memories imprinted on the pavement and traces dug out. Witnessing is a political paradigm, as is watching the sheaf burn, the smoke inhaled by night.




We are gathering a lexicon of invitations to access the political in a different way, unafraid of spirituality, brave and unassuming.


If the paradigms of performance lean so often on disruption, here we are dealing with productive destabilisation, with a contemporary condition of multiple perspectives set in motion (I am thinking here of Kris Canavan’s proximity to power, of Karen Finley’s bringing back, of gentle and immediate confrontations), with an intent, and activist interest in histories, in place, in meaningful specificity and gentle acts of ritual – an exorcism of sorts, but one that claims sustainability.





And if we end (though the struggle continues, the struggle with the past in Chant (Cleanse), time as a marker of visibility) with burning out, we also begin with the mirror (a different contemporary totem?). The mirror in Zierle and Carter’s Swan Song, as a gateway to the future and a return to the self (but also, as a form of travel, too). The mirror we hold on our hands to look into our eyes, a proposition of time, surrounded by the drips of water, by melting ice, by feathers and a silent congregation.


[Not with writing as a form of mirroring, for there are shards everywhere, the edges begin to blur, and nothing seems to describe itself into being.]


The mirror as the representational space between here and elsewhere (liminal, between life and death, a kind of capturing of becoming). Yet this is no space of reflection, but a space of access (the melting ice and the call of the mountain that will be home to the letters we are invited to write, the letters bathed in milk, the burying for the future).


The mirror as the space that brings in common, but also partitions.


The mirror as a tactic of enactment, of making thresholds visible, of recalling histories (occasionally, the vision is blurred by the irregular drips of water and milk, by the bittersweet taste of pomegranate seeds and the softness of feathers taming this Masonic temple).


The mirror as placeless, material, metaphorical.


I walk past empty carpeted corridors that signal new, contemporary rituals, to arrive at an encounter with myself. I walk past empty carpeted corridors, past muffled sounds of everyday, past empty tables and chairs (this hotel is not quite yet awake).


The traces that become present: historical layers, deeply embedded into the rhythms of the everyday. The sanctity of the temple in dialogue with the place itself, drowned by modernity.




The traces that remain: sheaves and white lilies, fire, wool, clay, milk, feathers and melting ice.