The Fragmented She

An experimental text in response to A composition of she by Justine McDonnell
Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast. 19 July-25 August 2018

Justin McDonnell, "A composition of she", 2018. Four channel audio installation (looped).

The Golden Thread Gallery presented in Summer 2018 A Composition of she, a solo exhibition by Justine McDonnell. The show was delivered in partnership with the Flax Art Studios Graduate Residence Award 2017 in the Golden Thread Gallery’s project space.

McDonnell is an Irish artist who is currently based in Belfast at Flax Art Studios. Her practice takes the form of complex textual arrangements, drawn from autobiographical notations, which focus upon the means and mechanics of communication to reveal and conceal an inner discourse. In particular, her works pay attention to the use of the voice and how it enacts the spoken word. Prominence is given to the voice’s physicality, which in turn informs the creation of choreographed sequences, resulting in a new and densely interwoven sense of narrative.

This new work presented in the Project Space at Golden Thread Gallery sees a shift in McDonnell’s practice towards a more staged encounter with her audio work. Notions around concealment and revelation positioning the viewer as co-author, prompting the creation of new, individualised narratives. The audio is composed across four channels, choreographed specifically to create new sensory experiences around the space. In response to this new work, writer and curator Manuela Pacella, based in Rome, has provided a collaborative text as part of the exhibition that is featured within the show.

I should caress you.
I should talk to you.
I should watch you.
I should embrace you.

Each day.

But I can’t.

My hand often rests on you, unconsciously.
In that instant I realise, you are so cold, unreal, external, not me.

You are not me, you are inside of me, you are part of me.
Recently you are less horrible, still, I can’t bare to watch your reflection for more than some seconds in the mirror.
I immediately see your insincerity.
You scream your insincerity, I can’t care for you, as you request.

It’s true, I feel you less, you are softer, sometimes I even manage to share the sensation of your skin, still, I can’t love you.

Loving you means accepting it. I still can’t. You steal time from me. You constantly remind me of the level of hate that there was inside of me. Wasn’t it? The rage, the hate.
We are survivors, yet we can’t spell it out, we want to avoid judgement, or worse, an eternal j’accuse! Worse still, compassion. I covet compassion least of all.

I can’t share it to other survivors, as then guilt arises. I should feel lucky, grateful, respectful, loving, caring.

What if I feel only rage, shame and guilt… against me, first. Then to others.
All the sorts of emotions denigrated in this world as negative are inside of me, interwoven in such an intricate and chaotic shape.

The old technique seems to help. Disappear!
But if I don’t want to disappear anymore? What if she really wants to climb onto that stage? It appears so. It seems she wants to even more than before, or even because of it, of this horrible, disgusting body that confines her, restricts her, that pushes everything back, with such strength that it is impossible to compromise.
She went outside, more than once. She was a child. She was a dancer. She was flying and even smiling to life. She flew too high, she had not realized that a degree of heaviness is needed.

At the centre of the stage there is a void, or, more appropriately, a funnel.

I lose energy, slowly. I feel low, as low as can be felt. As low as the soil? No, there is more. An energy coming from above that pushes me down. Forcing me lower, forcing through me. The mass of this entire body crushed, compacted, at one with the centre of the earth. Disregard for how I try to summon up the energy to crawl back.

Coffee. Shower. Seeking out the windy spots in the house that suddenly has only walls. Again, water. Cold this time. Water on arms. Water on legs. Water on face. The face of who?

I can’t face who is watching now.
My legs are too heavy, my head is not focusing.
The more I try to let it go away, the more the sensations grow, animal like, evil. What is evil? Is this part of me? Is she evil?

Nausea starts, I realize it only when some little silenced burps escape my mouth.
Then a contraction in the gut.

Oh, now consciousness arises. I know now.
Together with this re-discovery only a teardrop manages to find its way to freedom.

I breathe out, a weight released.

Despite this, my body is fixed, stuck completely, still, like a stone. Can’t forget. Will not allow the memory to go through him. Yes, as ‘he’, for this is how the body is gendered in Italian. Could this be the reason why he wants to cannibalise her? Doesn’t want to remember, no, won’t remember.

Better stay here, safe, breathless, like all those animals that fake death to fool their predators. Yes, I stay here, silently, voiceless, lifeless. The mutilation wasn’t only of my femininity, the mutilation was of my entire capacity to dream.

I am still in the funnel. I can only grasp with my hands wet soil all around me. The funnel is the water well where everybody can replenish, I can see how much I smile, I smile for their satisfied bodies, for their full lives. I can watch them very well from here. It is such a beautiful view.

Manuela Pacella