Category: Writer in Residence — Published:
The following text is the final contribution from Rachel Pimm as part of their time as Whitechapel Gallery Writer in Residence. The text has been co-authored with Jennifer Boyd (whose contributions are marked using italics) and is the basis for a forthcoming performance.
AGGREGATION: A TASTING MENU
The circle is a poem to the earth and to extinction. A full stop.
You have in front of you a menu of many circles. Organic circles and cellular circles and parts; a paper, glass and stoneware midden for us to build.
when the circles aggregate and combine they transform from a full stop to a dot dot dot, an aposiopesis, another poem, but this one, not to the end; instead to the unsayable, and the unknown and the to be continued. Your plates are tectonic plates, places, dishes that relate by their proximity, by the ways they pull apart and pull together, and by the combined locales of their origins. Plates of things on the boundary of edible but prepared and offered here as trace minerals to aggregate into your own holo if you wish to, guided by our words, which, when spoken, aggregate in our specific mouths alongside the mouth feels of the plates in yours, tongues relocating words, objects and places into the collective body.
Do help yourselves to water to hydrate yourself throughout.
the circle of the clock face, the wave of sphincters. a recycling, circling an attractor, looping lifelines. While you aggregate the circles, they aggregate your bodies. I can offer you loose tracts, additional elements to add density to the alchemy, each with a temporal stamp the approximate duration of the aggregation, the digestion. Occasional tangential kisses, oracular stamen-synapses, or daily applications, a fleshy hand reaching from inside a midden of emptied seashells which slump from an open shipping container onto bitumen. Another, voco- aggregator, agitator.
ONE: SNOW FUNGUS SERUM
I’d like to invite you to pick up the first dish, In yellow earthenware. The colour of sulfur and urine. The pallid jaun-dice colour of toxicity
The mushroom, as we know, will be there at the end.
This first plate is Snow fungus serum, scooped from the final course of a Chinese dessert prepared by P, fished from its soy milk sweet soup, washed and blended with witch hazel and rose water – to be applied to the skin. It smooths the surface, cool and gel-like.
a pill is a bulb you drop in your stomach like it is the earth. after eating the snow fungus and lily bulb soup, after laughing in the dark hearing how Grace Jones ate oysters in the green room, after a thick foam of misogyny covered the row in front of us as they laughed at her different, while she sat wearing no clothes no make-up in her mother’s hot house. without her exoskeleton her livid tongue was mocked. after… we were Charlotte Salomon’s sun-drunk at night. the tenor of the embrace she gave her grandmother while singing, trying to rescue her from s*icide. sunshine and darkness the depths of her mind. this hyphenation thrown like a seed into one of her 769 paintings made in a two year spiral when she sensed her end was close. in the painting “the two schematized bodies seem to merge, suspended in an indeterminate space in which the lyrics are continuous with the spare outline of the grandmother’s body. [boundaries have become fluid]” (Christine Conley, “Memory and Trauerspiel: Charlotte Salomon’s Life? or Theater? and the Angel of History” in Reading Charlotte Salomon, 2006). i stuck my index finger with a small white blister into the silver ear fungus, a silky iridescent yellow jelly, to be captured with the flashing circle of her iris. when the beating atoms drop i yell: you’re churning my earth!
witch hazel blooms yellow emitting the delicate smell of care in early winter. its bark and leaves are often distilled in alcohol and water to create a remedy for bruises and other swellings. it’s a plant that grows in snow. lily-livered, lily-lipped. this idiom is from the middle ages, when the liver was believed to be in control of human emotions. the silk floss tree has thick spikes the entire length of its trunk and its flowers are lilies containing amber pollen. as a springtime tradition in Dongyang eggs are boiled in the yellow urine of small boys preferably under the age of ten. gorselight is a spiky archaic word I always choose for this kind of yellow, because it means: yellow light. rub a gold ring on your styes, or your neck to release the stagnant blood, when you are exhausted. an offering on the epidermis of the living and the dead. the ocean-liner size Mercedes that crashes into Clarice Lispector’s Macabea in The Hour of the Star (1977) is yellow. a vehicle of death, but Lispector also writes: “I want to write the red blur of blood with the drips and clots dripping from the inside. I want to write goldyellow with beams of translucence.”
the skin-contact closeness of inking a friend. R said to me: “I like that this is a free medium. That it can be done in the safety of home, with friends and that it is a commitment. Self medicating and self marking have a similar relationship to the power one can take over the sack of a body to contain a story. It is a wormhole into the living body for the sound of voices.” you let me. I look at it bobbing along. tiny inked circles making a whole. your voice comes out as a woman’s voice but may as well not be. The seasons reassure my gender fluidity. The Roman physician Aetius created a recipe for tattoo ink: one pound of Egyptian pine bark, two ounces of corroded bronze ground with vinegar, two ounces of gall (yellow bile from gallbladder), one ounce of vitriol (iron sulphate). the last time i saw R in real life we inked a shade ball, ten cm in diameter, on the left shoulder blade. poured onto reservoirs, they stop liquid evaporating from the surface.
TWO: BENTONITE APERITIF
You are about to drink a bentonite clay aperitif, served with spring water and ground cardamom, a digestive, to earth the body and line the stomach. Bentonite cleans pond, oil spills, landfill and bodies, super porous, like skin, absorbing and combining, transporting shit away from the gut.
Agitate with the clay stirrer to get the clay into emulsion, and sip.
THREE: TINCTURES OF LIONS MANE AND REISHI, DRIED
Here we have 3 medicinal tinctures extracted in water and alcohol – reishi, lion’s mane double extracted in water and alcohol, to take with a side of dried psilocybe.
In crackle glaze stoneware, for mycelial connections, neurology, immunity, the encouragement of new pathways and a sense of interconnection to the earth.
Lynn Margulis tells us in flesh of the earth that the Catholc rite of the Eucharist may have originated in pre christian initiation ceremonies involving the ingestion of hallucinogenic fungi. It is even suggested that the “apple” Eve plucks from the Tree of Knowledge in the biblical Garden of Eden i s actually a mistranslation of the word for a hallucinogenic fungus.
Bring these plates to your lips
That ring like shells, to build a midden
And when I say LIP, yes I do also mean L,I,Ps
Large Igneous Provinces
I learned only recently what a large igneous province was- that mass extinction events have been accompanied by volcanic activity over 1 million times larger in scale and violence than any witnessed by humans- mega events from mega vents, that flow out to re-cover whole countries and continents making borders and epochs irrelevant. It leaves me yearning to witness one, though the witnessing would of course spell a kind of end/ beginning for us all.
(an aggregated extraction from Nightbox): a single clump of dangling spines. feathered tooth. my fruiting body is born empty of nutrients. yearning to layer limb and event extremity on extremity. the difficulty in containing both and all. conflux of extremes inside the same live specimen. i know this disquieting attraction. folded over and inside. plane existence. when held up the membrane of the stomach looks exactly like a flat cap mushroom but it is yellow and pink with red ivy spines. red and blue lights flashing on the eucalyptus. new moon party hard cannibal. cream colour gum and the trance of silly string and myelin sheath. skin reacts to nighttime the largest organ of the body. presence within the body of palpable and microscopic excesses leaking from signs and objects to form a small but incredible depth-charged pool which runs from the throat through the crotch down the leg and into the centre of the Earth merging with the huge molten magma mantle that we often forgot about. it leaked from my eyes as if it didn’t belong. stinking night bodies emitting at once colorless and full spectrum miasma that lingers but not long in the morn. nightingales sing so high their eyelids peel back so that their heads become one giant glossy black oculum. the herb was used in eye-drops to dilate the pupils to make them appear more seductive. their language is made up of words that are killing yer. no rope and no path and no safety. no fence when they all slipped at the top by the edge. owned actions. night death in snow banks and bright headlights flashing. the glottis is defined as the opening between the vocal folds. it is a flexible flap that stops food or drink flowing into the lungs. this flap is essential for survival. the epiglottis is shaped somewhat like a leaf of purslane. in antiquity, its healing properties were thought so reliable that it was advised to wear the plant as an amulet to expel all evil. the species status in the new world is uncertain. run as free as the wind baby as free as the ocean. bodies with no camo on clutching warm and cold skin to skin in the dark wet. fire or hair or smoke grows. it repeats it is certain. scraping and carving in everything you see don’t let your eyes wander like flies like blue bottles away from this old world beauty but hurting and caring and hailing fresh. the mycelium blanket ready to push through after rain and that’s beautiful but what else can i forage or look for what can help. commonly known as sunburst lichen it is a species of fungus in the genus recognized by its bright orange or red pigmentation. poisonous shades of colours. extremophiles can be adapted to live in extreme cold, intense heat, harsh acidity, high saltiness, and a host of other conditions in which we humans have been surprised to detect life at all.
FOUR: SULPHUR POLYPORE MUSHROOM
The next plate, served on glass, is urban-foraged chicken of the woods. This mushroom, known binomially as sulphur polypore – yellow, with porous flesh grows in mounds and folds in the same bright acid tones of the volcanic landscapes of afar.
FIVE: DEAD SEA MUD
Next is the dead sea bed, for tasting or applying to your skin as you prefer, served on white stoneware. A hypersaline clay, collected by B at the lake, shipped in a glass jar. The dead sea sits at the top of the rift valley. The big V
V for valley but also for vent, void, vulva, volcano, no, no-vel, novel combinations in the rearranged la-va geology of a dyke, a graben, a horst, the open genderless V, that holds and births new material
The salinity washes along the dead sea to the red sea, themselves voids along edges of borders into the big V of the African rift valley.
SIX: LAKE ASALE CRYSTAL
A single, greasy salt crystal, collected by hand at Lake Asale, served also on white stoneware. This crystal is the same sea as the dead sea once it washes down the rift into the horn of Africa. Where ocean should continue but the heat of the desert dries up all the land. Because it is above water the triple junction, the multiway tectonic crack v of the Afar Triangle is the only place on land where we can see 3 plates pulling apart. This place is the first place. The dead sea that washes down and dries out at the place of the origin of life. Where it all began.
In the centre of the table is a commercial slab cut from the bed of the hypersaline salt lake of Asale, as it appears before processing, where the bed of the lake is also its surface. The surface L and I walked across to buy the salt, at the going price of 4 US dollars.
Your bodily waters are rehydrating, dissolving this piece of origin-land-ocean back into precipitation. Carried along like walking talking minerals, minerals with the propensity to get up and walk.
Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan wrote, on the question of What is Life? “More and more inert matter, over time, has literally come to life. Minerals of the sea are now incorporated into living creatures for protection or support in the form of integument, shell, bone. Our own skeletons are built from calcium phosphate, a sea salt that was initially a nuisance or a hazard for our remote ancestors, marine protist cells which eventually found ways to cleanse their tissues by putting such minerals to use.” or as Stacy Alaimo describes it, “nature” is as close as one’s own skin, perhaps even closer, and environments are full of bodies, and that the trans of trans corporeality is a site of movement back and forth between bodies, and the surrounding chemical agents, which are by no means separate.
On a whim I once bought a second hand pink himalayan salt lamp for £4 from a charity shop, it seemed good value for the quantity of rock salt, thinking I could re-facet it, or smash it to eat, or put in a bath. I briefly paused before licking it in the shop, because I’d never tried this, my curiosity now stronger than my instinct for hygiene. It was salty but I felt weird about it. What hands, what dust, what bacteria, what spills had I rehydrated, dissolved, consumed? I confessed later and R tells me that salts are healing only because they absorb their surroundings. I recoiled from the idea of eating unknown quantities of surroundings and energies, of bathing in them, of serving them to you. Because place and origin are significant. Because to know whose hands have touched the earth is significant.
there is pine resin and beeswax in your circular cotton table settings. you can tap the tree, drawing sap. or you can collect crystals from broken branches. akin to scabs and drawing blood. Cecilia Vicuña (in Brindis’ Performance in Club de la Union, Santiago, 1966) writes of her grandfather’s 80th birthday celebration, during which his old friends from the 1922 rebellion toasted, each improvising an historic, political or philosophical discourse on the imminent demise of the human race. A teenage girl, she then stood and spoke without invitation: “I spoke of the common sap that ran through the trees and our bodies. From somewhere the power of resurrection and transformation was sure to emerge. I felt my words and saliva connected to the tree sap. Moved by my words, my grandfather grabbed the flowers from a table arrangement, crossed the banquet hall, and placed them at my feet, saying, ‘You are the next’.”
writing is a form of digesting. really words are liquid. they can sink back into your cheeks like tears and they can evaporate in the sun. As Etel Adnan writes in Surge (2018): “Thoughts are metallic and melt in salt water.” let urself fit like the eel in the brine pool at the bottom of the ocean on discovering a depth inside a depth. we must unsettle the solidity of the word, we must enhance its salinity and circularity. words are worms, they move in and out of the earth revitalising it, taking all the shit, milling it over and making it usable again. that is the process. Clarice Lispector drank salt water from her own cupped hand each morning on the beach as a teenager: “Now she’s entirely equal to herself. Her nourished throat constricts from the salt, her eyes redden from the salt dried by the sun, the gentle waves slap against her and retreat for she is a compact embankment.”
SEVEN: MARBLE SALT
This crystal, collected by hand, is marble salt, served also on white stoneware.
There are mountains in this dry ocean of Afar. Smoky Mountain, Salty Mountain, Colourful Mountain- Dallol. This is the marbled coloured salt of Colourful Mountain.
I tested the chemical composition of this landscape bordering the commercial salt flats of Lake Asale
L and I have been collecting alchemical and religious myths around salt and volcanos, deities and sulfur, and fire and brimstone. Like the tale of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt as she looked disobediently back, in sympathy, to regard the burning volcanic hellfire that was the depraved town of heretics and sodomites at Gomorrrah, left to burn for their sins in the eyes of the christian church.
The pillars of Salty Mountain and Colourful Mountain rise up like defiant monuments to the V.
EIGHT: CLAYS AND SLATES
In front of you now is a glass petri dish, with assorted clays and slates of the USA and Africa, seams that used to join in geological deep time.
Geophagy is the practice of eating clays, chalks and salts. These clays are sourced and given by M, whose pica makes her crave earth in her mouth. Available words for tasting notes may include earthy, gummy, gritty, chalky. M gave up work as a science educator who ate chalk in the classroom to sell clay to those who crave this sensation.
These clays dredge up the literal gap in the atlantic V .White bentonite and khadi red clays eaten simultaneously to bulk up African and American diets where poverty restricts nutrition and by Nasa astronauts to replenish bone as it atrophies into space, where the porous binding of the clay matrix delivers calcium, literally fertilising the body. Like salt licks, clay eaten by pregnant women and domesticated animals alike mark land where agri-nitrate soil degradation produces bone-craving for the minerals leached out of the very roots of over farmed food crops, and so clay earth health is also body health.
NINE: BLACK LAVA SALT CRUST POTATO WITH DIATOMS, ROSES AND VIOLETS
Your second glass dish with a salt crusted baked potato with diatoms. The body of the potato holds within it the leached health of the soil in which it was grown, and the tiny fossilised dust remains of the perfectly geometric bodies of Diatoms are the fertiliser of the whole of the system of earth. Marine animals, algae, our direct ancestors which are washed along rifts to deserts, where the sun dehydrates the oceanic, and are then carried across the atlantic where they dissolve into the sky river and fall on the amazon, fertilising the forests.
TEN: BLACK LAVA SALTED CHARCOAL LAVENDER MERINGUE
On a greaseproof paper circle you’ll find sugary-glassy drops of meringue. One flavoured with lavender and one with black lava salt.
The sensation of walking on lava, like the dried lake at the crater of Smoky Mountain is like walking on a set. It feels hollow, a false floor, it is a foam of rock, more air than igneous.
Sugar is called on as glass, like the spun golden bundles of Pele’s hair, made from the heating and boundary dissolving of crystals- crystals of salt, rock, sugar, turned molten and liquid.
In Samira Saidi’s The Amethyst, which revolves around a gold amethyst necklace with the stone held in the shape of a flower, lying in a field of freshly cut grass, she feels a worm’s breath sensitively on her right shoulder. she jumps up and looks around and is surrounded by the void. the space filled with intense colours, her knees covered with grass, pebbles and soil. She reached into the void while touching her amethyst necklace. George Sand – the pseudonym used by Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin to write Laura: A Journey into the Crystal – got hooked by the fresh prisms of amethyst in the crack of a geode. Staring hard, they fell fast inside, returning to the room with little memory of their sudden change in state to microscopic. “This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed” (Terence Mckenna). The end sound of the word amethyst is soft yet spined, like a thissstle, like tongue on wet teeth. When molten lava enters the ocean the marine life near the shore is boiled alive, and volcanic glass spreads like hair in the steaming water, blocking out the sun so algae can’t grow. On land in the lava fields of Iceland, a plush blanket of springy green moss grows over black volcanic rock. you’re walking about two metres off the ground on two aerated materials. pocks of airholes, needle-head spines, occasional large holes. nearby, a gigantic hill of yellow hay. and beyond it. an ash-fall bed. skin indented with bitumen and amethyst, pushed in slightly deeper, gently, by a curved moss pillow.
ELEVEN: CANDIED ROSE PETALS
This is a candied rose petal on glass, which I picked from the same park as the sulphur mushrooms. In the landscapes of the igneous desert, the ash that falls fertilises and makes way for new life, for the rustling of strong fibred brittle sounding grasses which catch the fire winds, dry blooms and vivid blurry un-namable opaque, sun-bleached pastel colours. Black petals for death, but not the final death, instead the death of the tarot, of transformation, alongside yellow and orange. Life that is verdant may not be living near the v of the crystal vents to the earth, but what life there is, is toughened, adaptable, and vivid.
TWELVE: ROSE SYRUP
The final plate is a palette cleanser of rose syrup. The boiled molten sugar crystals saturated and hydrated, bound up with the cells of the floral, catching its life and aroma, suspended in a wet sugar ocean of english tears.
the english girl sat next to us in the chiringuito left behind the bunch of red roses that her date had bought for her, she dunked them in the ice bucket. he got them from one of the revolving flower sellers, who usually only sell one cellophane-encased scent-absent stem at a time. he got annoyed, so she ran back, picked one, and having seen our date, handed the rest to us, smiling. Looking at us and realising, his indignation bubbled up, while she flashed beside him. when we left the restaurant a single rose was at the top of the steps smashed on the concrete floor, as though it’d been used to hit a boy’s body. I thought I heard something. Soft petals on slipstreams, a bullet shot and returned by an iridescent skin made of spider’s silk and goat milk. This is heaven. In the middle, flowers and fruit were societal technicolour. on the walk home back through the night city we said we’d give a rose to every tumbling queer we passed. we only saw two, kissing, and so waited under a pine tree so we didn’t interrupt. One was startled, the other, crystal-clear: Oh! How sweet! In the short essays, Freshness and Staleness, Agnes Martin, who had aural hallucinations during her lifetime, writes: “Especially when the morning air / is struck alive / Especially when the stream runs cool and the grass drinks / Especially in sweet sleep when small waves go back on themselves. / Clear shiny trembling gay / Soft lifting serene / Alaighing [sic] thirst / Freshness enters.)” Freshness jumped, salt-infused, re-preserved, re-hearted, re-distributed. “I too would have liked to write nothing but love poems / I too would have liked / to take the morning in my arms / inhale its light its dew / to burst the clouds for fun / steal the Milky Way / leap from petal to petal” (Ahmed Bouanani, Love Poem for Naïma).
And this brings us to a generative start after what seemed at first to be a full stop or a who knows what next. I invite you to take and keep a LIP plate of your choice from the large igneous province midden discarded in front of you, made by the shape of my thumbs, pressed into clay, fired at high temperatures with minerals and glass into stone, and like the walking talking mineral that you are, composed of earth and flowers and salts, to get up and to go.