(Artwork – by Nicola Dickson)
An experience of When My Heart Stops Beating
Hey, that’s you over there. I don’t mean you literally are there. I mean over there is your destination. In a box. You’ll be isolated, but your story will be told and released, repeatedly. The needle stuck in the groove that kids will tear at and the romantics will etch deeper and deeper. You’ll be isolated, but you’ll be in the company of many that don’t know you and none that you do. You’ll be isolated, but only until someone has the whim to open the box. And your tale will be the same as the person in the box next to you, and above you, and just out of reach over on the left in the box on the floor, and in the box two rows up to the right. Love. To the East, due South, far North, wild West.
16,882 steps to find you. Further than the curiosities in a cabinet. Lower than the numbers over the door whose function I cannot remember but which is surely remarkable. Beneath the toilet floor with the projected movies on it.
When My Heart Stops Beating is the work of Tasmanian craftsman and sculptural artist Patrick Hall. The work is in part comprised of a set of 54 draws on a wall. Each draw is fronted with a vinyl record and a face. When opened the draw reveals a written story inside as well as a recording of a voice that says “I love you”.
After hearing about this artwork at MONA, it was the sole exhibit I was prepared to stay underground for. I just loved it! I walked around for weeks accidentally saying out loud “I love you” in many voices and thinking about all those stories. Thankfully those out loud moments mostly happened in the company of people who knew what I had seen.
“What I think art can do is give the gossamer threads of experience some sort of tangible, visual shape “– Patrick Hall.
Hall’s artworks are thickly tangible. His sculptural elements want to ken your touch. The found objects and text need stroking so you can feel the layered narratives and get yourself into the story and pull memories to now. Stay with it until revealed. The revelations of narrative. The reward for the observant, discerning reader. The stubborn breath of curiosity coating and imbuing what’s said and seen with little tweezers picking and prodding.
Instruments. There to measure, judge, discern, check and force balance. Hunter’s, Raper’s and Watling’s channel-billed cuckoo. I love the narrative in this painting from Canberra artist Nicola Dickson. It hangs in my living room, but I’m tempted to put it over my bed where it can better infect my dreams and remind in waking that there is much to wonder about. This painting, and the one at the top of this blog post, are part of an exhibition called Birds From A New World, inspired by the Ducie Collection in the National Library of Australia. Forgotten drawings came to light. Illustrations, it is thought, by George Raper, a midshipman aboard the First Fleet. Of her exhibition Dickson explains:
“Early illustrations such as those in the Ducie collection, played a central role in developing notions in the British imagination that Australia was a bizarre, antipodean world…The exhibition engages with the significant role that natural history illustrations played in the development and circulation of perceptions of other places and people… In each of the paintings in this exhibition the subject has been re-presented in a new ‘stage set’. Birds have been placed on pieces of navigational equipment, along measuring grids, or amid jungles of over-sized fantastic flowers.”
Dickson wants the viewer to consider the cultural context in which the illustrations were originally made. Illustrations of natural history were considered akin to map-making in that both function as acts of witnessing, and sometimes of claiming. From the archive we have more narrative, restriction removed, stories freed and made new thanks to the uncovering of well-preserved drawings in an estate in England.
It’s great to get into these well-traveled narratives, these works and words of love freed. But I’m also a sucker for a hometown tale, and this is often well told in a song. My first favourite Paul Kelly song is Leaps and Bounds because of its entanglement with Melbourne. I’ve fallen in love too with Nostalgia, the theme music to the UK TV series Wallander. It too entwines with me. We collide in place, and through doors and over love of a beacon. And whilst I’m nostalgic, it’s in new tellings that sentiment from the past can transform and become new paths.
Tram wires cross Melbourne skies
cut my red heart in two
my knuckles bleed down Johnston street
on a door that shouldn’t be in front of me
Twelve thousand miles away from your smile
I’m twelve thousand miles away from me
standing on the corner of Brunswick
got the rain coming down and mascara on my cheek
Oh whisper me words in the shape of a bay
shelter my love from the wind and the rain
Crow fly be my alibi
and return this fable on your wing
take it far away to where gypsies play
beneath metal stars by the bridge
Oh write me a beacon so I know the way
guide my love through night and through day
Only the sunset knows my blind desire for the fleeting
only the moon understands the beauty of love
when held by a hand like the aura of nostalgia