Susan Hughes, ‘Dusky Flanks Fluid Bow’
In Conversation with Susan Hughes
A continued exploration using my father’s birdwatching field notebooks from the 1970s and 1980s as source alongside my own ‘fieldnotes’ comprising written text and image. Products include video, cast metal, screen prints, performance and a bird walk which was organised as part of my solo exhibition in Mossley Mill, outside Belfast.
Four little notebooks stacked in front of me. I opened the first one: ’74 ’75 ‘76. The words I read became the surface of a time and place and world that was different: richer in wildlife, poorer in money, smaller roads, quieter buildings, everyone smoking everywhere. As I turned the pages, through months and years, I imagined what the author’s life looked like outside the notebooks: when he met my mother, when he was travelling, when I was born – a parallel universe to the world of birds, porpoise and rain. I was struck by the unintentional beauty and poeticism in the meticulous detailing of quantitative bird data: their quantities, bodies, habitats. I began to select and isolate:
Legs brightish flesh
Nothing of note
Darkest behind eye and nape
Slowly I combined my own words with his, placing them here and there, this way and that. I started using fragments from the breadth of outpourings within my morning pages. I liked how I now could make something banal seem loaded and sexual, or make something previously heavy with meaning become nonsensical and bizzare: DUSKY FLANKS FLUID BOW
Words juxtaposed sit aside one another, join, become something else. Some-one, some-thing, else’s. Not mine. Not his. Language and picture are getting closer to being released from weight of meaning and have at last become materials to play with: malleable and fluid.
The narrative has been unsettled.
“There is no split between the role of consciousness and subconsciousness in art. Dreams, works of art (some), glimpses of the always-more-successful surrealism of everyday life, unexpected moments of empathy, catch a peripheral vision of whatever it is one can never really see full-face but that seems enormously important. (Elizabeth Bishop)”
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