Between Our Words I Will Trace Your Presence
Idun Listen! Quiet! Just Let’s be quiet!
You know it’s only when I rest, that I sense your presence.
You say this space in which you and I now move is empty, but I sense others here. Can’t you feel them?
I don’t think we’re alone at all. There are others here.
It’s not just you and I. This? … This isn’t empty, at all.
Andy Berlin, 1955.
Evening, and the building around him is quiet, the office workers long departed. High above, the empty cars of a paternoster lift circulate, endlessly. Far below, in rooms carefully insulated from the sounds of the city,
he finds himself occupying a world in parenthesis.
He runs his hand over the surface of a studio console, salvaging small clippings of audio tape. Each fragment contains a pause, a breath, the shape of a thought. Each represents a hesitation, a withholding; a lacuna, edited out from some or other speaker’s utterances. He sweeps the clippings into a small tin. Pockets it. Later, he will splice these fragments together, to create a recording composed not from words,
but from the gaps between them.
Now, he sits alone, reflecting that he has covertly become a collector of silences, in a country and at a time where every silence is like an unexploded bomb, peopled not by absence, but by presences denied.
Idun Silence he understands, is a construct. It is not a signifier of emptiness, but an illusion that masks the presence of something unacknowledged, repressed or denied.
And whenever we encounter something we perceive as silence, …
Andy …we should perhaps ask ourselves: “here, at this site, who or what is denying the presence of what or whom?”, because in order to be silent, one must be silent about something.
Silence is not only experienced, it is enacted or performed, and it is motivated. It comes in many forms, but always it has an object. Always there is something that remains unspoken.
Idun Sometimes, he believes, if one inhabits silence, that “something” may be disclosed.
Kat Bergen 2018.
Arriving at The Natural History Museum, he is greeted by?
A spectacle of absence.
Idun Closed for renovation, he encounters a building that is, in insect terms, a chrysalis,
Idun During the long hiatus created by its closure the Museum has become a cloistered space of transition,
Sol Denied to visitors.
Sol Almost its entire collection removed,
Kat Left to display room after room of unoccupied vitrines.
Sol His first impression?
Idun That in its current state, the museum exhibits only emptiness.
Kat He returned again and again,
Sol drawn compulsively to inhabit the museum’s spaces.
Kat In search of something
Idun And yet quite unaware of what was concealed within the spectacle that had at first compelled him.
Kat Marvelling at the museum’s whale skeletons:
Sol at once, cathedrals of bone, almost a part of the building itself.
Idun and corporeal things...
ripe for colonisation,
Idun He is oblivious to the Beetles
...that surreptitiously inhabit the whale skeletons.
Kat Tiny, unobtrusive; brilliantly adapted to living on the dried remains of animals, the beetles continue to do so within the museum,
Sol Devouring whatever organic material they encounter;
Reducing smaller specimens to piles of dust.
Idun A covert and proliferating illegitimacy.
Idun Bodies without provenance,
Discreetly colonising the museum’s gaps,
Kat Consuming matter, erasing data,
Condemned as pests.
Sol An all-but invisible ecosystem
Acknowledged only by attempts to eradicate their presence.
Idun The wrong bodies,
Trapped not in amber, but in glue.
Sol Captured and catalogued,
Idun A shadow collection.
Idun An apparatus for collecting,
The Museum gathers...
Kat even the bodies of it’s own infestations.
Sol Determined to identify the pests that penetrate its walls.
Kat From their carcasses,
it fashions unseen parodies of the specimens it places on display.
Idun Natural history
legitimises the bodies it collects as specimens.
Kat Their presence,
licit within the institution,
can be spoken.
Sol Other bodies,
Kat Present in the archive,
Sol Absent from its public discourse,
Bide their time.
Idun Cradled in a chrysalis of bricks and glass and bones
Kat/Sol Eager to emerge
‘Skadedyr’: What is that? Small animals doing harm.
Sol: It was 1979 and they were having an infestation of museum beetles
Kat: American Vepse—bol—klanner.
It says here in the newspaper,
they’re going to exterminate the ‘American’…
and there is a name of this “wasp”
Sol: Small beetles that eat up all the organic tissue on museum specimens
You have to be very careful not to get these beetles inside your collection and if you do, you have to be very quick to eradicate them.
Kat: They made a coat of plastic,
Imagine what it took.
They made a coat of plastic for the whole house.
That was the first time I saw something like that
And I couldn’t believe what I saw.
I couldn’t believe my own eyes.
It was very neatly done too, as these things are.
I don’t know how they did it, but it was beautifully done
And it looked so ridiculous and we laughed.
Sol: At one point it was decided that to get rid of these museum beetles, they had to wrap up the museum and fumigate the place.
Kat: They used this Blåsyre, which I think is Zyklon B
And it said in the newspaper, “the work has been going well”.
The work has been going well and “they have been using Blåsyre”.
Sol: They wrapped the museum in plastic and put boxes of this gas - which I
think must have been in some kind of powder form - in every room in the museum…
They wrapped the museum in plastic, opened the boxes and let the gas come out, naturally.
Kat: Why did they do this packing up? because that was the most that we could see and the answer was… Where have I got this from? I don’t know… so that the poison should stay inside the building. It should not go outside the building. In order to function better,
but I never thought…
Sol: When the fumigation had run its course
Kat: The idea never occurred to me…
Sol: When the fumigation had run its course and supposedly all the beetles were
Kat: It never occurred to me that it could be poisonous for people going
outside as well.
Sol: When the fumigation had run its course and supposedly all the beetles were dead,
they had to slowly start unwrapping the building.
Kat: This is an old building.
There is presumably a lot of leakages in such an old building.
Sol: And from what I’ve been told as soon as they started unwrapping the building…
Kat: It’s a hundred and fifty years old,
So we can imagine holes here and there…
Sol: As they started unwrapping the building,
a lot of the gas that was still remnant in the building came out
Kat: And so I’m sure if there was a very dangerous poison inside …
Sol: A lot of the gas that was still remnant in the building came out and apparently,
birds… fell from the sky.
Kat: They really needed to take care.
Sol: Birds that were flying over the museum fell from the sky, because of the gas that was still escaping
Kat: They made a coat of plastic for the whole house.
And it looked so ridiculous and we laughed.
Sol: The birds …
Kat: And I couldn’t believe what I saw.
Sol: The birds… fell… from the sky.
Idun Pause! Listen!
Bodies in space,
Andy My body in a space, breathing,
My body; This is not my body; What are these bodies to my body?
Idun He came to understand that the body required either conformity or silence and unable to conform, he chose silence.
Idun He arrives at his father’s house in the early afternoon, noticing that the garden is beginning to fill with weeds. The house as he enters it, is quiet, but he senses his father is there, inside. He will talk to the old man, today.
Will tell him, at last, that instead of a recollected childhood of words exchanged, it is all the words withheld, that he now remembers: the frequent spells when he, the father, withdrew and would not speak either to the son or to his wife.
Living as he does these days amid other, ever-growing gaps, it is doubtful whether the father can remember those earlier interruptions in the discourse of family life, but as a child, the son had lived amongst the silences his father had created, had inhabited the gaps produced by the father’s withdrawal.
Idun Silence breeds silence and he, the son imbibed the father’s habit, became practiced himself in the art of withholding, until non-disclosure became a way of life. Was more the father than he cared to know; answered silence with silence, became the man; reserved.
“Why did you behave this way?”, he will ask his father now, but the old man will not, cannot answer and will only look at him questioningly. It is safe to ask now, because there will be no answer, only further silences.
Andy New York, 1991: the composer sits by an open window as the city’s traffic rolls by below. ‘Noise,’ he says ‘is always different. When we overlook the noise around us, we mistake it for silence and we neglect to understand that no two “silences” are the same. What we think of as silence is always full of noise.’
Idun Growing to adulthood, the son found himself compelled by encounters, which somehow spoke to his own memories of earlier, incomprehensible silences; discovering their echo in other, unexpected places, experiencing a frisson of recognition each time he did so.
Idun He too became a connoisseur of gaps, of intervals; all the while, drawn to
discover what might be found therein. His compulsion leading him to recently
vacated rooms, where absences hung quietly like over-coats, expectant, waiting to
Andy ISBN 0956569218, circa Two-thousand and ten. The author has embarked on an act of calculated violence. Taking the leaves of a book he loves, taking up a scalpel, he begins to cut into the skin of each successive page. Gaps in the text proliferate. The Street of Crocodiles becomes a Tree of Codes. He neatly excises words, so that not even their ghosts remain, creating a multitude of carious gaps, which cannot be spoken and cannot be named.
Andy Meanwhile, in a land that is not his own, a poet, deafened himself as a child, writes at night about a subjugated country that becomes deaf, because to hear is to be complicit. An act of defiance. A deafness of denial, comprised not of silence, but of what must not be heard.
Idun Where once he had perceived only absence, only silence, he now found that both had form; that the silences between lovers were not equivalent: superficially identical, they were capable of signifying both deep contentment or separation and loss.
He understood that conversation was created as much from the gaps between words as by the words themselves and if a conversation, then why not a text. If a conversation, then why not a human life?
Andy An image surfaces; a 4×3 window of grainy black and white; a movie playing in the mind’s eye. The image flickers into life. A domestic interior, post-war Japan, framed in wide-shot by the movie-camera’s lens. It reveals a bride-to-be on the verge of leaving her family home.
She exits, but instead of following her story, her narrative, the camera unexpectedly chooses to return, lingering in the quiet rooms of the house. Contemplating, each in-turn, mirrors and the forms of empty chairs.
Idun Home: the template for all the silences, all the gaps that followed. He has come home, to a site that for all its familiarity, is nonetheless the hardest to perceive.
Even as he sits with his father, unspeaking, holding the old man’s hand, father and son both drifting back to their respective childhoods, fresh silences begin to emerge between them: an ever-growing, untraversed terrain and he reflects that far from framing absence, these silences are freighted with all that remains unsaid; all that is now unutterable between the two.
Andy Nightfall. Mr Somiya, returning home alone,pares away the apple’s skin.
Lets-fall, with flesh of fruit, words unsaid.
Idun In the gaps
Andy In the gaps between our words,
Idun In the gaps between our words, we are becoming.