No 26 - 2005
For Suhail Sleiman
The installation by Suhail Sleiman comprised a shallow heap of sand covering the floor of the Gallery with plastic bags placed over it.
Mafuji Gallery, Hackney, Summer 2000
- which is on the top floor of an industrial building. The two floors below are occupied by a garment factory. Up here the ‘art' goes to an edge, an edge that is brushed by our footsteps as we look down. I imagine being right down there and looking across it, the bags so neatly arranged - maybe they would look like fields and farms. The lettering’s all back-to-front, and there's one in Arabic. The thing is, do the bags hold the sand down, or are they held down by it? Are they emerging from the sand or are they being buried beneath it?
Years ago, when I was still at school, I read Chateaubriand’s Atala. Chateaubriand was an early French Romantic, an aristocrat and diplomat. All I can remember of the story is that it featured a romance between a traveller and Atala, a young Native American woman. Atala dies and the one detail I recall is her burial, her naked body covered in earth. One breast is left protruding above the soil, pale against the dark earth, suggested by one of these plastic bags, as if this one image were what the world-weary traveller brought back, all the horrors of an emptied-out sign.
It made me think too of ‘Death in Venice’, Visconti’s film, the Venice Lido, towels and deckchairs neatly laid out, suggested here by the striped and lettered plastic - a ‘beach nostalgia’ with heavy Mahlerian music effects sinking down through the floor to the next stratum, that is, the garment workers downstairs. Here is the beach - in that country you have to pay to go there; you are arranged in rows, and death comes down through the ceiling in a shower of plastic, like the ash descending on Pompei; and this is what’s left afterwards, this array of inside-out signs.
The art consultant
Forty years on you’re still trying to read
What the world says,
Conmodification of an existence -
And the gallery space? It was like a pacified ocean.
The corporate art consultant was there,
Has moved eastward she says,
Bought into a new canalside development.
She gives the area twenty more years.
In here it’s a question of sand.
The shore spreads and smears
And we're waiting for the future to settle
So ‘Welcome to the excavations’
Street and Cemetery
Marginal existence, flyblown hot light
Where the street is an edge
As if dressing up like that
Those tattoos and multiple piercings
And all that polished metal
Might for a moment make you feel complete
Before the next stratum descends.
Shall I inhabit this place with my name?
In the smashed chapel there are fragments of light.
The glass remaining
Hangs from the lead tendrils,
And the plants that sprout on the roof of the building
It’s as if they are waving to me!
Here are millions of leaves.
I shall sleep with the sound of them in my ears.
The Artist in the Park
Here’s sculpture’s unending moment -
And I have a question to ask
If a man stand still as a statue will he become?
A sign: ‘Do Not Disturb’.
The Artist’s in her tent.
Unending recuperations of existence.
Two turtles, in the park -
These are slow in their existence.
I write this in leaf light, leaning on the bridge.
Of humans in distress
As if they have been deserted by something -
Language? Here are the signs on parade,
Another one’s drifting towards me
Over the pavement suddenly bellied with wind.
So let us consider the meanings
One by one calling them home -
The infant, writes Winnicott, hallucinates the breast
Seeking to make meaning
If it arrive more or less on time
It hovers, a work that appears and re-appears.
Archaeology of a once-self, will be
Swept up one day into this weight of sand
Here in the gallery, a half-ruined city’s
Nostalgia for a site of abandoned meanings,
A place where the object might escape these signs
And have no value.
Walking upstairs through a silent building
Past all those sweatshop clothes wrapped in polythene-
They were hanging in rows like ghosts at attention,
And I felt I was moving towards
An idea that became an object however briefly
This beach a halfway station stretching away
The lost signs emerging, like Atala’s breast.
- 10th Muse
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- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
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- French Literary Review, The
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- Global Tapestry
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- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
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- Obsessed with pipework
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- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
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- Poetry Salzburg Review
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- Second Aeon
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