solace & friction
There runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again, so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence. —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
If the thread that ravels its way through the rooms in our head reflects the way it entangles the chaos of the rooms in our home; or, conversely, simply settles like dust along the beam of light (falling just so in the morning across the foot of the bed); then such an invisible thread must also run through the cities where we live—and where we escape.
The familiar and the foreign dismantle and cohere.
Two artistic practices converge and take leave at very different intersections. Pip Stafford’s Iris is silent of voices, yet full of sound and the quiet movements of the inhabitants of an old house. Dragan Todorovic’s engagement with language and exile, with foreign landscapes and broken tongues, spirals many voices and song-stories. Their work is a distillation or a sieve for Calvino’s meandering of imagined cities, armatures, shells, beehives.
Both offer hymns to homes wrenched of the safety of mother tongues and awash in a wealth of quiet refuge.
“In this language I shall live …”
So explains Dragan Todorovic. There’s a presence of language, differentiated from memorial or nostalgia. He says sadness is soft, nostalgia doesn’t exist; it is a post-revolutionary feeling (“…and we don’t have revolutions anymore…”). Pip Stafford’s work listens to the physical sounds of a house as an unlikely but evocative mirroring of mother tongue spoken only through its sonic qualities. Todorovic echoes Stafford’s wordless poetry in his own mirroring of cities and stuttered words of love.
… hometown is where your hair is hidden, wrapped up in the skin of your friends, tucked under the bridge of lingo, sealed in the locket around your first love’s neck …
For Stafford, her travels inside the sounds of her grandmother’s house sit outside her normal art practice primarily concerned with networks and communication, rituals and patterns. But is it so far afield?
What is listening to a house but an improvisation with the sounds, conversations and memories deeply ingrained within? And the imagined city, a duet of the self?
When it’s time to go, open to any page.
Both artists venture towards Earlid’s invitation to consider their work in tandem with Calvino’s homage to invisible cities (to his imagined cities and memory, to cities and the dead, to unraveling happy-sad cities).
Dragan Todorovic’s newly minted work of sound is a Calvino-esque question about the small town encounter and that reflects his current experience living in the UK. But across the span of time, he has questioned the navigation of language, the place of speaking in ways both familiar and foreign since emigrating to Toronto from war-ravaged Belgrade in 1995.
Mother tongue is deep, secretive, exciting. Oaths taken in mother tongue are meaningful, pillow talk is arousing, secrets are taken seriously, feelings expressed with caution. In acquired language everything is cheaper, paler, more shallow. … In an acquired language we behave like actors. —Dragan Todorovic, In This Language I Shall Live
The familiar and the foreign cohere and dismantle. It is the mood of the beholder, muses Calvino, which gives the city its form.
Pip Stafford mines the audible sanctum of her grandmother’s house in Moonah, a northern suburb of Hobart, on the Australian island of Tasmania, though she says once her grandmother is gone, so will the house that has been the constant in her life. And there is a new construction through these sounds, just as there might be a new building in place of this old house one day.
The sounds were captured through multiple field recordings, recorded around the house itself, and also through the creation of sounds from memory: a fireplace is no longer there, there are no flies buzzing in the porch in the depths of winter and the sewing machine that was once in her sunroom is now in my own house.— Pip Stafford
These kinds of constructions seem natural though the work is a departure for Stafford who works across installation, sculpture, sound, printed matter and online projects: “It is a project that sits outside my normal art practice, which is to say, I see it that way, but others may not, and anyone listening to the work devoid of the context of anything else I have ever done, will not. But it is something I was skirting around for a long time.”
Duets + Bad Circles
Calvino’s lyrical novel invites meandering. It’s a book to return to when in need of solace (or to rustle up friction). It’s a text to toss open anywhere (along its spine; in various cafes) when questioning one’s relationship to a place.
“Place” might be the intersection of streets; it can be a language; perhaps an old house. Relationships unravel like a skein, as Stafford arrives, returns, departs from her grandmother’s house. It’s a limbo or peripheral tongue, a porous border, like a foreign landscape or writing in another language, as Todorovic has done for decades.
Leave-taking is seductive and ripe for sonic artistry as Stafford and Todorovic offer; and others bid us to lean in, to listen to their own stories. Sometimes a duet sings all the things we notice about our town as we walk its streets about to leave, things we failed to notice while in a rush to get from here to there. The city does not tell its past, nor does the wanderer walking in bad circles far from his family, language and sanity.
Calvino imagines the city contains its past, like the lines of a hand, written on the corners of the streets.
—Joan Schuman, Earlid