Essays and prose
by Anna Tuhus
26.02.2019 / London, UK
Guest writing for the blog Experimental Research Methods for Arts & Design, connected to the Information Experience Design programme, Royal College of Art. Edited by Dr Dylan Yamada-Rice.
Read the post here:
About the ground, borders and breaking stones
07.09.2016 / Oslo, Norway
This summer I have a recurring dream, images of nude people crawling in the mud by rail tracks. They seem to be committed in an endless strive uphill, grinding their bodies on an infinite trail. Bare limbs are rubbing against each other in the cramped hordes, but no one seems to notice the other bodies intertwining with their own – each one fixated on their own struggle. Heavy chains are hauled in the slippery dirt along the tracks. They rattle with every pull and scrape cold against sweating skin. I cannot figure out if the vision is speaking of sex or about God. I am not sure whether there even is a difference. I think, I would like to talk this through with someone. Then I think, I should be ashamed of myself. / There is a rhythm to the pull and a beat to endure the grind. I tell a friend about the dreams, about the nude crawling and the infinite rail tracks. He thinks that I am speaking of hell. My words falter as I try to explain the difference between hell and love and labour.
I have spent the summer of 2016 up north. The days have been imbedded in cold drizzles and dim shadows reflecting the grey clouds. But just as I had given up hope on feeling the sun warming my face, September brought an Indian summer. Blue skies make me forget and forgive all of July and how you-lie.
I believe that an apocalyptical worldview is just a trait of collective human consciousness, with each generation dreading a moral collapse as if the world was ever better before. I do not think that we are on a downward spiral, but this summer I feel that the ground is somehow shaken a bit of its axis. I follow the news. This summer I see Farage captaining an island to pull up its anchor from its harbour, only to jump overboard as the ship sets out on uncharted waters. I remember waking up in London on the sunny morning when Brexit was announced, to the unease of a country splitting up from a continent and possibly splinter within itself. This summer I hear Trump speak of his inability to smash up the lithosphere from his position on top of his tower, and how he would compensate his shortcomings by constructing a cleft raised above ground. This summer Sweden has changed their migration laws to limit asylum seekers rights to family reunification, calling it a solution to a crisis; As if the real crisis was not actually happening on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea – where vicious forces stone people to death and hang the corpses up to display, while turning homes and cultural heritage into desert gravel. It is all new borders, new cracks. If I put my ear to the ground, it seems like I can hear the continental plates cracking under the pressure of billions of feet trampling them. The earth seems as fragile as an eggshell. It appears to be a strong arch, but with a hit on a softer angle it will split open for the magma to pour out into a heated frying pan.
I go out to the woods and pick a rock of a size that I can just about hold with one hand. A red piece of granite, inclusions of quartz resembles fish scales glittering in the sun. This type of stone is tough and withstanding, massive blocks of it is used for constructing buildings - but its grainy texture creates softer angles where a crack can occur if it is hit. I use a hammer and a nail to break the stone into smaller pieces, turning it into a pile of pebbles and sand. It lies by my feet as an intricate puzzle. Every piece of stone belongs to another and I wonder if I would have the patience to fit them back together again. There is a rhythm bouncing with every crack brought down in stone, and it takes a beat of a heart to mend it.
About jewels and stones and place as a home
24.08.2016 / Eda, Sweden
I take a flight, then a train, then a bus, to go to see my father. Once my home too, this big house encircled by a hopelessly untamed garden. By now the sandbox in the backyard has since long turned into a self-sufficient little jungle and raspberry bushes have proven to grow like weeds if they are allowed to do so. I feast on apples and cherries from lush trees and keep the dog company on the lawn, feeling the grass tickle my ear. The house itself has been made into a home for this family over the time of a couple of decades, with the jumble of chattels and memorabilia that comes with it. When people truly inhabit a house, the interior eventually tends to start growing as wild and organically as the garden surrounding it.
Among the many things, there are stones in each room. I see them on shelves, in baskets, on top of the piano, decorating corners of window sills or used as paper-weights on a desk, heavier rocks used as doorstops. None are at first sight peculiar, just stones that one can find on a walk in the forest or on the side of a road. Collected by a younger me because I found them pretty, or by my mother who would be drawn by the charm she found in small details, by my father for being put to practical use or by my brother, who would hoard just about anything.
I remember being five years old and obsessed with white stones, fair minerals of a size that could fit into a pocket. In a landscape of pine trees resting on grey bedrock, these white pebbles were unusual and attracted my attention. For this I found them precious. Drawn to their lustre I collected any white pebble that I spotted. I brought them all home, where my mother put them in a bucket that eventually got filled to the brim. It was a bucket of raw gems in my eyes, my treasure trove of white stones. I search for these stones now, eager to see what I can make of them today. I dig out boxes of forgotten toys and shine a flashlight in the dark back corners of the garage, but without luck. I pull my brothers away from computer screens and engage them in the search. We rummage through every nook of the house, until one of them recalls he might have taken a bucket of rubble to a gravel pit during a spring cleaning a few years ago. In his memory he found pile of useless pebbles, and so he got rid of the rubbish.
The word jewel, picked up by the English tongue through French influences, derives from the Latin word jocale, which was phrased in the years of the Roman Empire. The actual meaning of the latin word would be “precious object”, or “little object of joy”, and I find this definition to be truthful still. Jewellery is objects made for pleasure; Little things that sparkle, surfaces that shine - chosen pieces that delights our senses. We desire to bring these treasures close, constructing the objects to fit closely on to our limbs and weigh into our skin, as if to adjoin them to our own bodies. Adornment, attached and moving with us. Objects to which we attribute sentimental qualities, and by doing so crooking the concepts of value in a material world. So it happens, that a bucket of white pebbles can be a treasure trove to one, but useless to another.
I am not a hell of a lover, but I understand the importance of practising these things. To be a maker of jewellery is an attempt to hold on to another – the object a bridge between my hands and you. The relation is way more tactile than we would like to mention, yet just happening in a brief rub between two different worlds. My perception of reality, channelled and manifested in a piece – but in the passing on it becomes something else, as it becomes your body and your story to tell.
But then, how can I hope to find your skin touched by something that I did not put weight to myself? How can I hope to see you grasp and hold on to something so tightly, if it did not come from my own rib cage ripped open? I find that deep conversations come with boldness and strive for honesty, from both parts. It is my job to give of myself, if I want to cut straight to a heart; The personal is the most professional for a jeweller.
Dialogue; making meaning or making sense
February, 2015 / London, UK
Voices: AT & PG
PG: What are you like? I feel like there is room for further clarification there.
AT: But I do not know how to answer that question, to express something like that in words. That is why we are talking, right? So you can figure it out in between the lines.
PG: It is as if you are suggesting that there exist human activities other than “gaze deeply into one’s navel”. I’m not sure what to make of this unconventional hypothesis.
AT: I might just happen to have a very wide navel. It stretches far. Imagine it bending over corners and wrap up buildings.
PG: This is a vivid mental image. A city of innumerable navels, each distended, cavernous, impossibly huge, ceaselessly wailing and warping themselves to absorb and consume the world.
AT: Millions of navels in this city. It is a jungle of them all trying to hunt each other like prey. But still, all are just staring into their own.
PG: Tiny bumps like eyes, endlessly registering themselves and forgetting. Occasionally, one grazes another; “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”
AT: An attempt to hold on to another, folding a bit of foreign skin into itself, the soft edge on the top of the navel tucked around. Very clumsy, but it feels warm. Yet, no one has ever seen the bottom of a navel, the mystery dark. We keep digging.
PG: In its way, that is one of the most romantic paragraphs I have ever read.
AT: Skin folding. Navels, poetic body parts. The scar from your mother.
PG: I used to dread that mine would get untied, somehow. That everything I had crammed tight inside, to burn for fuel, would come pouring out.
AT: You do not have to worry.
PG: It is funny. I am a puppy. The bleakness is such a bubbling pleasure. I always feel it rather misses the point, being like this, but there we are.
AT: I tried to give you some comfort. I do not have much faith in words. They are so certain. For most people, life is not as predictable as a dictionary. Today I tried to find a definition for the word ‘package’. Oxford Dictionary. All it would say was ‘parcel, box, etc’. Totally irrelevant. How stupid.
PG: A dictionary of feelings. Is there such a thing? You turn to ‘box’ and get a poem about containment, about utility.
AT: My interpretation was very emotional. I was hoping the dictionary would back me up. I do trust poetry, because it bends words into something unrecognisable.
PG: I think poetry lies a lot, but I am fine with that. There is no reason to rub anyone’s face in the truth.
AT: I like something to tell me the truth sometimes.
PG: Do you believe in art unreservedly?
AT: Of course it is not harmless. It is a luxury, yet a main artery.
PG: It is your country, right or wrong. When did you pledge your colours?
AT: I think I always was just, in it. As a child, all I wanted was to sit indoors and draw. The day care centre eventually banned me from using more paper and paints, so there would be enough for others. I liked playing with stones, sitting for hours on the gravel driveway. I was in the library most of my free time. I was fat.
PG: Are you that person still?
AT: I still like to play with stones, and I spend a lot of time on my own.
PG: I like people who understand how important it is to be alone, and to be silent, and to make things.
AT: For a long time I would feel guilty for all these hours I hid away, making or making up things. But I have come to terms with it, even if it took quite a while.
PG: So it is partially about the process of making?
AT: Yes, it is very important. The touch, the work, the relation building up.
PG: I love that model of artistic practice -
“my responsibility is to fall in love”.
AT: That is what I mean! I just could not find the right way to put it.
PG: I was talking about myself, mostly, though I’m glad you feel the same way. I think creative work is best when it is ritualistic. Is your loyalty to the rock or the soil?
AT: Neither. They do what has to be done, I follow seasons. Do you want me to answer this? It is all very bizarre.
PG: I have lost track of our conversation again. This is all very difficult.
AT: Same. With the riddle. Put me off track.
PG: I do not know the answer. Or want to. It is a feeling.
AT: Do you want me to read you a poem instead?
PG: I would like that.