The Public Diary

by Sara Muthi

In today’s ever increasing digital society the use of pen and paper is becoming less frequent. While this is unfortunate, it does allow us to be more appreciative of the few opportunities we have to sit down and temporarily let our hand take over our mind. Such is the experience of Milena Matejko’s The Public Diary as part of the First Fortnight Festival 2018.

The First Fortnight Festival is Ireland’s leading mental health arts festival, giving us an opportunity at the beginning of every year to reflect and be kind to ourselves, make positive decisions and start the year off on the right foot. The Public Diary gives us ample opportunity to release our inner thoughts or creative energy in a safe communal space, without fear of judgment as all visitors have a communal understanding, and perhaps a subconscious need for such a place of acceptance to exist.

Initially The Public Diary was an interactive installation developed by Matejko in which notebooks were installed in each public toilet as an opportunity for the public to express their thoughts, troubles and experiences through writing and sketches. Such conceptual projects which depend on public response as an outcome can often be hit or miss, however the need for such a project was quickly realised when the notebooks began running out of pages. The ingredient to the project’s success laid in its activation of catharsis; the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

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The First Fortnight Festival picked up this work and facilitated it on a greater scale at the site of their 2017 festival in the Smock Alley Theatre. Here, a collection of entries were built, consisting of intricate drawings to humorous doodles to serious confessions to encouraging words, all of which rang relatable to most who experienced the work. Such a library of public entries could no longer be held onto by Matejko and needed a widespread showcase. Picked up for a second year the First Fortnight Festival 2018 enabled an interactive installation of such entries on a large scale, grand prints highlighting the most bold, personal and impactful entries that wrap the space of the Culture Box while projected images of entries run on a loop. Entries range from “”i love my friend more than my girlfriend”, “occasionally i feel like the loneliest person in the world” and my personal favorite “i bought a pair of jeans for 29 euro just now because i was ashamed to come into the theatre with a tracksuit on”. Such a grand portrayal of peoples intimate thoughts and expression resonates the fact that your own intimate thoughts are not your own, but are shared between countless others around you. There lies in the impact of Matejko’s project.

When the private becomes public one of two things can happen, shame or empowerment. Shame only occurs at a level in which the private was made public without our consent or intention; a regrettable circumstance. No one wants their private diaries to be publicised. Empowerment on the other hand is much different. By articulating your thoughts and expressing your energies in a in a public book you are taking control of your thoughts, both good and bad, in a gesture that solidifies to you and everyone who reads or takes part that they too are not alone. Confidence and strength in your humanity is the goal, an achievement none of us can claim 100% of the time, but as projects like The Public Diary remind us to strive and promote.

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Through facilitating and now exhibiting this creative means of expression as a library of public diaries Matejko aims to build connection, compassion and a sense of relatability to those around you. With hopes of encouraging the public to share further and add to the building library of creative expression The Public Diaries’ work is not done, nor can it end until every mental health stigma perpetuated in our society is exposed as untrue. Matejko creates a safe, comfortable space in which the public can engage with the work on a deeper contemplative level, a project who’s success is a testament to the dire need for more safe opportunism to share can be facilitated and a testament to the important work the First Fortnight Festival is contributing to our society.

The Public Diary project was developed by Milena Matejko, curated by Sara Muthi. Part of the First Fortnight Festival 2018, exhibited at the Culture Box at 12 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, the show runs from 5th January to 20th of January 2018. Photography by Milena Matejko.

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Exchanging Embers

by Roisin Jenkinson

I stepped into a semi darkened room partitioned in the middle (performers and installation on the inner side, audience on the outer side) with intriguing, at times unsettling, sounds played by David Stalling, while EL Putnam first appeared covered head-to-toe by a dark cloak. I took a spot on the floor, engrossed by her slow and precise movements, as she slowly lifted the cloak to pier out at the audience, to then remove and drop the cloak on the floor, where it remained for the rest of the performance and had become forgotten as we became transfixed by EL and her skirt decorated with lights.

On the darkest day of our calendar year, that is when the magic happened. Ember was a captivating and intoxicating performance of light, sound and the body that transported me to another world. EL interacted with two small cameras that were strategically placed on the floor before her, by distancing herself to closing in on each of the cameras, to tenderly yet decisively picking up each camera and moving it around her body, to holding it close to the lights she wore. This translated to all manner of colours which were projected, through two projectors, onto the entire wall behind EL and David, and also onto themselves, creating a temporal painting. It was aesthetically exquisite.

As EL responded through movement to David’s sound composition, creating a dialogue between them, there was an inquisitive nature to EL’s movements, such as reaching out a hand as if there is something just beyond our physical and mental capacity. This could suggest that I had been reading into the performance too deeply, but then I ask the question, why do we perform? There are many other ways to communicate other than speaking. When we perform, we create a dialogue revolving around a certain topic and between certain people. We learn from each other and learn from ourselves. In regard to Ember, perhaps we have not found the words to articulate the experience and emotions this performance evoked, however through movement and sound, something in each of us (performers and audience) has been realised and translated through colour and beauty.

To understand more completely and carry the energy first lit by EL and David, allow Embers to exist in your daily conversations. Exchange thoughts on the visual aspect of this performance and performance art in general, but also on the spiritual unseen aspect, the winter solstice, celtic heritage, and ultimately, where we come from and where we are going. What is this unknown other we reach for?

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The artist’s response

by EL Putnam

At the heart of Ember is an ineffability — an inability to express something in words. This something is an angst; not anxiety in the sense of fearfully fretting about, but in the sense described by Heidegger in Being and Time as a quality of uncanniness and indefiniteness, the nothing and nowhere, that corresponds with being in the world.[1] The particular intersection I inhabit in Ember is that between the corporeal and the digital, with the digital as a mode of expression and mediation. My aim is to navigate this terrain—a space that has become mundane in our culture of ubiquitous computing and social media. However, it is a space that doesn’t cease to surprise and provoke me as an artist and a human being, resulting in an ambivalent relationship with digital technology where I am both excited and disturbed by its capabilities.

Thus in Ember I turn to gesture as a means of communicating what I am unable to put into words. Giorgio Agamben describes how gesture is “essentially always a gesture of not being able to figure something out in language.”[2] Gestures are the actions taken when we are unable to articulate or are at a loss of what to say. At the same time, Agamben describes how gestures are actions as means without ends — a mode of performing that is not working towards a specific outcome or finality. I find a lot of potential in this space of mediality and it is a space that attracts me as a performance artist. As I create images of light and shadow using my body as the manipulator, David Stalling crafts sounds that respond to and drive my actions. I am caught in the middle of a simulation of fire, designed to emulate smoldering coals that are at the brink of being extinguished or re-ignited. I am intrigued by the images created in this scene, using the tools of fiber optics and the two webcams feeding into the slitscan projections that fill the space. At first my intention was to remain static, to let my subtle movements slowly coerce the fiber optics in relation to the cameras placed at my feet. I found these parameters to be too constraining, however, and so I decided to pick up the cameras, further integrating the relationship between the bodily and digital gestures. As I lift these cameras with one in each hand, connected by a wire to the Raspberry Pis that are generating the images, I am reminded of the infamous photograph emerging from Abu Ghraib years ago, when awareness was brought to the torture of prisoners in the prison in Iraq. I wonder if anyone picks up on this reference. I pause in the moment; letting it linger, but not exhausting it. Later, an audience member mentions to me in an email the evocation of the image and how it conveyed vulnerability, though this vulnerability is hybridized with images of power.[3] I find this description appropriately captures some of the seemingly paradoxical emotions driving the performance.

I continue my actions, cultivating a gestural dialogue with David through light and sound, bringing together the two cameras and holding them at my abdomen, where the brightest source of light sits. I realise that the relationship of the cameras to my body is similar to an ultrasound during an antenatal scan, which makes me smile as I was 16 weeks pregnant at the time of this performance. At that point, I was not visibly pregnant, and few audience members knew of my state, so I was aware that this reference would not be caught by many witnesses, if at all. That does not bother me as I claim a right to opacity[4] in my work as an artist; an ability to express without having to be explicit though still capable of engaging with others.

Roisin notes in her response to the performance how there are moments where I reach out to the audience, though it is unclear what I am trying to reach out to. Since I was performing in front of the projectors, the brightness of these lights inhibited my ability to fully see who was present in that dimmed side of the room. As a way of drawing strength, I tried to engage a relationship to the audience through eye contact, though this was an impossible task as I was unable to clearly see who I was looking at. I compensated through bodily gestures as I lifted my arms to reach to what was beyond the limits of my visible perception. Roisin’s description of how this led her to consider why perform if not to explore other means of communication touches a key quality of the work. Much of what I am trying to express in Ember I am unable to do so verbally, though still desire to share. Emotional sensations, colour and beauty emanate from the gestural connections created through these moments. In the middle of all of this is an unknown, but an unknown that is experienced mitsein — being together.

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Ember by EL Putnam and David Stalling, a co-production with the Complex, was performed at the Ground Floor Gallery on 21 December 2017. Photographs are by Paul McGrane.

 

[1] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 176.

[2] Giorgio Agamben, Means Without End, trans. Vincenzo Binetti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 59.

[3] Glenn Loughran, “Personal Correspondence with Author,” January 10, 2018.

[4] See Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).