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365 Days: you will never know

Exhibition Essay

By Sorouja Moll

365 Days: you will never know, as with everything I do, is a response to my genuine connection to the land upon which I live. This location is embedded into my positionality. I identify as mixed race; my mother was Indonesian and my father was Dutch. I am a manifestation of a colonial and intergenerational struggle. I actively locate myself, and my privilege, within contexts, histories, and presence, and for this project the land plays a significant role. Every morning I walk to the water’s edge of Lake Ontario (Treaty 13), which includes the land of Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Annishaanabe, Haudinsaunee, Chippawa, and Wendat Peoples, as well as many diverse First Nations communities, Metis People, and Inuit. During its duration at the Tom Thomson Gallery, 365 Days: you will never know will be held on the traditional territory of Anishnabek Nation: The People of the Three Fires known as Ojibway, Odawa, and Pottawatomie Nations, and Peoples of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. I reside in Tkaronto, which is Mohawk, meaning “the place in the water where the trees are standing.” I am grateful to be part of the land known as the Dish with One Spoon, which is a covenant that was made amongst Indigenous Nations, European Settlers, and all newcomers with a promise to be caretakers of the land, water, and all beings. Among the ways I take on my responsibility of care-taking is through my teaching, nurturing my relations, and my interdisciplinary research creation process, which pursues creative and critical ways to make space for voices to be heard, and stories to be told, acknowledged, and remembered.


I begin with Sylvia Plath from her 1962 radio play Three Women:  

  

I am as solitary as grass. What is it I miss?
Shall I ever find it, whatever it is?
  


On March 14, 2020, the morning following the official Lockdown, I emerged from my east end Toronto neighbourhood, cut across Queen Street, and walked along Coxwell to Lakeshore. The boulevard’s usual acceleration of discontented traffic was apocalyptically still; so, I crossed on a red and headed along the tree-lined pathway toward Ashbridge’s Bay. Between the bud-less maples and huddled evergreens, small windowed openings shimmered the crest of Lake Ontario under the rising sun. 

  

Landing on the beach’s wide swath of sand, I approached the early spring shoreline; the sky was an ironic blue as it touched a horizon of wakeless water.  Along my path, I picked up a lone stone that caught my eye — “a stone of exception”— I thought, a figurative keepsake and play on words for the state of exception the government had thrown its citizens into. As I walked beside the water’s edge (on an otherwise abandoned beach), I spied a figure: like me, and Plath, solitary. Cast into silhouette and anonymous in the sun’s eastern rise, the person looked outward into the mocking blue as if waiting for a bus, or some sign gesturing toward things to come. 

  

Instead of Plath, The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog comes to mind. Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 painting captures, in oil on canvas, the Romantic style of his period. Friedrich’s iconic subject stands solitary with his back to the viewer upon a rocky precipice against a cloud piled sky. The Wanderer has gained a reputation as a metaphor for the unknown future. The compositional placing of his subject’s back towards the observer is known as Rückenfigur. The artistic device is borrowed from the German term for “a turned figure.” The figurative play creates an illusion of space, an imagined yet unseen and undisclosed perspective, and a witnessing of self —watching like an elusive shadow. Rückenfigur becomes a kind of staging ground, an “open place,” or “an acting platform” where persona and shadow selves meet (Golston 143).  

  

As an early morning observer of shoreline pedestrians, Rückenfigur sightings prompt me to pause: I try to see what is being seen, and to imagine and empathize with the turned figure on the shore. And I realize, I too, am solitary. As I stand on the cusp of the ever-shifting shoreline, the ever-rising dawn, and ever-changing world, I sense my unfixed state:  I am located neither “here” or “there.” For 365 days, I reflected about how being solitary is also held within an in-betweenness or a liminal state that Victor Turner (1984) explains as a process of ritual, a passage through detachment during which the ritual subjects are in a temporal and spatial estrangement from their previous social condition (Turner 33). Liminality, as Turner argues, is an ambiguous state. Its etymology arrives from limen or Latin for “threshold” (41). Georgio Agamben (1998) would call the ritual subject homo sacer or bare life. Framed within the global pandemic, individuals are cast into these states: “the scene of disease, despair, death, suicide, [and] the breakdowns without compensatory replacement of normative, well-defined social ties and bonds. It may be anomie, alienation, angst, the three fatal alpha sisters of many modern myths […] it may be the interstitial domain of domestic witchcraft, the hostile dead, and the vengeful spirits of strangers …” (Turner 46). It is also a sacred place: a state of creativity, emancipation, and transformation because liminality appears at what may be called a “natural break” when time is out of joint [1] prompted paradoxically by procedures that are mandated by sociocultural necessity; this open place also contains unfettered potential for the incubation and “flow” of new ideas, symbols, paradigms, beliefs (Turner 54) as well as transgression.


Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1976, 2008) identifies “flow” as a holistic ritual of being in the “zone,” or embodying a stream of un/consciousness. The normalized cogent distinctions among self, time, and environment disappear and merge action and awareness, centre attention, relinquished ego, and ignite a temporary suspension of belief (Turner 58); it is an autotelic site meaning that goals or rewards outside itself become unnecessary (Turner 58). Thus, the process within liminality is antithetical to the demands of capital structures. “Flow,” along these liminal shorelines, transports the subject beyond the routinized plane of everyday and to potential alchemic locations of creation, resistance, and refusal. “Perhaps [transgression], as Michel Foucault suggests, “is like a flash of lightning in the night which, from the beginning of time, gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies, which lights up the night from the inside, from top to bottom, yet owes to the dark the stark clarity of its manifestation, its poised singularity” (35).


The fascination of the solitary figure and its liminal landscape manifests as a long philosophical and literary history with such figures as Nietzsche, Emerson, Woolf, Thoreau, Whitman, et al. Aristotle likened “the solitary” to a god. Public sculptures mark spaces where water meets land with monuments. Les Voyageurs, in Marseilles, for instance evokes memories of travellers and the parts of themselves they leave behind; The Little Mermaid on a Denmark shore by Edvard Eriksen depicts a mermaid’s wait to be human. Rachel Moseley, in her book Women at the Edge: considers the gendered significance in the representations of the haunting figure of the woman on a coastline's perilous edge, a repeated performance encoded to symbolize periods of transition or profound social change. 


Diana Taylor (2016) explains that performance “while reiterated or continuous, are not all of a piece. They evolve. They contain all sorts of interruptions, repetitions, episodes, and other short-lived acts within a broad, ongoing structure” (24). The rhetorical declaration “you will never know” in the exhibition’s title, for instance, enters into public discourse fleeting moments of ambiguous, intimate, and singular experiences performed over the course of 365 days. A Rashomon Effect conveying how every witness’s testimony is different and therefore truth remains elusive. The projected visual and material choreography of the reanimated solitary images, shoreline videos, and stones vibrate with acknowledged and unacknowledged ontological frequencies across changing epistemologies, physical states of being, and new witnesses that produce evolving forms of performance:


What are the million stories held within a singular stone?

“Performance, as Taylor continues, “operates as vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity” (24-45); thus, 365 Days: you will never know delivers a counter-memory and counter-memorial to make visible and knowable the unknowable affect and singularity in private /public solitary selves.

Are we both thinking about the pandemic, or just about how the flow of waves circle                     circle 

                         retreat                         retreat and circle a stubborn stone on the shore like a reluctant embrace, or how a resting cormorant warms her open wings under the rise of a yellow sun and appears like a superhero, or 

  

how am I going to pay my hydro bill this month? or, 

  

[…] Are you okay? 

    

Will I ever see you again […]?  

  

So, at dawn each morning I walk to the edge of Lake Ontario’s shoreline. I photograph and witness the witnesses of change. I retrieve a stone to mark the day, and document these singular flashes. With a found stone I also discover metaphors: singular yet connected, testament and enigma, and change ever changing with the demanding ingress and egress of waves. We are [each] small monuments. Proof: I was once here. This time will be remembered —in each of us. This time when gathering, touching, and embracing will never be the same— differently.

  

In solitude each and every one holds stories that mark this unstable ground shifting in shadow in stone in our selves. With faces turned toward each rising day, the shoreline (wherever one might find it) is an “open place” where shadows and selves meet to be in the unknown and present with the sun sky wind and waves continuing nevertheless. Singular beings at thresholds where grief, love, fear, hope, and transformation arrive and retreat seeking “that fragile, fluctuating centre which forms never reach” (Artaud 13). Standing solitary, among one another looking toward the horizon, I recall Plath's blade of grass and like the sky water shore, we are also bound to one another, regardless, on the precipice of what Plath observes as “the yellow minute before the wind walks.”  


Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford           University Press

Artaud, Antonin. (1958). The Theatre and Its Double. New York: Grove Press

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1976). The Creative Vision: A Longitudinal Study of Problem Finding     in Art. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

——, (2008). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial    Modern Classics. 

Foucault, Michel. (1977). “A Preface to Transgression.” Language, Counter-  Memory,          Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Golston, Michael. (2015). Poetic Machinations: Allegory Surrealism, and Postmodern Poetic Form.       New York: Columbia University Press

Moseley, Rachel. (2013). “Women at the Edge: Encounters with the Cornish Coast in           British Film and Television.” Continuum: This is the Sea: Cinema at the Shoreline 27.5       (2013): 644-662. Web.

Plath, Sylvia. (1962) Three Women. BBC radio play. The Estate of Sylvia Plath.

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 author. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New Folger's ed. New York: Washington Square Press/Pocket Books, 1992.

Taylor, Diana. (2019). Performance. Durham: Duke University Press.

Victor, Turner (1984). From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York: PAJ      Publications.

[1] Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. (I.v.189–190)

 

SOROUJA MOLL

365 Days: you will never know

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ABOUT THE ARTIST

Dr. Sorouja Moll has a PhD in Humanities and Interdisciplinary Studies (Concordia) in the fields of Communication, English, and Art History and an MA in English from the University of Guelph. As an interdisciplinary communication scholar, teacher, and artist her research-creation is interested in all forms of media and their manifestations in, among other areas, nation, memory, and identity. Moll’s current area of research includes durational meditations as an everyday practice in which transgression, enunciation, ambiguity, and emancipation can be explored through multimedia performance, site installation, photography, painting, creative writing, and research. Interests also comprise performance in|as photography and the role of "future witness" creating cross|intra temporal conversations (Rebecca Schneider, 2007). As an award-winning author, Sorouja’s writing has been profiled on CBC Radio and published in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Canadian Theatre Review, as well as academic and literary journals, and books. As a playwright and performance artist, Sorouja's work has been presented across Canada.