Flashes of Light, Echoes of Drumbeats - VISUAL

VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art &
The George Bernard Shaw Theatre

Flashes of Light, Echoes of Drumbeats

In response to Clíodhna Timoney’s exhibition Flashes of Light, writer and VISUAL’s Curator of Editorial Rosa Abbott has written a text reflecting on various urban and rural geographies, electrification, and the liberatory potential of rave culture. It takes the form of a series of letters to the late writer Mark Fisher, whose text ’Baroque Sunbursts’ was a reference point for Timoney‘s exhibition

14 September 2022

Dear Mark,

Last week, I travelled to New York for the first time. I stayed in a chain hotel a short walk from Times Square. On the plane over, I read Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, about the lost queer cruising grounds that once surrounded the now-famous tourist attraction and advertising mecca. Walking back to my room in the evenings, I scanned for remnants of the gay bathhouses and adult movie theatres that once lined the streets. The area struck me as a bricolage in which nothing is precious and nothing is ever fully erased. Old brick townhouses are routinely ripped down and replaced by steel and glass towers, but sometimes they’ll leave an outline on a neighbouring structure, like a tattoo. One day, I looked up and saw the side of a building clad with what was once the mirrored interior of a nightclub. A pink sink was still affixed to the wall on the third floor. I imagined washing my hands in it and peering into the mirror, reflecting a room filled with palm plants and cigarette smoke. A once-private and nocturnal space now rudely exposed to the outside world, it felt like an archaeological ruin of the recent past.

All of this made me think of your writings on ‘hauntology’; how the past returns to haunt the present. Your books present their own hauntology to me, stalking my imagination after reading. I hope you don’t mind me writing to you. Returning to London yesterday, the air felt heavier. Next week is the Autumn Equinox: the point in the year when night surpasses day, beginning the slow descent into darkness that culminates a few days before Christmas.

Yours,

Rosa



22 September 2022,

Dear Mark,

I’m in the Link Gallery at VISUAL Carlow, holding a glass of white wine and orbiting a group of sculptures by Clíodhna Timoney. I’m looking at a temporary shelter she has built – a timber frame upon which a horseshoe is pinned. On one side, cut-out shapes painted blue and brown form a kind of landscape. On the other, corrugated metal sheeting is camouflaged with an iridescent foil, evoking a more celestial sphere. Fossilised branches and mounds of upturned earth demarcate the ground. A set of car tyres have been skinned and split open, laid flat like pelts.

Nearby, a wire frame is filled with intestinal forms, dense and coiling, forming a strange undergrowth. Blue lights form a radial cluster beneath it, sweeping the room in a ring-like motion. Outside it’s getting dark, and the reflections on the surface of the pond, visible through the floor-length windows, feel like part of the installation – the reeds illuminated, turning an unnatural shade of green.

Yours,

Rosa



25 September 2022

Dear Mark,

Last winter, I brought my boyfriend to see a bridge near where I grew up, known locally as the ‘Spooky Bridge’. The paths that lead to the ‘Spooky Bridge’ don’t show up on Google Maps. Instead, I took the advice of my father, who spent a semi-feral childhood playing outdoors in the early 1970s: ‘Go down Lad Lane, over the style, between the fields and cross the Calder. Follow the canal and then cut through the car park of the Navvy’ (that is, the Navigation Inn).

On the way, I kept noticing a distinct smell. I don’t know the name of the plant that produces it, but it grows by waterways and has thick, blister-like pods you can burst if you squeeze them hard between your thumb and forefinger. That smell made me feel 14 years old again, triggering flashbacks of walking this route with a 30GB Zen Creative MP3 player, blasting downloads from Limewire. I wasted several heatwaves indoors loading files onto that media player, hoping someone would ask to see my playlists and be impressed by my taste. In reality, I listened alone, walking through hedgerows and by the bend in the river.

Revisiting it, the Spooky Bridge turned out to be even eerier than I remembered: a tunnel of white girders strewn with empty cans of cider, graffiti tags, and cigarette butts, stinking of urine. It also had a haunting echo. We took turns shouting into the abyss before scuttling through in search of streetlamps out the other end that would lead us to a pub with, hopefully, a warm fire.

Yours,

Rosa



29 September 2022

Dear Mark,

I download a video file by Cliodhna and watch it on my monitor. While it plays I write the following notes:

Echoing drum, wet reverb, parched grass

Grainy (VHS?) – grain of tape, grain of fields

Wash – let image and sound wash over

Hay in a tractor, car tyres rolling over gravel

Red lights caught in the mist

Floodlights swaying on the horizon

Dusk behind a white cottage, a lamp flickers on

Puddles of mud reflect the sky

The beat picks up now

Hi-hats tsk tsk tsk tsk

Remember being 17 years old in the Nerve Centre in Derry

Drinking Jaegerbombs, with sticky lips and matted hair

Going to Chris and Julies’ over the Donegal border, pointing up at the sky and exclaiming to one another how bright the stars were

Peeing into a stream

Not quite knowing where we were

My brother ringing home at 3am to tell dad he loved him

Yours,

Rosa



8 October 2022

Dear Mark,

I first came across your text ‘Baroque Sunbursts’ while writing my dissertation in 2018. You wrote of historic carnivals and communal gatherings on public land; how the emergence of capitalism depended on land enclosure, and by extension, the eradication of a rural leisure culture. Rave, you argued, has the potential to return us to a communal, pre-privatised sense of festivity. Citing Herbert Marcuse, you referred to this as the ‘spirit of the world that could be free’.

Gathered in a field in Hackney Marshes, listening to techno on a portable electronic device, a group of friends and I tried to invoke this ‘spirit’ in the summer of 2020, during a brief spell when we thought Covid was over. After months at home, our professional selves faded from memory and, for the first time in our adult lives, time seemed endless, elastic. We shifted our attention to laughter, leisure, the feeling of moving and inhabiting our bodies. In nightclubs and raves, it’s common to experience a loss of boundaries. The music, the lights, the darkness, the alcohol: all serve to dissolve our sense of self in the collective spirit. ‘Like those baroque sunbursts in which rays from another world suddenly break into this one’, you told us, this reminds us that ‘other systems, other spaces are still possible.’

Yours,

Rosa



18 October 2022

Dear Mark,

Carlow was the first town in Ireland or Britain to be lit by hydroelectricity. Power was generated at Milford Mill, formerly a flour mill on the banks of the River Barrow, and the lights were switched on for the first time in 1891, the night Charles Stewart Parnell addressed a town meeting. Despite Carlow paving the way, many Irish villages didn’t get connected to the grid until the advent of the Rural Electrification Scheme, which brought electricity to 1.75 million people between 1946 and 1964. A few years ago, at a talk for EVA International in Limerick, I listened to a man describe electric lights coming to his rural town in the 1950s and being awe-struck as he saw the landscape of the ‘Golden Vale’ illuminate for the first time: discs of light strung like pearls through the landscape, bobbing up and down over the valley.

Yours,

Rosa



26 October 2022

Dear Mark,

Light has always been linked to capital and commerce. Think of the Christmas lights going up in a town square, the ambient glow of shops on a high street. In my hometown, it was the shopkeepers who banded together and campaigned for electric lighting. As well as stimulating consumption, the introduction of artificial light allowed production to extend beyond daylight hours.

The word ‘gas’ comes from the Greek khaos, meaning chasm, void, or empty space. In fact, the introduction of lighting, first gas and then electric, has robbed us of the void. Sometimes I think of what is lost: inky darkness so thick you could swim in it. The brilliance of stars on a clear night. Bats circling freely in the sky. And yet it’s hard to argue we were better off without it.

Another Greek word I like, chthonic, relates to the underworld and also to the earth, soil, or mud. Standing in opposition to the Apollonian world of light and progress, the chthonic is dangerous and consuming, but it also produces bounties. Dionysus is a chthonic god, ruling over grape harvests, winemaking, fruit and vegetation, fertility, festivity, and theatre. Using wine, music, and dance, he drove his followers into unselfconscious religious ecstasy and ritual madness. Though subversive and destructive, his role in the ancient pantheon was recognised as vital.

Yours,

Rosa



1 November 2022

Dear Mark,

It’s 5:57am and I’m leaving a party in a row of former warehouses in Clapton that have been converted into shared living spaces. People are still drinking and dancing – many now missing parts of their Halloween costumes. I put on my coat and exit through a garage to what seems like a normal residential street of terraced houses.

I check Citymapper and wait for the 253. It’s still dark when I step onboard, but as the bus trails its way along an inner-city A-road, light begins to suffuse the streetscape – blue at first, then warming to an egg-yolk yellow. Shopkeepers are unlocking shutters and putting signs out on the pavement. I observe other stragglers walking home from other parties. They’re easy to differentiate from those wrapped up warm and heading to work.

No one wants to return to the void, but then again, no rave lasts forever. At my apartment, I take a hot shower, then lie down. I close my eyes and see strobe lights flicker behind my eyelids. A drumbeat reverberates in my ears, keeping me company as I drift toward sleep. I wake up elated, as if a chink has opened into a different world. As I get up and put a frying pan on the hob, I feel it gently close.

Yours,

Rosa