Disembodied States: Tipping Slope

There is a place I would lie down and to my right was a window. The curtain the first thing I looked to in the morning. And when I lay there I felt full and fragile. And peaceful, though I don’t know if it was actually peaceful. But I remember it as peace. Like floating. Supported. Yes, like floating. And to recall it now brings a full, fragile feeling to my chest. The wind would shift the curtain forward, toward us, and back.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled, from the series Silueta Works in Iowa, 1978

Ana Mendieta, Untitled, from the series Silueta Works in Iowa, 1978

Eva Hesse, Untitled or Not Yet, 1966

Eva Hesse, Untitled or Not Yet, 1966

Emily Johnson, Body, 2012. An installation of imitation sinew, spit, beach rock; made for the ground beneath the 100 year old gymnasium at Headlands Center for the Arts. Overnight exposure by Harold Mendez. Sound by James Everest.

Emily Johnson, Body, 2012. An installation of imitation sinew, spit, beach rock; made for the ground beneath the 100 year old gymnasium at Headlands Center for the Arts. Overnight exposure by Harold Mendez. Sound by James Everest.

And how do you know we didn’t want it this way? Stuck and dying? How do you know we ever loved anything you took away? I didn’t want these kids — they were loud, laughing all the time, and running around, playing like deer and swimming — all the time swimming in that clear, beautiful, shining river. What a mess — their dirty, little feet! How do you know I ever loved my sister, my brother? And my fire, my home? Always full of relatives and relatives of relatives, eating and joking. See these chairs? This is where they sat. All the time, their butts on these chairs, resting their elbows on my table, leaning their chairs back just a bit, rocking back in for a snack. How do you know I’m not glad they’re gone? And the fish, so gorgeously red and plentiful. I used to watch then jump up waterfalls, their bodies surging. How do you know I miss them? This bit of pancake I made from this box is suiting me fine. Would you like some? There’s plenty. And maybe it makes me happy, sharing pancake with my enemy, watching you stuff your mouth full standing in the rubble of my own home, still smoldering logs outside where there used to be trees — now a brown, stinking river — and silence, because everything is dead. Except the sound of you digging through death, through extinction, through oblivion. Sweet oblivion. Maybe I like that coarse, crumbling, etching sound: hot, empty, loud, and not a drop of rain.

Do you remember rain?

Tracey Emin, Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again, 1997

Tracey Emin, Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again, 1997

Emily Johnson, CIB, 2009. Yup’ik Blook on recycled and new freezer paper, masking tape, mom’s handwriting, sharpie, Mni sota sand, Alaxsxaq sand.

Emily Johnson, CIB, 2009. Yup’ik Blook on recycled and new freezer paper, masking tape, mom’s handwriting, sharpie, Mni sota sand, Alaxsxaq sand.

Max Becher and Andrea Robbins, The Knife Thrower, from the series German Indians, 1997-1998

Max Becher and Andrea Robbins, The Knife Thrower, from the series German Indians, 1997-1998

Emily Johnson, 2011. Press image and research for Niicugni. Photo by Cameron Wittig.

Emily Johnson, 2011. Press image and research for Niicugni. Photo by Cameron Wittig.

Emily Johnson, Walking Photo, 2010.

Emily Johnson, Walking Photo, 2010.

Glenn Ligon, I Am Somebody, 1991

Glenn Ligon, I Am Somebody, 1991

Blackfish Mask, 2009. Beadwork by Karen Beaver; costume detail from The Thank-you Bar by Emily Johnson.

Blackfish Mask, 2009. Beadwork by Karen Beaver; costume detail from The Thank-you Bar by Emily Johnson.

Maximilian Franz Josef Cornelius Wolf and Johann Palisa, Star map, from the album Photographische Sternkarten (Photographic Star Maps), 1903

Maximilian Franz Josef Cornelius Wolf and Johann Palisa, Star map, from the album Photographische Sternkarten (Photographic Star Maps), 1903

Unknown, Untitled, n.d.

Unknown, Untitled [Five aurora borealis photographs made in Alaska], n.d.

Lantern Map, 2014. Set installation from Niicugni by Emily Johnso; drawings and map by Max Wirsing.

Lantern Map, 2014. Set installation from Niicugni by Emily Johnson; drawings and map by Max Wirsing. Click to enlarge.

One day last week there was a long, deep bank of clouds. If I shut my eyes just a bit the clouds took the form of a mountain range. I come from a place where there are always mountains in the distance so it was a pleasurable pleasurable thing to imagine the clouds as mountains. The sun was much larger than normal and bright bright pink. It sank down behind the mountain-clouds and for a moment the mountain-clouds glowed pink. I thought the sun had set. Then the bottom swell of the sun emerged in the space between the bottom of the mountain-cloud and the water of the gulf. Deborah and I were watching from the porch of our house. I whispered, “it looks like the sun is being birthed.” The super hot pink sun continued to lower itself in the small-looking — but in reality very huge — space between mountain-cloud and gulf-water. We watched and when it did finally set there emerged for me some kind of exhilarating, calm breathing space. Deborah and I stood in silence. We watched the colors of the gulf and sky change. Then we talked about the marvel of it, that a million different things can happen and shift in a day and at the end of it the sun goes down. My comfort in that very normal thing was big.

Tobias Wong, Bulletproof Quilted Duvet, 2004

Tobias Wong, Bulletproof Quilted Duvet, 2004

Amy Meissner, Spontaneous Combustion, 2013; wool, cotton, vintage domestic linens. Machine pieced, hand embroidered & appliquéd, hand quilted, 57 in. x 77 in. Permanent Collection, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Juror’s Choice Award, "Earth, Fire & Fibre XXIX" biennial exhibition, Anchorage Museum.

Amy Meissner, Spontaneous Combustion, 2013; wool, cotton, vintage domestic linens. Machine pieced, hand embroidered & appliquéd, hand quilted, 57 in. x 77 in. Permanent Collection, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Juror’s Choice Award, “Earth, Fire & Fibre XXIX” biennial exhibition, Anchorage Museum.

Li Lang, Riha, Zhaojue, Sichuan, China, from the series The Yi People, 2002

Li Lang, Riha, Zhaojue, Sichuan, China, from the series The Yi People, 2002

Jeanne Johnson (1950 - 2016). Yup'ik Mask; clay, feather, fingerprints, yarn.

Jeanne Johnson (1950 – 2016). Yup’ik Mask, c. 1984; clay, feather, fingerprints, yarn.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, U.A. Playhouse, Great Neck, New York, 1978

Hiroshi Sugimoto, U.A. Playhouse, Great Neck, New York, 1978

Zine stills from SHORE in Lenapehoking, 2016. SHORE by Emily Johnson. Photos by Ian Douglas. Zine by Julia Bither.

Zine stills from SHORE in Lenapehoking, 2016. SHORE by Emily Johnson. Photos by Ian Douglas. Zine by Julia Bither.

Do you remember when you came to build this (monument) and found our bones in the ground? It wasn’t always like this; these bones used to be mine and we were always running around (all over these hills). It’s sort of hard to imagine right now because there were so many of us! Feasting and dancing, talking and making things. There was this one time, we caught so many salmon we had a huge party and there was so much laughing. We were all gathered, right over there. I used to be a mother and this was my son and everyday we would walk to the top of this hill, just to look.

Martin Munkácsi, A Field Full of Children, Kissingen, Germany, 1929

Martin Munkácsi, A Field Full of Children, Kissingen, Germany, 1929

A tipping slope.

A whale.

Whale enters the room,

undulates its spine, rolls its huge belly forward, opens its mouth.

Water pours over its teeth, out the door, and down the stairs.

There is. Smell of rain.

Whale’s soft eye is gazing at everyone in the room.

Whale takes a deep breath

And then, there is the sound of breath.                      The floor sinks a bit under its weight, creaks.

And then, there is a sound the world has never heard.

All the people in the room                                      drop their heads

And their shoulders                                      Then their arms                                      Their hands                                        To the floor.

They are crawling forward in the sound, each one of them. Toward whale.

And they want to touch it, they want to remember, they want to hear, they want to rock into that belly.

They are whispering.                                            They are whispering without knowing they are whispering.

Ongoing. Everlasting. Forgotten sounds.

Sounds they forgot

Of their mothers.

Sounds their mothers made when they first entered the world.

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