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Dee Hehewerth

Art Dee Hehewerth FILTERED RECOLLECTIONS - October 2018

Renee Turner: The Warp and Weft of Memory

Interview with Renee Turner

Dieuwertje Hehewerth: Dear Renee,

Perhaps it’s good to start by admitting that it was the title that drew me to the exhibition. Spending an off-afternoon updating myself on Amsterdam’s exhibitions, I read the words “The Warp and Weft of Memory” in the Amsterdam Art Calendar. My mind was imbued with thoughts about Filtered Recollections – due to Pandemic’s October theme – and so the title synced with my current preoccupations, leading my feet to Castrum Peregrini. I had no idea what the exhibition would be. But I had once spent a rainy afternoon there attending a talk, and the space was amazing – so what was there to lose?

My experience of Castrum Peregrini is colored by a person named Gisèle. A person who, from the moment of stepping through the door, becomes a household name: one I am embarrassed by not knowing about; one I slyly ask questions about until an approximate profile is commandeered. She was an artist, a traveler, and now patron of the arts, whose house, after her passing, has been dedicated to researching and encountering art.

A quick scan of the website tells me this is only part of the place’s story. But Gisèle’s story is the one that is currently on show: on the lips of the gallery attendant, on the cover of the recently written book, and on the floor of her studio where you have exhibited your research – a research that has been conducted through her left-behind clothes.

Printed publication, “The Warp and Weft of Memory” designed by Cristina Cochior, 2018

My visit led us into conversation, leading me to ask if I could continue this conversation, in the form of an interview, in relation to the topic that had brought me there: Filtered Recollections. So here we are.

Since visiting the exhibition, I’ve been looking at the online component of your project – reading the letters between yourself and Kate, between yourself and Frans-Willem; looking at your documentation of Gisèle’s clothes. I realize the research is about remembering a person you’ve never met, and I wonder how it has been for you to engage in this conversation? One where you ask questions but are never questioned back?

Renee Turner: I suppose in one way or another, history is that kind of encounter or dialogue – we speak to those people, things or events that cannot talk back. Fragments left behind are inevitably space for projection where the present and past are woven together.

DH: The more I engage with the project, the more it feels to be planted in – and growing from – Gisèle’s wardrobe, rather than being about it. Which leads me to ask, what is your relation with Gisèle now that the project is concluding? Is the project still about her memory, or has it grown in other directions?

screenshot detail, “Notes”, Development and Interface by Manufactura Independente, image © Stichting Castrum Peregrini

RT: One of the thoughts that was consoling to me was that while I was working on this project, Gisèle’s biography was being written by Annet Mooij. She covered that territory. As an artist, I’m not sure that’s where my area of expertise or interest is situated. From the beginning, I wanted to focus on the encounter with her wardrobe and the strangeness of going through her closet while not being a relative. We’ve all had the experience of going through a deceased loved one’s belongings and deciding what should be thrown out and what should be given to other family members or friends. But this was not the case – nonetheless, I was a woman going through another deceased woman’s closet. Her things reveal something about her as an individual, but also tell stories that many women would recognize.

DH: I find it really interesting how your research leaves the confines of Gisèle’s wardrobe in the form of letters – or emails posing as letters – as noted by Frans-Willem. This letter writing allows the research to expand – beyond yourself, beyond Gisèle – through musing on topics beyond her clothes. Is the letter as a form important to your research? Has this decision shaped it into a particular form?

screenshot detail, “Epistolary” with Kate Pullinger, image © Stichting Castrum Peregrini

RT: The choice for epistolary as a form arose for different reasons. Barring one letter, I chose not to read Gisèle’s correspondences. And she had loads of them – she not only kept the ones written to her, but also when her parents died, and later her husband, she inherited back the letters she had sent to them too. (To live longer means letters are returned to sender.) I knew if I immersed myself in her letters I would occupy both her “I” and “eye”. I wanted to write from my perspective – that’s why one section is called “notes”. To me, it was like taking field notes from her closet – I was journeying into her private space.

But sometimes this felt too diary-like and hermetic. The correspondence with Kate Pullinger, who is a fiction writer, and Frans-Willem Korsten, who is Professor of Literature, opened things up again. These letters, or electronic mails (AKA emails), were sent while on my voyage into Gisèle’s closet, and like any correspondence written while journeying, they tell something about travels past and present, daily banalities and also something about the sender and the recipient.

screenshot of Semantic Mediawiki designed and developed by Andre Castro and Cristina Cochior, which feeds into the interface of http://www.warpweftmemory.net, image © Stichting Castrum Peregrini

Next to writing with Frans-Willem and Kate Pullinger, another way I broke out of my own insular thinking was having others involved who shaped and informed the narration. The backend of the site, which is a Semantic Mediawiki, was worked on extensively, and designed, by Andre Castro and Cristina Cochior. The database, containing around a thousand items, is much like Gisèle’s archiving: it has its own idiosyncratic logic. The frontend interface and development was designed by Manufactura Independente, who made the different registers legible. I also worked with Cesare Davolio who did the illustrations for the notes. He created an almost dream-like space through his drawings.

screenshot detail of an illustration by Cesare Davolio for “Semantics Matter”

DH: This letter-writing, paired with the focus on clothes, makes the research focus on, and work through, ephemeral forms. They are objects that have a transitory quality – a quality of carrying and covering – of existing as an in between. I’m curious if you see these relations? And more directly in relation to the project, what it is about these ephemeral objects/forms that catch your attention? What have you learned by exploring these mediums as a way to remember and engage?

RT: It is precisely the ephemerality that fascinates me. Like the body, Gisèle’s clothes will turn to dust, photographs taken to preserve memories will fade, or lose relevance, simply because those represented are no longer remembered. But there are always echoes. I thought often of Virginia Woolf’s line in To the Lighthouse where she says: “how once hands were busy with hooks and buttons; how once the looking-glass had held a face; had held a world hollowed out in which a figure turned.” I think by going into the intimate space of her closet, I imagined her figure. And I say imagined, because there is always an element of fiction in remembering, especially with things you have never known.

screenshot detail, “Semantic Tapestry”, Development and Interface by Manufactura Independente, image © Stichting Castrum Peregrini

DH: For me, the interesting thing about the exhibition has been how it dives into history, only be projected back into the present/future. But I’m curious what is it about the research that you really enjoy? Is there some unexpected part of the process that you learned greatly from, but is so obscure – or seemingly insignificant – that nobody thinks to ask?

RT: I think there are almost too many surprises I encountered to focus on one. Perhaps a list:

*Gisèle was a complex figure – her history is plural and contradictory – in 100 years one can live many lives, and it is a life that will be re-written by many. Lives are full of sediment to be excavated by future archeologists.

*She wore corseted dresses as a young woman, tattered and worn clothes during the war, went braless on the beach while wearing a kaftan in the seventies, and she wrapped herself in a warm woolen sweater in her twilight years.

*Her closet is representative of many women, but her cataloging is unique, obsessive if not pathological. I wondered if she suffered from some form of hypergraphia. She has closet inventories going back for decades.

Detail of Gisèle’s wardrobe inventories, “Semantic Tapestry”, image © Stichting Castrum Peregrini

*One of the challenges of representing textile digitally is how to show its tactility. The revelation for me was the simple act of folding the clothes on video. You hear the sound and the weight of the cloth. This is how touch came into the project. Go to the Semantic Tapestry and look under Theme: Folding.

Screenshot “Semantic Tapestry”, Theme: Folding, Development and Interfacffe by Manufactura Independente

 

*When I look in Gisèle’s mirror, I expect to see her posing in front of it as she so often did before, but instead I only see myself.

Gisèle’s mirror, 2018

Dee Hehewerth FOOD POLITICS - September 2018

Counting Down

Written by Dieuwertje Hehewerth

**Please note, this text may be triggering for those affected by eating disorders**

It’s been seven years since the day I got so sick of feeling inadequate that I decided to stop eating. Six years and 364 days since I began ten-kilometer hikes across Wellington’s waterfront and over its sheltering mountain on an empty stomach.

Six years and 363, 62, 61 days since I began sculling diet drinks to trick my stomach into being full – full of fizz, caffeine and fake sugar to erase hunger aches.

Six years and 360, 59, 58 days since I began counting every calorie I ate, every calorie I burnt, always making sure the ratio would be more energy burnt than gained.

Six years 357, 56, 55 days since (x) divided by 4.2 became my most practiced calculation as I scanned every food package and translated kilojoules to calories to measure every bite I ate.

Six years 354, 53, 52 days turning 51, 50, 49 kilograms into genuine surprise that my jeans were loose; before suddenly becoming nervous of how I appeared; before my parents began making small remarks that sent my heart racing; my head into an exhilarated panic. Did you know you could lose weight so fast?

48, 47, 46 kilograms before I started realizing this process was no longer wholly in my control.

45, 44 kilograms before I got my first scare of being sick: a simple cold sending me bedridden, unable to stand up.

43 kilograms as a full day of university became impossible; as arriving home, dragging my body over the doorstep, became an accomplishment, a relief and simultaneously a moment of panic – had I walked enough?

43 kilograms as a stranger on the street yells, “I HAVE TWO QUESTIONS FOR YOU: ONE, DO YOU EVEN EAT? AND TWO, IF I WOULD FUCK YOU, YOU WOULD FUCKING SNAP!”

(Of course with no confidence or energy to yell back, “THAT LAST POINT WASN’T EVEN A QUESTION!”)

43 kilograms as the word “anorexic” follows me around in whispers on the street. 43 kilograms as one morning, eyes glued shut from a flu my body had no energy to fight, I call my mother, asking her to help.  

And 43 kilograms does not even reach the greater extremes. Some getting down to 34, 33, 32, 1, 0. Flatline.

Waistline constantly measured, compared, re-measured. Eat; measure. Shit; measure. Graphs kept. Food lists stored. Comparisons made. Maintaining an eating disorder under the now careful watch of worried parents becoming a full-time job. Banned from working till “you get better.” Walking, running, rain or shine, till “you get better.” Family dinners becoming daily tortures until “you get better.” Arguments turning into screaming turning into, “IF YOU WOULD JUST STOP CARING THEN I COULD JUST GO DIE.”

(Yes. (Melo) dramatic.)

6 years since, “I only weigh myself in the morning -on the upstairs scales- with no pajamas on, and only if I have gone to the bathroom and taken my plate out. I never trust what the scale says if I weigh myself after a shower because I’m scared that the moisture on my skin will weigh me down.”

5 years since, “Perhaps I weigh less because I have less hair than I used to, so I could be  ‘healthier’ now than when I weighed this much but had long hair.“

4 years since, “people say I look better and they are proud of me but I feel like shit because I take the compliment as meaning I have put on weight. I often wish I was at my lowest again so that at least I know that I have anorexia, and not just some half attempt of it.”

And back to the top. Less eating, more walking, sculling, lying, panicking, attempting to vomit – vowing not to vomit – counting, calculating, weighing, measuring, weighing again, measuring again, and all the while the constant message being, “You’ll never have a normal relationship with food again,” as if a relationship with food is something to strive for. As if this obsession is comparable to a diagnosis of cancer. And believing it. And wanting to believe it. And enjoying believing it. Because this hyperactive obsession keeps this weight down, and under no circumstances does it feel okay for that number to creep up again.

43, 44, 45.

Tired of counting yet?

Tired of standing in the supermarket, scrutinizing the 2 calorie difference between this 100 ml of yogurt versus that 100ml yogurt at the other store, and do you really want to force your way out of this supermarket empty-handed once more?

Are you tired of pretending to yourself that you are gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, meat-industry intolerant, cutting out entire food groups to shrink the supermarket so the plethora of food that is on display becomes unreachable? Unthinkable? Untemptable?

Are you tired of being scared of the feeling of hunger, filling your stomach with fillers thinking, “as soon as I’m full then I won’t have to eat anymore?” The fear of food warping into a fear of hunger making you eat more to take away the fear that came out of the fear of the food you are now using as a solution to solve the fear of eating?

Are you tired of looped logics making your head spin so much your stomach curls into a ball, so sick to your stomach you almost feel hungry or violently ill but you no longer know the difference?

“I have started a new nervous habit: beginning at the furthest reach of my arms – at my ankles; the insides of my shoulders; the recesses of my spine – I dig my fingernail into the soft, upper layer of my skin and begin drawing deep lines up the length of my legs and along the creases of my ribs. Upon reaching a natural end, I stop, clean the skin from beneath my nail, and start again. I finish when I am covered in red scratch marks; or when the time spent on the activity becomes more nerve-wracking than the state of mind that began it. I dress, and continue my day with the surface of my limbs and back stinging.“

It’s not called Anorexia Nervosa for nothing. But then An – “without” + orexis “appetite” does not make sense because I’m constantly hungry. It’s not that I don’t want food it’s just that I can’t have food – can’t have food without this great panic spreading under my skin so nervous and filled with energy that it pushes outwards, pushing at the boundaries of my skin till it feels so tight it could burst. If only there was less beneath it to make some room, to release this tension, “just a small buffer.” Just some breathing space. Just one less number, one movement downwards so I know I’m moving in the right direction. Down, not up. Less, not more.

It’s been seven years since that day.

Every seven years every molecule in our body is renewed, so shouldn’t this be a new body? Shouldn’t this “new” body be able to escape the fears the “old” one had, the one disposed of, one molecule at a time; the one that started the panic? The one that decided that the way to deal with anxiety was to shrink? That the way to deal with feeling incompetent was to slowly disappear? That the best way to feel nothing would be to cease to exist?