Many mythologies call on the lonely washer-woman as a symbol of death and mourning.  There is a Portuguese version of this myth, call Moura, and a Japanese version called………The most famous is the Celtic Bean Nighe (a sub-type of the Banshee), or “washer-at-the-ford” who occupies lonely pools and cataracts, an fortells of imminent death by washing the clothes of the soon-to-be deceased. I came across this archetype in a book of Old English and Irish folklore that lived at my father’s house when I was a kid….this work calls upon that archetype, certainly…there is something about it which I find completely compelling as an image, this idea of washing the clothes of the dead, maybe because clothes are so personal, and literally stand in for the body in the body’s absence…laundry, when hung out to dry, has an undoubtedly ghostly or uncanny quality…There was always something strangely mournful and haunted about my mother’s attitude to laundry, especially white laundry…I say haunted, because the level of detailed attention she pays to this ritual can be directly traced to her upbringing, having spent time as a domestic help on a sheep station in NSW as a child, and later, in and out of institutional care, most notably the St Margaret’s home for unwed mother’s, where heavily pregnant young women were expected to work grueling hours in the laundry basement of the hospital in which they were unwillingly housed…These stories and the residues of these traumas populated my childhood.  I was in Portugal once, in an old monastery, where running water was scarce and all laundry had to be done by hand in water that we drew by hand from the river. Rivers a carriers of spirits, for sure, they have an incredibly potent mythological character, it doesn’t matter where you go…I washed the clothes and thought about my mother, and my grandmother, and my great grandmother, and my great, great, great grandmother, who was born on the banks of a river. I thought about her mother’s blood literally running into the water,  and of the settlers a few miles down the creek, washing their own clothes, and the clothes of their children. I thought about the violence of that river, of its ghosts- the banks of the Hawksbury and Hunter rivers are dotted with massacre sites, all of which, like most massacre sites in Australia, remain largely unknown and unacklowledged. I feel a passionate necessity to give voice to those histories which have been silenced, to give those ancestors a place to speak and have a presence. this is what a memorial does, I think, it gives the dead a place to speak.  But I’m not interested in monuments, or the monumental- official monuments certainly serve an important function, and there are many beautiful and powerful monuments in the world,

 

I live in Berliin, which is a city of monuments...the Jewish Memorial is an affecting experience, but isolated- much more important to me, personally, are the three Stumble Steine that sit on the pavement outside my house, which I walk over every day, which bear the names of people who lived in my building who were murdered in the camps…i think it's too easy to vitrine these histories, place them somewhere that is remote from our everyday lives, because the reality of atrocity make us uncomfortable... but the survivors of atrocity, or war, of trauma, their experience of those histories is totally everyday...atrocities are enacted often on a totally quotidien basis, it's not just about bullets and bloodshed, its also about paperwork, and infinitesimal restrictions and trespasses on the everyday lives of people that insidiously grow...atrocity is enabled by maintaining a subtle grip of fear over he space of ordinary life,  I’m following a similar trajectory with Bone Library, and with the River’s Children, all the Unsettling Suite, really…official monuments can have a tendency towards chauvinistic oversimplification, and to become agents of the broader mechanisms of official history, which I’m very invested in challenging…this is certainly evident in Austrlalia, not so much the in monuments themselves, but in the conspicious absence of official memorials to      I’m interested in the potentials of discreet, personal objects and processes which have the power to illuminate these histories in a way which is subtly but powerfully embodied, quietly but viscerally complex.  So when the broader culture does not give a place to honour our dead, we have to find another way of enacting those rituals- this grief is felt deeply not only by Indigenous Australians, it’s something which anyone is capable of understanding… non-indigenous Australians equally need that space,  in the same way that the German’s need the holocaust memorial, because perptraitors and their decendents carry a complicated grief of their own. I say grief, rather than guilt, because I believe we grieve for those we have wronged, and for the loss of our own humanity in the wrongdoing.

 

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