I have a hoarding tendency and I don’t have a single organized bone in my body to make sense of it.
I keep the little scraps of paper in my pocket and the library receipts of others that fall out of books; the pamphlets I take from art galleries, the mathematical workings from two years ago – they pile up in little cairns and I forget about them. I have things unsorted that go back as early as primary 2 and are as banal as a science worksheet. It’s hugely ironic, how I hoard this paper trail and yet don’t quite ever put them in their places, map out my path… The forgetting bit, though, leads me often to the false feeling of the pointlessness of storing anything. Lately I don’t keep photographs of events. I don’t enshrine milestones, no “Congratulations” on the wall. My personal photographs of New Zealand are all scenery without myself in the landscape. I fault this misplaced cynicism for the lack of photographic records for my Substation installations, but really I was too caught up in setting things right to bother about records…
I’ve decided to document my life through a series of note books, each to be filled with the detritus of my days. These are things that flow into my life and I need a reminder to know they exist – an extra-printed copy of my Identification Card with an awful photograph of 15 year old me; pamphlets from arts events; photocopied horse silhouettes from a teaching internship training activity. Little parcels that remind me of what I’ve been through. I will fill books and books and books. I’m probably doing this because I’d be interested in someone who did the same. It’s not purely narcissism, of course – it’s a need to know where I’ve gone, to chart a trajectory, to know what I am, to stop feeling so nebulous. I’m a very nebulous being, I think, a creature of flighty impulse. It’s an old-school project to work on. No digital social network wall of photos or computerized record of messages. It leaves me to my head – and I don’t often leave myself to my head these days; it’s erosive.
Two days ago I watched ‘L’année Dernière à Marienbad‘/’Last Year in Marienbad’ by French New Wave director Alain Resnais. I watched it two days ago and I was afraid it would be highbrow intellectual nonsense, but I actually enjoyed it. It is very dreamy, experimental and unorthodox. It also has a glamorous aesthetic Lagerfeld seems to pursue in his little fashion films. There’s an interesting echo of Marienbad’s opulent, oneiric, tragic, insular world of the rich in his latest piece, The Tale of the Fairy.
In Marienbad, two characters move fluidly across different settings of the baroque chateau at Marienbad, a ‘place’ dislocated from space and time as the man, ‘X’ attempts to convince the woman, ‘A’, that they met in Marienbad a year before and had planned to elope. Audiences don’t know exactly within which part of the narrative does each sequence occur, because the narrative itself is circuitous, repetitive, labyrinthine. Everything seems to exist simultaneously in multiple realities, one neither more believable than the other. But these fantasies, these concoctions -concocted by who? The man, ‘X’?- fill the empty rooms with an idea of a past, of history. Whether anything actually occurred in those rooms, the inert figures that populate Marienbad give no sign, possess no definite imprint, no memory.
The circuitous narrative expounds some necessity to constantly revisit the past (in the case that it actually exists). Yet the obsession to revisit the past only revisions it, splintering and multiplying an event into many more possible histories – the sentences that ‘X’ narrates about Marienbad’s winding, forgetful corridors change slightly each time; woman ‘A’ lies down on the bed in four different ways in one sequence, as if ‘X’ tries to capture the correct image of her (but what is the correct way? He was never in that room. Whichever fits into his fantasy, then) The costumes, more noticeably on woman ‘A’, change within seeming narrative threads. Which is the correct remembrance then – which belongs to the collective, factual memory of the place? Which is simply dreamt up by ‘X’? ‘X’ is not an ordinary character. He controls the narrative like a director, seeming to puppeteer ‘A’ by pre-empting or directing her actions. The role ‘X’ plays (just like ‘A’, and the unnamed man who may be her husband) has implications on the spatio-temporality of the film. If the sequences are his fantasies, ‘X’ creates them (as he narrates how they play out) on screen for us, and they occur in the present. Or perhaps he is traversing images of the past, and he is correcting them. More likely, they are images that are ambiguously past and present, that intertwine and splinter, their origins forgotten.
The stiffness of the characters (beyond ‘X’, ‘A’, and unnamed man) and their artificiality make Marienbad seem even more like a dream, a place out of space and time. They pose artfully, like figures out of a Givenchy ad; their voices, replicate speech played out before. There are strange, surreal sequences where actors are totally stilled save for a single figure making small, obvious movement. They seem to be figures in someone’s dream or memory – stilled, extracted, manipulated, as if to examine or get at some greater truth. A levity, a lack of gravity, definitiveness, a centering of time and space, of character, permeates Marienbad. Also, what is ‘A’ so frightened of that she articulates several time in a wordless, primal cry? Why does she tell ‘X’ to leave her alone – and why does she do this despite following him around? The only thing that seems definite is Marienbad’s labyrinth of corridors, where the thick carpet forgets the lives that walk its interiors, that allows the recreation of mystery. But then even Marienbad’s existence seems inconsequential – in its continuous forgetting Marienbad itself is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with meaning, a canvas to be painted on, a stage to be set. Ultimately, what is real in Marienbad is only the image before one’s eyes; it dies the moment it passes, expiring into the windowless past.