Roll On Roll On
Phenomena

Essay For Katie West

When first hearing Katie’s voice guide the meditation in Decolonist Meditation I (2015) it was strangely comforting as I hadn’t heard a young female Australian voice that was not my own in a long time. I could hear Western Australia in her voice, and I recognize the words when she described my breathing and the breathing of someone else next to me. There is a familiarity that I find difficult to articulate, and I have been wondering for some time what it is about landscape and voice, what is it about the voice and its connection to colonization?

Decolonist Meditation I (2015) is playing at the Jan van Eyck library. The library seemed like a good place for a meditation work, as a place of quiet contemplation and study. When the library goers are very focused, and when the space is still you can hear Katie’s voice broadcasting quietly through the headphones and out of the art history section.

I didn't realize it was the art history section until I stopped myself with worrying about the management of objects in space. I stopped myself because this is not how I want to work with artists and artworks. I’d rather concern myself with the artwork as materials and moments that stretch over time locating together their interconnections. In Decolonist Meditation I (2015) it is to recognize Yindjibarndi heritage and knowledge, contemporary Australian colonization, and the proposal of a decolonized space and a decolonized body. The artwork is the conduit that interconnects with meditation as a tool for psychological health, Buddhism, and the community that is brought together in a shared space of breathing. What does something like Katie’s artwork do when all these lines intersect with books on European art history and the black image in western civilization?

Raqs Media Collective write in Wonderful Uncertainty[1] that when an artwork and audience come together, it is to recognize what the audience takes away from an artwork, that is what the artwork transmits, but also what the audience brings forward, what they bring with them that makes up their understanding of the world and therefore the artwork. When remembering this and thinking about Katie’s work, I had to stop myself, as I was frightened by my initial blindness to the art history section. I had to ask myself what does this ignorance mean as a curator and as an Australian woman with European heritage. Deborah Bird Rose, whose works has become influential in locating my ethical baseline [2] writes:

If our work is to keep faith with life, we need Barad’s and Haraway’s concept of world-making, or worlding, the main point being that as the world is always coming into being, our decisions are part of the world’s becoming. Barad famously refers to this agentic quality of life as a performative metaphysics (2003). Her argument is that in this world of emergent life, agency necessarily entails configuring (or reconfiguring) the world. (2003: 818) [3]

Katie's work caused me to stop and contemplate the ways in which I navigate the world, and my worlding, this is what art is supposed to do, and also what an exhibition should do as well. An essential element in a program centered in not knowing is to enter into the discomfort and confrontation of ignorance, to locate and set up a new line of ethical action and thinking. As a curator, a primary reason for putting together a program such as this is to determine what sort of relationships I want to forge with the artists and how artworks also become companions.

The most exciting aspect of art is its ability to permeate not only the space in which it is housed but also to impact on the people that work around it and attend to it Every week the screening of Katie’s work is extended for another week and then yet another, eventually it will be in the library five times longer than Katie and I initially agreed. I write this because I think it is important to know that the Librarian has become attached to it, and there is a person that visits the work every day as part of his routine. Katie’s work is important to me—as are the all the artworks and people that have formed and informed Roll on, Roll on, Phenomena (until you are no more)—because her artwork has become a companion and a teacher.

[1] Raqs Media Collective, ‘Wonderful Uncertainty’ in Curating and the Educational Turn. Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson, eds (London: Open Editions, 2010), 76–82.
[2] Deborah Bird Rose, ‘Slowly ~ writing into the Anthropocene’ in TEXT Special Issue 20: Writing Creates Ecology and Ecology Creates Writing, vol. 20, 2013: 1-14. Accessed on September 20, 2016: http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue20/Rose.pdf
[3] Karen Barad ‘Posthumanist performativity: toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter’ in Signs, vol. 28: issue. 3, 2003 : 801–31 quoted in Deborah Bird Rose, ‘Slowly ~ writing into the Anthropocene’ in TEXT Special Issue 20: Writing Creates Ecology and Ecology Creates Writing, vol. 20, 2013: 1-14. Accessed on September 20, 2016: http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue20/Rose.pdf