Words by Maya Williams.
This response to SERAFINE1369’s We can no longer deny ourselves was never intended to be a review. It was a scramble of phone notes, a day out with a friend and a rambling email to the artist. It wasn’t until I heard back from SERAFINE1369 that this body of words resembled a review at all. Writing, like dancing, or drawing is to me just another way to handle a thoughtful overspill. A dance work is not a container, but it can hold space. (It also gives you something to talk about when you find yourself, all of a sudden at the other end of rejection, the life of the party). And so I wrote about We can no longer deny ourselves presented at the River Room in Somerset House Studios as an intimate yet detached Art Heaux, witnessing the manifest of a body-based art practice, to become another body tuning into what has been intentionally, and lovingly, crafted for the people.
Two evenings after visiting We can no longer deny ourselves, I was coming home. Waiting at the bus stop that is opposite Brixton Community Law Centre, this old building above the shop fronts on the busy stretch of road that is the bus terminal and station approach, beginning, ending, always people passing through, settling down, rising up. Inside I can’t see much but an empty stairwell and damp beige walls. I don’t feel much except for the sag of gentrification, wondering when it’ll lean into, against and eventually consume this place too. But tonight I wanted to be invited inside. More than that. I saw in my mind’s eye a figure leaning out of the window, a hand attached to an arm attached to someone that is gesturing. Not ghostly. A vision, lingering and then not. I wanted to be invited in. I wanted to be invited in because of the colour of the walls, because of the empty space, the dank, the amber, the old. I wanted to be in there knowing that I am not disturbing. That’s how I remember it, a place to be, where I am not disturbing. And I mean that in all of the interpretations, under my skin and atop it, floorboards to ceiling, I don’t stir old ghosts. Someone has seen to that already.
I wasn’t expecting these rooms, even though I’ve been here before, always breaking a sweat getting lost in this godforsaken building, always boots clatter into the River Room after pushing every ‘staff only’ door because there are so many, and they spring at you, slap your wrist.
And then we’re inside and it’s sparse. I can see so much of the walls and the floors- for you- it’s so bright in here. Daylight through windows, so warm that the need for distinct invitation almost dissipates (maybe it was only ever a desire to be singled out) now that I’ve walked myself into space, sunshine on my forehead.
And then there is a chime, and we move to investigate. (“it’s automatic?” “Can I ding it?” “I see these tiny hammers everywhere, they’re actually quite cute”) It receives us. This bell draws us close, undisturbed.
It’s no longer sparse, after this. It’s curious. The corners of the room where there is one thing; a microphone, pendulum, or nothing, buzz with everyone that has been in and out of this already. At ease, I let my mind’s eye fill in the gaps, visions of figures moving here and there, and it’s not disturbing the ways in which I take in the present moment, which is rare, if you are me. I might know why, it might be because I’ve been told the time (“how many times now?)” and never flinched. Never thought to fish my phone out for direction, for what’s next, for what I’m already late for. No boots clatter. No slap on the wrist. And I don’t wait for it. The next update. The next chime. There is all this ease, as if a clock never had us by the throat and I just trust this, more than I have ever trusted any room in this fortress before.
I want to say something about cells, because that’s how settling the space is, like, settled on a cellular level. Something is tapped, and it’s a signal to release. I’m thinking about the way in which our bodies are able to regulate themselves, the continuing of a heartbeat, the signals that send us to sleep. A room with precious stones placed upon found slabs of cement, gathered here for you and you didn’t need to see the process, didn’t need to know this, for the signal to reach. There are cushions of what looks like foam and netting and I clamber on, without being told to, belly first. I always find the suggestion to ‘lie down’ as patronising and commanding as ‘staff only’ and that isn’t what’s happening here. Here, I’m tuning in and out of audio, ambient as bass playing two rooms away or SERAFINE1369 speaking distinct never curt. During the rambling conversation that I’m having (mostly talking about myself), I notice that this cushion is the right size for my hip to fucking relax. Smiling because of that.
I hadn’t realised how deeply I believe that I’m always disturbing someone when I am at ease.
Seeing how when I am relaxed, I am not deadweight. This is going to form some kind of loose affirmation someday.
Here is an invitation to heal.
There is love, in the way in which it is full here.
There is grief, passing.
How heavy is your heart to make such light work of time?
Staying and leaving, there’s no devastation.
About the work: Unfolding across the interconnected spaces of the River Rooms, We can no longer deny ourselves explores systems that shape perceptions of time. The installation is conceived as an ‘exploded clock’ made up of several elements including sculptural objects, video and live performance, with immersive lighting and audio.