REBECCA DUNNE
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The Past
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Threshold
First performed in 2020.
Walking is difficult
The walking is difficult.
So I walk.
The movement takes concentration.

So I am very much here, in the present, with the ground and the city in front of me.

Imagine big sets and labyrinths of spaces.
Imagine old houses, furnished with real things and not props.
Imagine even mounds of material, piles of clay or turf.
Imagine the space it might take up.
Imagine explaining to the peat why I brought it from Ireland to The Hague to build a sculpture.

In the end I would burn it and the dust it would leave behind would be returned to this sand, foreign body that does not crumble but flakes, and every grain of sand is not the spores of dirt and pollen that embed in the fingerprint and cling to the nostril and fall out of the ear two weeks later.

Fuel and work, labour and heat.

And I realised I could just show you my body and walk you through it.
I can show you a cut, a scrape, a bruise, and scar tissue, fissures of skin.
When I fall -and I fall often- I fall to the ground, cut and ruptured.
The skin bursts open and bleeds out, or the impact just leaves a bruise.
Knees take the hit.
Hands stop my face from crashing to the earth.
Hands stop my face from being buried.
I’m not swallowed by the earth but come face to face with it.
Smudge of soil on cheek, on face.
Payment is a drop of blood and then I walk away.
Knees are eroded with every hit.
Creaking and rattling, sore and impacted.

In every compression, another year and more stories pressed in together.
In every forceful knock, the concentration breaks and so do my bones.
In the void of a piece, I will show you what is left behind.
In the void of the pain, I will tell you its memory.
In the void of material, I will describe it to you.

Dark, wet, earthy, clinging, and in every foot ten thousand years.
In my hand I can show you the map of where I walked and where I came to ground.
It might be the only map I can trace again, it might be the only map that can be believed.

On my legs and my knees,
fissure and fossil,
traced line of shiny skin where things cannot grow from anymore.

What way to go forward, what ways?

What way to stop, how to move?

What is there right here?

What are you stepping on?
What are you holding on to?
What are you burying?
go back
Meet me under an arch, and I'll read you this:
Walk:

Neither the dead nor the living like to be dug back up so put the roots down with care.
Our bones know the truth and remember the stories, and when we roll in our graves sometimes there’s just a detail that’s being left out.
Of course, other times it’s because we can’t bear to face what has become of the tale and the people who get to tell it.

Taking a walk on the land that may be submerged in the future.
Natural or unnatural?
Both are likely, both are possible, one is inevitable.
It’s only a matter of time.

So we climb up on to the ridge and we step across the ferns, tough and waxy.
“Coral reefs for the future?” I thought.
A new astronaut plane to explore, the terranaut, sub-aqua terranaut, stepping on the cracks that we could fall into but they will only float over them and rise to a surface where we don’t need sci-fi anymore and time has already slowed to the crushing weight of ‘a minute in that life’ is ‘a year in this one.’

When are we not stepping on graves?
But that wasn’t an ironic question at all.
The dead will turn in their graves, the bones will rattle and roll, and the fossil will try with all of its might to make itself heard and it speaks the loudest when eventually found despite the threatening death, glaring it in the face saying if you make a sound I will erase you and your memory.
So who is triumphant in this scenario?

The rising damp, the turbulent times, the crushing flood and scream of the rush we stop hearing after a while because white noise, brown noise, pink noise, we are perfectly poised to ignore or to lose the will to hear.

I take a picture of the ferns on my phone and send it to the one I’m hoping will land, of basic hopes, a life sustainable, and again I ask the letter is there a poem of hope that is not a love letter?
Rebecca Dunne · Walking Is Difficult
After I read, then we go for a walk,
around the canal and into the garden,
or at least just in front of the gate.
And then you have a choice.
One of these texts, to read aloud or silently, or to listen to:
What are you stepping on?
What are you burying?
What are you holding on to?
Rebecca Dunne · What are you stepping on?
Rebecca Dunne · What are you burying?
Rebecca Dunne · What are you holding on to?
Bury:

Here is where I ended up.
I didn’t know where I was for so long, maybe I still don’t know.
Does it matter? Just get on with it.
But when I was trying to make sense of a land that I can’t cut in to, of land that is shaky and unstable and didn’t provide anything firm to stand on, which crumbled away when I tried to plant myself into it, I found the only place that made sense or where I could find some sense was the sea.
The sea is alien to me, [said he],
and it was to me, too, but at least it was real.
So I kept going and walking there, to find something to hold on to, and the things that I found were that I was facing home.
What kept me coming back?
Why did I think I was leaving something behind?
Wasn’t I trying to move on from that?
Wasn’t I trying to keep going and to keep on keeping on?
Wasn’t that somewhere I thought I didn’t have a connection to and wanted to get beyond?
What was this romanticised vision I had -though not romanticised, and the grass was not greener, but it was deep and clinging, black as it was.
Not a place to plant, it was holding and preserving something I didn’t know I had.
The history of something denied; doesn’t it always catch up with you?
Well it did.
And here I am, invoking the spirits of dead grandfathers I didn’t meet, and saying the prayers of people I didn’t know, and looking out for signs of the superstitions of those who didn’t know any better, but which are presenting themselves to me again and again.
Again and again.
A séance.
A séance to bring back the dead, not only the dead, not only to the living, but to some sense of what we were about.
Not in control of the land. No mastery, no pointing, no void.
Responding in a way we can, answering to it, and taking what it gives us.
I light the candle, and look at the earth, crumble the years into my hand, light the fire, and burn the intention to forget.
Here it is.
And I don’t do this in person, it’s not something I might do here.
How could I do it here, with the sand and the salty sea?
Too much movement, too many waves, too many things coming in to me to make sense of where I came from.
To where I am going, I don’t know.
Not me, but the earth, but what we’re saying.
What we think we’re preserving.
Not holding on to this history, holding on to ourselves.
Holding on to ourselves and trying to fill in the spaces between us.
The spaces between us that are burning with some fire of intention.
The spaces between us that aren’t allowing any room for thought, compacted with what went before us.
Archive:

Out on its own, not close to any other thing, maybe on the edge.
We cannot see everything from this perspective.

A tomb, a grave, a shelter for living things, a shelter for dead things, living quarters.
Ceremonial memorabilia, meaningless paraphernalia, a place for sacrifice or worship or praise.
place to cook, a table, a sculpture, a seat, a throne, dominion!
A landmark, a well, a meeting point, a clock, a place of interrogation, it might be hiding something we cannot see!
A wall, a collapsed or dilapidated structure, a collection of something!
No function?
Maybe it doesn’t want to be here, but we cannot give it sentience, or autonomy, only decisions.
Why preserve all of it?
Why the struggle, futile, to grasp and preserve the material?
The material deteriorates and destroys.
The material is unreliable, materially and in content.
I could tell you a story about my grandfather who sat on a stone wall having his lunch of tea and cheese sandwiches while taking a break from working the land.
I could tell you a story about the time I sat on a nettle on a stone wall and stung my hand trying to get off it, and when my mother pulled out her camera, I had to smile and pretend my hand was not stinging like hell, so the picture exists of me aged six, smiling, sitting on my hand, and only I can still feel the prickling nettle.

I start out at a point and say: let me investigate to know more.
I dig, I search, I find, I read, I make a note, I put two and two together.
Putting two and two together takes me in more than four directions: I draw conclusions, I make assumptions, I guess, I avoid, I invent, I pick and choose the sometimes convenient or interesting or juicy, I decide, I am told by one person this definitely happened here, and yet their sister disputes it saying it definitely happened there.

The more I know, the more there is to know, the more unknowable it becomes.

I see it once and file it away, I am handed a box and say ‘tomorrow’ for a day that never comes.
I avoid some questions, I think as a whole, I see the forest from the trees, I need a map, I make a map, I have a system and it only makes sense to me.
I make a decision, I mind my own business, I mine my own business and some that are not my own.
I feel paralysed and shake with fear, I take a step, I say something, and there’s no going back now.

What meant one thing then means another thing now, this is for certain.
We cannot retrace and start fresh there, only layer on this.
Acknowledge the wrongs and the rights, the mistakes, the discomfort, the piling up endlessly of meaning and no meaning, the human.
You can’t take it with you, in the end, so leave it behind.
Someone else might pick it up.