Claire’s Reflections on Take Away Space
Clair Weigall was part of the writers program—collaboration between exhibiting artists and writers at Seventh Gallery. You can read her story here.
Share House Choreography
by Claire Weigall
When I was in my early twenties I lived in Richmond in a narrow Victorian terrace. The front door opened onto a long, dark hallway, leading first to Amelia’s room and then to mine. Then came the bathroom and the open plan kitchen and living space. Glass sliding doors revealed a neat, concrete courtyard containing a yucca plant in a terracotta pot and a diminutive outdoor setting.
My housemate, Amelia, was a law student and an early riser. Every morning, in pursuit of coffee, she stalked past my room in the highest and skinniest of stilettos. As espresso brewed in an hourglass pot, she microwaved a jar of milk and pelted around the kitchen, shaking it aloft like a maraca and leaving the polished floorboards studded with the imprints of her heels.
The space was dominated by an enormous island bench—a black, laminex monolith. Amelia’s heel prints traced her daily rituals, draping around the bench in a path as wide and intricately woven as a shipping rope. Certain areas of the floor were more heavily pockmarked: in front of the refrigerator; in front of the sink; in front of the oven, in front of the kettle; in front of the back door. In those places it was as though somebody had thrown down handfuls of acid confetti.
Today, I wonder where my invisible footprints would have fallen in relation to hers. Did the space direct me via the same crooks and curves, like an ant following the leader on an unseen path? Or did I ping pong erratically off the walls and furniture, like a sun-drunk blowfly? I imagine that throughout our cohabitation, Amelia and I were actually dancing together in space, our movements choreographed by the kitchen bench, the Ikea bar stools and the hand-me-down couch of cracked salmon leather. Even the yucca had its role to play, a fleeting dance partner, repeatedly twirling us two steps clockwise en route to the clothesline. Back then I didn’t think about choreography. Back then I just worried that we would lose our rental bond as a result of Amelia’s footwear choices. I never mentioned my concerns to Amelia.
* * *
I am in an art gallery in Gertrude Street. A white wall stands in the centre of the room. It dominates the space—a white monolith. To the body it is immovable, solid, imposing; yet to the eye it fades into the other walls, blending into the periphery with the softness of white clouds and cream. I feel adrift in the negative space that is created by the presence of the wall; negative space in which my all black outfit has never felt so raucous. I circle the wall, observing it and trying to understand it. What does it mean? Why is it here? What am I supposed to do? At first I keep a safe distance, unsure of myself and how much space I am allowed to take up in the room. I learn that I am allowed to touch the wall and more than that, I am allowed to take away from it. Knowing this, I move closer. I notice details— fabric protruding from plaster. The delicately patterned and textured bricks beckon to my hands. I place my hands on the wall. And stop. And feel.
* * *
Amelia loved the kitchen in Richmond, with its generous proportions and brilliant north light, so it seems fitting that she left behind an imprint. Her cooking, like her shoes, was about aesthetics, and she spent hours trimming herbs, daubing plates with purees and searing the edges of things. She created her edible compositions with the accompaniment of a glass of wine, a favourite playlist and a meditative peacefulness, all the while wearing those towering perma-heels like a 1950s housewife—although that’s not the kind of person she was. Her stilettos had become patent leather extensions of her persona because they made her feel good. She liked being taller. She enjoyed the feeling of taking up more space in the room —it gave her a jolt of confidence. Even on Sunday mornings she wore heels in the kitchen, subtly intimidating me as she claimed her territory.
To this day, faded yellow sticky notes bearing her handwriting protrude from the pages of one of my recipe books. Jewelled couscous. Seared prawns. Salmon tamarind. I have kept the book although I never use it. I like the way it activates my memory of Amelia, confidently immersed in an act of creativity: claiming space; owning space; holding space. In my mind’s eye she is swanning around the kitchen bench, slicing, tasting and arranging, while I read on the couch; and in our own ways we are both serenely happy in the space we call home.
* * *
I am in an art gallery in Gertrude Street. I am searching for a worksite—a single brick; a piece of space to claim as my own. I am exploring, open, alive with sensation. I search with my eyes. I search with my hands. When I find it I know. This is the piece I want to take away with me, as pleasing to my eyes as it is to my fingertips. With my chisel and mallet I shatter a corner of brick, unearthing a piece of fabric from within. A fine coating of plaster dust makes the fabric feel like the skin of a peach, but beneath the residue it is smooth and cool to touch. I pull at it and recognise the shape of a shirt sleeve. I am in my body like a child, experiencing the smooth and the rough, the tension, the friction, the vibrations and the giving way.
The act of mini demolition feels inexplicably pleasant. The wall is beautiful and for a moment I am sorry for what I destroy. I want to stop and just admire it. And then, a moment later, I’m at it again like a surgeon. I am determined to take away my piece and fashion it into the shape of a jewel. I will own the space. I will wear the space. When I’m wearing the space I will tell people about my memory of this experience in an art gallery in Gertrude Street—a memory that will forever be attached to this particular fragment. It is not a fragment of plaster, but a fragment of time and space. The space has changed me, ever so slightly. It has left its imprint on me, just as I have left my imprint on the space. I have scarred the wall with my chisel; I have left my footprints in the white dust on the floor; and my blood has absorbed the oxygen from the room.
* * *
Amelia moved out first, to live with her boyfriend. I stayed for a few more years, all the while fretting about the damaged floor. When Amelia moved out she took my blue wine glasses with her. They were cheap and chunky. She left behind her much nicer ones. I never said anything about it and I still have her wine glasses. I got the bond back without any trouble.
Claire is a Melbourne based writer and artist. She is co-director of The Artist Guild (former Tribe for Art), an organisation dedicated to increasing the visibility of women artists in the public forum by providing opportunities for its members to create, connect, collaborate and exhibit. Her writing has been featured in local and national publications including The Big Issue and Bubba West Magazine.