Current artists in the Fresh Milk International Residency Programme, Willoh S. Weiland and Halcyon Macleod, share their first blog post reflecting on the beginning of their time in Barbados. Written this week by Halcyon, we are given some insight into the origins of their collaborative project ‘Crawl Me Blood’, a sound installation inspired by Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea, and how they are using their time at Fresh Milk to collect material and expand the piece. Read more below, and for information on how to get involved with ‘Crawl Me Blood’, click here.
I arrived in Barbados on Sunday afternoon after a whopping forty-seven hours of continuous transit with my three month old baby strapped to my front. Flights were delayed, flights were cancelled, connections were missed. When the luggage conveyor belt at Grantley Adams International Airport emptied and stopped and I was the last one standing there, it felt only right that yes, my suitcases and the baby’s cot were lost in transit. It really is a long way to come, from my home in Hobart Tasmania, the heart-shaped island at the bottom of Australia, to this warm, colourful and utterly compelling island of Barbados. I was met at the airport by my collaborator, Belizean-Australian artist Willoh S. Weiland, who had made a similar journey from Melbourne with her boyfriend and 10 month old babe the week before. Why have we come all this way?
In a 1959 letter, whilst she was working on Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys described her earlier novel, Voyage in the Dark, as expressing how “The West Indies started knocking at my heart.” She added that “the knocking has never stopped.”
– from The Cambridge introduction to Jean Rhys by Elaine Savory
The writings of Jean Rhys and our families’ connections to this region have compelled and propelled Willoh and me across the globe and far from home more than once now. The germ of our current project Crawl Me Blood, took hold in 2011. We landed in Los Angeles and drove across the country to The University of Tulsa where the Jean Rhys Special Collection is housed. There in Oklahoma, is the unlikely home of a collection of Rhys’ correspondence, drafts, unpublished writings, a few personal effects and a touching recording of the author singing songs from her childhood in Dominican Patois. Our journey continued to Placencia, Belize, the village where Willoh was born and grew up, and then on to Black River, in the St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica, the origins of my Grandmothers family. Certainly, the Caribbean was knocking at our hearts. We had begun our research for a new Australian interdisciplinary arts project.
But Crawl Me Blood is not about us! Inspired by the Belizean Kriol phrase ‘what crawls your blood’ are the secrets you sense but are not told to you. This phrase is akin to saying ‘it gave me the shivers’. The Crawl Me Blood project reimagines the sinister eden of the tropical garden and draws on the medium of radio to explore the myths we make of paradise and the realities of living in some of the world’s most beautiful places.
Crawl Me Blood is a radio docu-drama which will be housed inside an immersive installation. Audiences will wander through the installation listening to the audio work via hand held radios which are tuned to pick up a localised FM radio broadcast – the Crawl Me Blood radio station. There are multiple transmitters and the audience wanders in and out of the range of each transmitter, creating an exciting compositional range for the creators of the work. This one month residency at Fresh Milk is a research and writing phase of creative development. We are conducting interviews with Bajan women of all ages, collecting field recordings from local sites and writing the text for the fiction elements of this layered audio work.
The audio work will be enriched by field recordings collected from the Caribbean region and will be intercut with carefully selected Caribbean music and readings from Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Voyage in the Dark. These various components of the work are being developed alongside each other with a shared focus on the central themes of the work:
- how do we imagine and romanticise the landscape of paradise, and how is this imaginary world destroyed by the realities of place?
- the experience of women of all colours in the island nations of the Caribbean and in the countries that they migrate to
- the responses that the tropical landscape and climate generate in people
It has been an incredibly productive start due to the ground work that Willoh was able to do in the previous week, and thanks to the assistance of the Fresh Milk Team in connecting us with amazing people. It has been our privilege to meet and interview some inspiring Bajan women. We have talked with a visual artist, a theatre practitioner, a poet and activist who have generously shared their perspectives with us. We have also interviewed Jamaican-Australian artist Zahra Newman this week in Melbourne via Skype. On Tuesday, we met with the Fresh Milk Books team and heard all about their reviews drawn from the Fresh Milk collection in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room. One of the team had recently reviewed Wide Sargasso Sea! We look forward to continuing the conversations and learning more about Bajan art and artists through our interviews and the collection.
A big thank you to Annalee and the Fresh Milk Team for making us feel welcome and introducing us to some inspiring Bajan artists this week.
This residency is supported in part by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Alcorso Foundation and Arts Tasmania.