Echidna: An Essay by Adam Patterson

London-based Barbadian artist Adam Patterson spent some time in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room earlier this year, which provoked ‘Echidna’, a performance work carried out at various locations across Barbados and expanded on in this accompanying photo essay. See documentation from this performance and read Adam’s full essay below:

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Speightstown, Barbados, 2016.

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Speightstown, Barbados, 2016.

THE URCHIN

Home  may  easily  always  be  “elsewhere”,  by  which  I  mean  a  place  that  is
recognised  as  not  quite  yet,  at  every  moment  in  which  one’s  feet  touch
ground. [1]

In the reclamations of one’s plot (in land and self) of the Caribbean, there is a continued
wading  against  colonial  influence.  In  the  contemporary  Caribbean,  touristic  intervention  has worked as an impediment against the formation of identity, while recognising one’s self situated in  the  oppressed  dialogue.  The  Antillean  is  left  flailing  and  thrashing  in  doubled attempts  of rejection  and  hasty  grasps  of  European  and  imagined  African  ideals;  all  in  the hope  of refinement  and  reparation  of  those  shreds  and  scraps  of  identity  into  something new.  This complicated resistance (which keeps itself open to the entry of desired culture) is a Caribbean wrestle – the crux of open-mouthed resistance. [2]

Humans are not so hardy that we can thrive in our bodies as castles  –  we are spoiled  or
tasked with building shells [homes]  as lines  of defence and emblems of territory, property and
personal space. Sea Urchins are not so fragile. They are the perfect model for the Antillean openmouthed  resistance  –  the  performance  of  clinging  to  this  land,  claiming  dominion, absorbing what is truly ours – overcoming dispossession – with a back of thorns to deflect assimilation and imperialism.

Each can return to the Skin without any inhibitions imposed by the exterior
attributes of the Castle. [3]

This  invocation,  rather  than  accessory,  of  the  Urchin  is  a  tactic  of  the  Paradise  Militant,
through which we must mobilise ourselves toward ingestive interpretation  –  the posture faced
downwards,  mouth  to  dirt,  consuming  landscape  as  analysis  –  followed  by  the  excretion  of culture  –  the  production  and  establishment  of  culture  as  waste-product  of  our  analytical ingestion. We spend so much time, as a people, directing our mouths upward / outward, hoping to  be  quenched  by  food  that  falls  from  a  colonised  sky,  one  never  thinks to  look  at  his  feet  – downward to the land that grounds him as Caribbean.


Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Speightstown, Barbados, 2016.

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Speightstown, Barbados, 2016.

THE HERMIT

To invoke the Urchin is to invoke the ability of the Hermit –  that which involves a capacity
for meditative and defensive states in similitude.  The pursuit of identity, as experienced by the
Antillean  (in  his  wake  of  Postcolonial  reflection  and  neocolonial  encounter),  is  arguably  a
hermitage insofar as it requires a submergence into the Atlantic pool of memory, a self-burial beneath  the  soil  of  plantations  ruined  –  of  long  erased  Amerindian  bone  yards  – alongside  a negotiation  against  the  gale-force  battering  ram  of  contemporary  foreign visitation  /  consumption [a  tourism as formidable  as  Sargassum].  A hurricane may only devastate what it can see as penetrable – the Hermit / Urchin is, fortunately, invisible and hardy in his decision to be laid locked in stubborn refusal of the storm’s incessant knocking. A land already ravaged by a history of storms need not be mourned but rather reinterpreted and analysed. As long as  we  of the Antilles remain, persistent in a culture of resistance, a storm may be discarded as trivial as the seasons and bracing it, the same.

In  advocating  a  collective  hermitage,  what  must  take  emphasis  is  the  sublimation  and fluidity  between  manoeuvring  states  –  that  is,  a  mastery  of  the  Hermitic  approach  in  his proverbial ascent up the mountain  / into the cave [a marronage]  whereby through a gaining of insight,  in  a  meditation  and  a  protective  negligence  against  the  Outside  [the  Foreign  /  the Overseas  /  the  Abroad],  an  almost  alchemical  transformation  occurs  by  which  the  Hermit descends  or  emerges  graced  with  a  nation  language, [4] a  language  and  cultural negotiation sophisticatedly  illegible  to  the  will  of  the  coloniser.  To  reword  this,  an  importance  lies  in the Antillean Hermit’s capacity to be present as a factor of influence in his society and culture, while still invisible and impenetrable to the touristic  gaze and will; an Urchin who may face his island without risking his sanctity to the West of whom he backs. [5]

All music born in the West Indies […] were born from silence. Because it was forbidden to speak aloud and to sing. It was born from silence and in silence. One of the common cultural points of music in all the plantation areas of the Americas was the necessity to sing without being heard by somebody else, by the master or another person. The art of silence is fundamental in this kind of music. [6]

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Walkers Dairy, Barbados, 2016.

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Walkers Dairy, Barbados, 2016.

[Aside] Let it be made clear that this proposition is not instigating a historical rejection or denial
of colonial rule or Western influence in the Caribbean, like proposals before that seek to restore a  lost  Africa  untouched  by  history  [impossible].  This  is,  instead,  a  proposition  that  bears  a
consciousness  and  hypersensitivity  to  the  European  presence  and  is  hereby  worn  and embittered  by  its  ongoing  injection.  Frankly,  this  Urchin  has  had  enough.  How  may  an island stand to look at itself if still knelt to a stature of servitude?  How may an island stand to care for itself if still bent in gape to the prick of Empire? This Urchin’s flesh is tired of being picked by transatlantic flies who see an idyllic charm in the poverty and immobility of Caribbean people.

And  so  we  collapsed  into  the  ocean,  creating  a  catastrophe  of  sunken memory  and  leaving only the  sunken tips  of  these  volcanic memories,  the islands of the Caribbean. It is my impression that even now, a million years later,  we  still  hear  the  echo  of  that  catastrophe, and  much  of  our  work relates  to that memory. We somehow lost the sense of the mainland, the sense of wholeness and we became holes in the ocean.[7]

The  weight  of  contemporary  Western  influence  sinks  us  and  forbids  us  any  time  for  the contemplation of culture and  identity. The faces of our islands have been shaped  –  now is the time to learn and assert them  –  the continued treading of the visitor’s foot will only recede our shores further back towards uncertainty and dispossession; towards something that will only be ours in memory, in passing, in mourning, towards something that is taken from us once again – everything that constitutes we as a people.


Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Walkers Dairy, Barbados, 2016.

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Walkers Dairy, Barbados, 2016.

THE MONSTER

Following the previous articulation of the Hermit, it must be clarified that this notion is an appropriation and adaption made suitable for Caribbean thought. Any quality or connotation of solitude  produced  by  the  Hermit  archetype  should  be  discounted  in  favour  of  a  collective hermitage.  What  is  meant  by  this  is  a  mass  transformation  and  movement  of  the  Antillean community towards the posture of the Urchin, therefore a communal assumption of the nation language  in  an  effort  to  deflect  and  resist  touristic  and  outside  persuasion.  A  cast  of strewn islands  erupting  and  foresting  a  black  spiny  cloud,  every  Antillean’s  mouth  to  their own  soil, each  foot inter-crossed  and  woven  to  spin  a  net  fat  and  soaking  with an  identity unhindered, uttering a salt language amongst itself, too spicy, too flavourful, too explosive, too excessive to ever  be  reduced  to  the  limits  of  foreign  interpretation  –  a  harmony  of resistance  raised  by  a choir of cobblers.  It is miraculous to see a rock pool or a coral plain coated in urchins  –  such a sight beckons fright and caution in the knowledge that no tread may pass, no foreign body may step nor land nor claim nor possess nor own nor colonise nor nothing.  The miracle lies in the utterance of which the symbol of the sea urchin represents, “Doan cum ’round me!”

[…]  another monster, irresistible, in no wise like either to mortal men or to the undying gods, even the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful [8]

In collective assumption of the Urchin posture, may we undergo another sublimation; the invocation  of  the  Monster.  The  qualities  and  potential  inherent  to  the  Monster  involve  a negotiation  of invisibility alongside the accessory of the Grotesque [excess]. To be monstrous is to manoeuvre rather mythological attributes  –  to maintain a sense of being hidden, while  also exuding  a  weight  or  presence  in  excess. [9] Echidna,  the  monster  of  Greek  Mythology,  who is described in opposing dualities of irresistibility and awfulness, may be linked in character to our understanding of the notion of the Paradise Militant. [10]

For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us.[11]

The  split  characterisation  of  the  Monster  is  one  of  both  temptation  and  repulsion, highlighting the dangers of that which is desired.  Beholding a sea urchin –  the black silken glow of  crimson  that  melts  across  its  spines,  wet  with  pearls  of  light  that  drip  in  its  gyration  – is exciting and seductive, comparable to the thistle, a thorny rose or even the rich candied blue of a man o’  war  –  legend is spun in tales of  seeing,  but fortified through an inability  to grasp. Lay  a naked  hand  on  a  thorn,  spike,  tentacle  and  your  skin  will  break,  bleed  and  sting. Admire  the fruits  of  the  Tropics  but  forever  lay  humble  and  restrained  in  the  promise  of their  pluck;  a Paradise lost.


Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Gibbes Beach, Barbados, 2016.

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Gibbes Beach, Barbados, 2016.

THE CARNIVAL

The sort of bodily excess to which  I am  alluding  is of the same nature as our Carnival. The mobilisation  of  this  posture  as  a  collective  act  of  resistance,  while  maintaining  invisibility through the nation language,  conjures the urchin rock pool, the spiked archipelago,  the islands crowned with thorns, the Monster that is seen  and admired  but  may always hinder  tangibility and  exploitation.  Excess,  as  observed  in  Caribbean  culture,  may  be  enacted  through  the expansion  of  the  body  in  collective  celebration  of  the  flesh.  The  agency  of  celebrative transformation  may  involve  the  transcendence  of  the  individual  towards  the  potency  of  the community  as well as the compensation of  one another’s limitations  so as to promise a rising of the whole.  The spirit of the community, as emphasised and exaggerated in Carnival practices, seeks  to  transgress  the  idealised  ‘individual’,  overriding  the  competitive  ethics and  economic cannibalism  associated  with  Western  Capitalist  thought.  The  concentrated effort  of  the  mass body in celebration, the collective body in excess, the Antilleans’  decision to assume the Urchin posture in resistance, may counter the crisis of cultural exploitation faced in the Caribbean.

Earth at that time was so excessively heated that it broke into an enormous sweat which ran over the sea, making the latter salty, since all sweat is salt. If you do not admit this last statement, then taste of your own sweat.[12]

The transformative potential of the Carnival space is the optimal environment for invoking the Urchin posture. Given Carnival’s cyclical process  –  a  rhythmical  progression  of inhaling the material and the bursting of one’s seams,  a repeated mass death and  rebirth in  excess, exhaust and revival  –  the  collective  body  dances  in  synonymy  and  similitude,  consuming one  another (not  cannibalistically  but  in  a  sense  of  osmosis)  and  allowing  one’s  self  to transcend  towards [and  to  be transgressed by]  the  other.  There  becomes  a radical materialisation of the world in which cultural negotiation  is a material engagement whose discourse may only be understood in the participatory Antillean flesh.

When the body is freed (when day comes) it follows the explosive scream. Caribbean speech is always excited, it ignores silence, softness, sentiment. The body follows suit. It does not know pause, rest, smooth continuity. It is jerked along. […]  He keeps moving; it can only scream. In this silent world, voice and body pursue desperately an impossible fulfilment.[13]

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Gibbes Beach, Barbados, 2016.

Adam Patterson, Echidna, Performance. Gibbes Beach, Barbados, 2016.

The  membranous  sublimation  of  the  revelling  bodies  is  a  dance  spoken  in  laughter.  The performance  of  nation  language,  finding  its  climax  in  the  laughter  of  participation,  leaves the tongue  and  coats  the  Antillean  in  camouflage,  reiterating  the  duality  of  invisibility  and presence. [14] In the ambiguity of the shift of bodies  –  passing through one another –  the sheer joy of it all,  the  mass smile and  the earthquake laughter  become  the nation language.  For this  is a means of cultural relation and communication unique to the flesh of the participants, falling deaf to the oppressor. In the overlap of spikes, does the black of urchins seem to form a single source of beautiful terror  –  where  does it begin or end? In the nesting embrace of the Carnival space, where bodies [shells] and limbs [spikes] crowd and  cluster, does a culture emerge in sweat [the same  sweat  that  kept  a  people  from  burning  in  the  toil  of  the  sun]. In  the  dissolution  of  our individual flesh, to its meshing concretion in unity, do our islands erupt into being.

I will raise up a cry so violent
that I will spatter the sky utterly
and by my shredded branches
and by the insolent jet of my solemn wounded bole
I shall command the islands to exist [15] (55-59)


“No longer shall our shores bend and gape to the prick of Empire. Let the black urchins on
our backs extend arms outstretched as barbs – behold our islands crowned with thorns. May the
empire who maims and reduces us to paradise run aground our coral teeth. By its sting, does a
nation rise from welts. By our sting, does paradise bloom and throb as floating terror.”


References:

[1] Forbes, C. “Between Plot and Plantation, Trespass and Transgression: Caribbean Migratory Disobedience in
Fiction and Internet Traffic.” Small Axe, 2012. 16(2 38), 2012. 23-42.
[2] The coining of ‘open-mouthed resistance’ is indebted to the anatomy of the sea urchin, whose mouth is a
central orifice situated at the base of the creature. The urchin ingests food, which is digested upwards and excreted through the anus located at the central peak of the urchin’s dome. This term is to refer to a practice of repossessing the Caribbean landscape and cultural identity by returning a focus to the land, itself, while backing the distraction, interruption and assimilation of foreign neocolonial forces, in resistance.
[3] Lamming, G. “The Pleasures of Exile.” Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992. 159.
[4] Brathwaite, K. “History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry.”
New Beacon Books, 1984. 5-6.
[5] The eye of the foreign storm from which the Antillean as Urchin seeks to stay invisible, throws its gaze in vain. Scientific studies have shown that sea urchins have light-sensitive cells embedded throughout their body which allow them to detect light and its direction, so they may hide from it. The Urchin’s tendency towards invisibility is a quality we must adopt. See more: Yong, E. “Sea urchins use their entire body as an eye.” Not Exactly Rocket Science. Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Publishing Co., 2011.
[6] Brathwaite, K. and Édouard Glissant. “A Dialogue: Nation Language and Poetics of Creolization.” Presencia Criolla en el Caribe y América Latina/Creole Presence in the Caribbean and Latin America. Ed. Ineke Phaf. Frankfurt am Main: Verveurt, 1996. 19-35.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Hesiod. “Theogony.” The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn -White. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. 300-305.
[9] Excess in the realm of the Grotesque is to be read as an unquantifiable state of being – similar to the Sublime, yet based in the material, bodily world in flesh. The body when inflated to a plane of inconceivable physicality is an exaggeration of bodily potency and capability; a heightening of the body’s ability to expand and exhaust in fat, blood, sweat, excrement, etc. Moreover, in the case of the Monster, this capability may expand to the extent of cosmetic qualities; the excess of beauty or conversely, ugliness.
[10] This characterises the notion that Paradise is not passively beautiful – idyll in servitude – but may be activated to become Monstrous, resistant and autonomous in defence of paradisiacal natives and their culture against foreign exploitation.
[11] Rilke, Rainer M. “Duino Elegies.” Translated from the German by Stephen Cohen. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998. 21-43.
[12] Rabelais, F. “Gargantua and Pantagruel.” Translated from the French by M.A. Screech. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2006.
[13] Glissant, E. and Dash, J. “Caribbean Discourse.” Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989. 120-150.
[14] Glissant, E. and Dash, J. “Caribbean Discourse.” Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989. 21-22.
[15] Césaire, A. “Lost Body.” The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. England: Oxford University Press, 2009. 39-40.


Work Cited:

– Brathwaite, K. “History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone
Caribbean Poetry.” New Beacon Books, 1984. 5-6.
– Brathwaite, K. and Édouard Glissant. “A Dialogue: Nation Language and Poetics of Creolization.”
Presencia Criolla en el Caribe y América Latina/Creole Presence in the Caribbean and Latin
America. Ed. Ineke Phaf. Frankfurt am Main: Verveurt, 1996. 19-35.
– Césaire, A. “Lost Body.” The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse. England: Oxford University Press,
2009. 39-40.
– Forbes, C. “Between Plot and Plantation, Trespass and Transgression: Caribbean Migratory
Disobedience in Fiction and Internet Traffic.” Small Axe, 2012. 16(2 38), 2012. 23-42.
– Glissant, E. and Dash, J. “Caribbean Discourse.” Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
1989. 21-22; 120-150.
– Hesiod. “Theogony.” The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G.
Evelyn-White. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.
300-305.
– Lamming, G. “The Pleasures of Exile.” Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992. 159.
– Rabelais, F. “Gargantua and Pantagruel.” Translated from the French by M.A. Screech. London:
Penguin Books Ltd, 2006.
– Rilke, Rainer M. “Duino Elegies.” Translated from the German by Stephen Cohen. Evanston, IL:
Northwestern University Press, 1998. 21-43.
– Yong, E. “Sea urchins use their entire body as an eye.” Not Exactly Rocket Science. Waukesha,
WI: Kalmbach Publishing Co., 2011.

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