A Reading by Lis Rhodes

Lis Rhodes wrote and read the following text on the occasion of the opening of her exhibition “Dissident Lines” at Nottingham Contemporary, 24 May 2019.


In this exhibition
Dissident Lines move
they are drawn in the drawing of Light Music
written in the lines spoken
silent in the lines to be read
There is an attempt to undo - unwind - some of the systems that ensure inequity.

In the time that I have been alive
inequity has grown in this country

For artists -
in debt from fees
in debt through living
in debt from rent not only of housing
but means of production books software etc.

With cuts to public funding
the shredding of local government - where are museums - galleries and libraries
to find financial support ?
Instant charges replace long term insurance.

Free access - as it is here at Nottingham Contemporary - is so important.
If all patronage - whether public or private is liable to prejudice
public is preferable with all the problems that may bring

Working with the Greater London Council in the 1980s was revealing.
The questions are whose opinion is heard -
whose history is known
who has access to the means of production
who controls the means of distribution.
The questions of inequity must be addressed - wealth moves with ease
but only one way - to the same and again -
that is both inequitable and destructive.
Redistribution must counter this continually.

I work within this contradiction
In contradiction I find myself with many artists -
in the privatisation of public funding for the arts.

this leaves me in a privileged position
enabled to do and briefly say -
whatever the intention
depiction and meaning can't be held in place

the tale of intentions may be told
but there is always another telling
which unwraps the previous and questions its relevance

to begin with - Light Music made in 1975
was motivated by the absence of women composers
in European composition

in the 4 days of this week - Radio 3 Essential Classics
has played 7 works by women - and 94 works by men

in Light Music
much of the original footage was made from line drawings
the intervals between the lines register as differentiated noise - or notes
the optical track becomes the score
the image produced the sound

it is more or less different every time it is screened
thanks to the intervention of the audience

the space between the two screens and four speakers
allows the audience to move into and within the space of projection
I thought the audience would move around - leave - return - and chat throughout
and they do

the film is the cause of the performance
but the performance entails more than the film

the performance takes the audience to itself
the audience take the performance to themselves

and now record and take away
their own performance
to the sound of a line and the space between

so to the sound of lines - heard
ten years later
in the voices to the film Running Light

it’s just a river of people - she said
moving up and down the coast

where difference is made different
to mask conflicts of interest

In 1985 as part of research into the state of drinking water supplies

Mary Pat Leece - an American artist and filmmaker - and I visited West Virginia
where open cast mining had polluted the water sources
While there we met Pope Barford in Raleigh
and having talked about the devastating effects of open cast mining

he began telling us of another major problem - that of migrant farmworkers

There are many many migrant camps
because you are going to Johnson County - he said
Johnson County - there’s
a heavy concentration there
Without the illegals…
and without the migrants
in general their system
it really does collapse

Like most systems
it has a rational explanation
for its existence

…They've got to have
that cheap labour
you've got to have
a pool of quiet cheap workers…

lines that cross from Running Light to Ambiguous Journeys
lines from 1985 that tragically still sound in 2019

in the list of refugees who have died in the attempt to reach Europe

There is very little protection for someone with little or nothing
Without proof of address existence becomes difficult
A person with no papers - virtually defined as non-existent
is tolerated if their labour is cheap
so they can be held in a condition of forced debt
There is no ambiguity in the reasonable reasons
for the journeys made by many
from war poverty and unemployment
conditions that are organised, imposed and untenable

homeless migrants are especially
vulnerable to enslavement
they are less likely to seek shelter or support
for fear of being detained or deported

they were possibly watching him
she said
in the soup kitchens
in the homeless centres
because that is what they do
to try and identify people
who won’t be missed

But the last lines that I speak - that must be heard - belong to women from Syria and Palestine. I will read just a few lines of poetic dissent

‘… Leave me to my shutters.
Dare you touch the depths of exile ?
Beware
Beware the unravelling of my secrets
you’ll see your suppressed terror…..
in my heart. ’ Salma Khadra Jayyusi

‘… Bird, hovering over the horizon
remember
bullets are everywhere -
remember
me
the perpetual traveller
All my life
I have willed to go forward and have not
advanced beyond
the borders of my grave.’ Saniyya Saleh

‘… As you search for their graves
declare to the world:
only the wind blowing without mercy
could silence them for the night
caution sealing their lips
- guards before barred cells.

Do you remember who went out at night
to meet the the winds ?
Only we children
only we
restless ashes ...’ Saniyya Saleh

In the same breath
under the tongue
the words are held
in shattering silence
the fragility of truth



lis rhodes