For This World & Nearer Ones, Mark and Susan conceived site-specific installations that are both located on the island’s periphery, between land and water. Susan’s is a sound installation on Lima pier, on the southern end of the island, while Mark will place two signs as interventions on the Governors Island ferry, with biblical associations of good and evil. Discovering a common interest for Lucia Joyce, Mark and Susan talk about the daughter of the Irish writer, who showed signs of mental illness in 1930 and is thought to be the muse for Finnegans Wake.
Susan Phillipsz: I’m glad you liked the book about Saint Lucia, “the light giver.” The Saint Lucia festival in Stockholm takes place on one of the darkest days of the year. Talk about a long winter! Now it’s Spring and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to start the ball rolling but here it goes…. Like I said I loved your show The Russian Linesman which I got to see when I was over in London last month. After spending a couple of hours looking at it I embarrassed the gallery attendant by asking her where Lucia Joyce's letter was. She was very apologetic for not knowing until finally it transpired that it wasn't in the show, but in the catalogue, so then it was me who was embarrassed! I'd heard about the letter through the choreographer Siobhan Davis. I was in a show she curated with Victoria Miro and she knew that Lucia Joyce had inspired my work, so she read the letter over the phone to me. I was amazed. I knew that all of Lucia's letters had been held under lock and key by the Joyce estate for years until they finally destroyed them in nineteen eighty-eight. To actually see her handwriting gave me goose pimples. I've often wondered what was in those letters that they felt had to be hidden from the public eye for so long. What do you think Mark? Do you have any opinions about this as someone who actually has one of her letters?
Mark Wallinger: It was somewhat of a rediscovery for me. During the process of writing The Russian Linesman catalogue, I found both the text of my student thesis on Ulysses and the letter that my aunt sent to me in nineteen ninety-three, both of which I had given up for lost. I have to say the letter itself is a ghost, a Xerox of the original; my aunt has since passed on.
The text reads:
I am so glad you are better now. We like Ethel’s cooking very much but I cannot eat Mince pies they make me sick. Our little dog is very well he sleeps in his box most of the time and he eats very well. I expect you have a nice garden where you live. It was my father’s Birthday on the 2nd of February and they gave a party in Paris for him there were a lot of people there. I hope to see you soon when you come up one of these days. With much love from Lucia Joyce. 3-3-66
The handwriting is as poignant as the conditions of her existence. Her father had been dead for twenty-five years. One hopes by birthday she means anniversary. Strangely, a work I made in the eighties English and welcome to it featured a verse by John Clare who, like Lucia, spent the latter part of his life in Northampton Asylum—that work was incinerated in the Momart fire.
I am sorry to have missed your collaboration with Siobhan. Can you describe it for me?
SP: The theme of the exhibition was “dance,” so I knew straight away that I would make a work about Lucia. While her family lived in Paris in the twenties, she was taught by dancers like Margaret Morris and Raymond Duncan and was in a dance group called Les Six de Rythme et Couleur. They were heavily influenced by nature and they gave their performances names like Panthère Verte (Green Panther), Le Jardin Enchante (The Enchanted Garden), and Les Vignes Sauvages (The Savage Vines). At the same time Lucia was dancing on the stage in Paris, her father was writing about a female character in Finnegans Wake with “wildwood’s eyes and primarose hair” who lives in “the woods so wild.” This character seems to be based upon Lucia, whom he had already called his “wonder wild.” For the exhibition I sang the Elizabethan composer William Byrd’s “Woods So Wild” in four parts and had the speakers placed in the garden with Kusama's work—who coincidently also suffered from mental illness. The disembodied voices projecting from the undergrowth suggested banishment and exile.
Shall I go walk the woods so wild, Wand’ring, wand’ring here and there, As I was once full sore beguild, Alas! for love! I die with woe. Wearily blows the winter wind, Wand’ring, wand’ring here and there, My heart is like a striken hind, Alas! for love I die with woe.
We know James Joyce chose to live in exile but really it was Lucia who was banished from the family circle, ending her days in Northampton. I guess we’ll never know what was in those letters…. I had never heard of John Clare before but I just read “I Am!” which is such a sad poem. “My friends forsake me like a memory lost.” What brought you to him?
MW: I think I came across him through reading E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. John Clare was a labourer, a thresher, and a reaper, and as someone who worked on the land, he was concerned with giving an authentic vision of nature. He was acutely aware of the irreparable damage that enclosure was wreaking on the country. He escaped from his first asylum in High Beech, Essex in eighteen forty-one and walked all the way to Northampton under the delusion that he would there be reunited with Mary Joyce.
A language that is ever green That feelings unto all impart As hawthorn blossoms soon as seen Give May to every heart
“Clare may be described, without hindsight, as a poet of ecological protest: he was not writing about man here and nature there, but lamenting a threatened equilibrium in which both were involved."
“I Am!” was written in Northampton. In retrospect he has been described as both bipolar and schizophrenic. Certainly his patronage by literary society and the changing working conditions in the country led to a sense of alienation, of living in a kind of no man’s land. In eighteen forty-one, he escaped from his first asylum in High Beech, Essex and walked all the way to Northampton under the delusion that he would be reunited with Mary Joyce. His life and work was haunted by an unrequited love for her, but his muse had died a spinster in eighteen thirty-eight. Isn’t that strange?
SP: Yes, that is strange and very, very sad! Imagine walking all that way to the very place where he was to be incarcerated for the rest of his life. I have a cousin who had a spell in Leverndale Hospital for the mentally ill. On several occasions she was found lost after walking miles in her bare feet. One day I got a letter from her asking me to come in and cut her hair. She had thick, wavy, black hair, long and beautiful, but she wanted me to cut it really short! I tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted, so I went ahead with it. My hands trembled until most of her lovely hair was on the hospital floor. She seemed happy with the result, but I thought it looked awful and felt like a criminal who couldn’t wait to leave the scene of the crime. When I got home I re-read the letter she sent, which had the usual name and address, but underneath her name she had written “staff nurse.” She’s absolutely fine now and still wears her hair short.
Some of the greatest minds have suffered from mental illness: Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and great musicians like Ian Curtis and Nick Drake. I’ve been listening to Syd Barrett a lot lately. They say there’s a thin line between madness and creative genius. What do you think?
MW:The dark side of the moon…. John Clare felt alien, adrift in the changing order in the country. Peter Green and Syd Barrett went on one trip too many and found themselves too far from home. I think what drives creative people is as various as the types of humanity, but self absorption is at the heart of a romantic notion of madness. Where does that place the sane standing up to collective acts of insanity? My god is the only god. How artists stand in relation to coercion by religion or a repressive regime. There is that wonderful passage in the Cyclops episode of Ulysses where Bloom stands up to the religious bigot and exclaims: “Mendelsohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Savior was a jew and his father was a jew.”—I write this as the Pope is in Jerusalem. Bloom is standing up for what is universal in humanity, but that is occluded by superstition and ignorance. The brain is an organ and the site of our selves, our consciousness, and our identity. I once lived next to a woman with dementia and the husband who once loved her, but she was no longer there. Where did she go?
SP: Where have they been? We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chamber, Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in... Where have they been? Where have they been? Where have they been? Where have they been?
– Ian Curtis / Joy Division, “Decades,” 1980.