Audrey Pfister

*tick* Seen

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As a young teenager in the 1960s Lou Sullivan wrote into his journal “I wanna look like what I am but don’t know what someone like me looks like. I mean, when people look at me I want them to think - there’s one of those people that reasons, that is a philosopher, that has their own interpretation of happiness. That’s what I am.’’1 This was a long time before Lou changed his pronouns, his look, his life.

 

It’s summertime and I spend it swimming in the ocean across Yuin and Thawaral countries, grateful to be floating on waves, and brushing the salt off eyebrows and hair. I also spend time in Lou Sullivan’s journals, reading it with the soft intensity of a soap drama, becoming invested in the small details of Lou’s life.

 

My friend tries to teach me how to surf, or rather, they hold me on the surfboard while I lay there to get used to the feeling of rising and falling as each wave passes. We wait and wait, but somehow waiting feels okay and I trust them to know when to let go.

 

On one particularly good day in the journal Lou writes “I love to enjoy the feeling of being alive + having a body + secrets.’’ There are slivers of time in days where moving through the world, and feeling connection, actualising who you are, feels light and exhilarating. I think of Moten and Harney who in another context they write “to turn labor power back through the individual laboring body and into the work and play of common animated flesh engaged in common practice.2

 

As a teenager I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms, bringing with me a script, a paper list of illness, a list to define yourself in and out of. There’s this dialectic of wanting to be invisible in the space, hidden, or feeling invisible in the space, but also wanting to be seen. Sick of waiting, and hating that you have to be there. The waiting room is a strange place indexing upon the body. 

 

Lou was moving throughout the world without easy language or descriptor. His journals are incredibly driven by details of his desires and feelings, assertions and negations. The journals don’t give the reader any visual representation “lack of visual representation as both a frustration and a relief”3, and instead we get the privilege of spending time with the nuance that exists somewhere away from that which is purely perceptive.

 

Liam Taylor’s work takes the task of producing visions that do away with easy representation. It’s ajar to the spectacle, or poking at the complex relationships of consumability. Escaping easy capture. Paired with Yuan Liu’s Home Bodies is an exhibition of work telling us a little bit about work, about inhabiting a body, and about being in a world defined by work - Again and Again4, and what happens if this ruptures, see, Quarantine5.

 

Liam’s I Got This and Yuan’s Quarantine Journal both point towards the strange tussle under the conditions of a culture defined in relation to work. That which produces a certain kind of internal monolog, or repetition of rhetoric we tell ourselves, all of that in which we make and re-make the self. To “maintain good posture at work” in a web of crises. What it looks like to be told to slap on the band-aid that is wellness culture onto the wound that is actually a broken system. But also what we make of what we will6.

 

I’ve seen Liam’s works in his shed in the process of making, I’ve seen them stored in a bedroom corner, I’ve seen images sent through on disappearing DMs and I see them this time now on my work computer screen. It’s February and Liam emails me images of his artworks for the upcoming Waiting Room exhibition, and I look at the first image Hang In There (2020). This time Hang In There appears to me as though the cat is doing a pull-up. Now the scene is completely different. Rather than hanging on precariously by their paws - the cat is working out. My curiosity makes me search ‘Pull-Ups’ and suddenly I’m reading about the definition difference in Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups - each referring to a different form of the exercise depending on how you grip the bar.

 

I’m remembering how the way you can hold something changes the nature of holding. The differences in how it feels to be held. Moten and Harney say “We want to hold each other, as our friend Fumi Okiji says, "without holding each other to anything."” I’m thinking about ways that we can come together for one another, to make each other feel held, and ways to lessen making someone feel held against something. Instead learning to hold each other until the nefarious distinctions and divisions of capitalist society begin to lessen their grip.

 

I think back to Lou who in his short life would have spent so much time in waiting rooms, and the tribulations of constantly navigating the medical system, cultural gender systems, and more. I think of the euphoric moments he so often got to experience when he was seen, but through the power and playfulness of self-invention and actualization that holds in the multitude of animated embodiment. And how special to do so alongside others.

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1 Sullivan, L. We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, Nightboat Books, 2019

2 Moten, F. Harney, S. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, Autonomedia, 2013 [sorry not sorry for all my friends who have to read all my pieces that always have a Moten/Harney quote lol <3]

3 Messih, S. Silk, V. Our Father, Who Art In Heaven. Review Lou Sullivan’s Diaries, https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/review/lou-sullivan-diaries/, 2020

4 L, Taylor. Again and Again (2020) [Not showing in ‘Home Bodies’ :P ]

5 Y, Liu. Quarantine Journal, (2020)

6 L, Taylor. of what we will, (2021)

This work was created in dialogue with "Home Bodies" by Liam Taylor and Yuan Liu, which can be found here