Perspectives on Place: Claire Summers ‘Fault lines’
As part of our commitment to championing ideas through contemporary art and cultural discourse, Melbourne Art Fair has engaged a diverse cohort of writers, academics, and artists to pen their intuitive response to the Fair’s thematic: djeembana/place. Released periodically until the opening of the Fair in February 2022, this series of writing offers unique and nuanced thinking on the meaning of place. The third installment of Perspectives on Place is a rumination on memory as place from Claire Summers.
A note, unanchored, out of context, found on a friend’s computer: “an expert on imaging the earth’s interior.” I imagine this as a geography of an inner world: invisible, potent. I think of place not as that which is held by borders but as something interior, something in the belly or soul. I picture the stomach, picture it as the centre of memory, most sacred and soft. Staying proximate to memory is how I place myself, how I map the geographies of my own interior.
Which is to say that the memory of talking to my housemate about how the shimmer of birdsong is such a mainstay in our world that we no longer notice it makes me feel an anchor, a sense of totality. He says that Australia has a cacophonous symphony of birds, while the birdsong in Los Angeles is lighter, moves through you at speed.
Which is to say that when Joni Mitchell, California beloved, sings sweet bird, you are briefer than a falling star, she is singing of love fading, of time passing, of her place in it all shifting beneath her feet.
Which is to say that while watching my ex-lover’s heart beat in his neck after we had sex one afternoon, his skin softly shuddering, I hear the birdsong outside the window above our heads and I think of Los Angeles, feel the anchor, the sense of totality.
I think of nostalgia as a fault line of memory, a desire to steep everything in a layer of sentiment, to obscure that which is brittle.
I watch a woman in a singlet order coffee on one of the first hot days of spring, see the muscles in her back move, watch her warm skin stretch and retreat. I wonder how you would have looked at her, wonder if you might have imagined running your fingers along the fault line where her shoulder curves downwards from her neck. I picture your mouth, see it against her mouth. I wonder how you might use your hands, if you would use them as if you were reading her.
The sun gives shape to everything it touches, just as hands do. The hot air starts to rise as the seasons roll ever on and through. If you are scorched earth, I’ll be warm rain. The memory of walking with you to find a purple jacaranda to sit beneath is a memory of light, of how it came down in sheets–physical, even without a form to fall on.
We mistake the past for something unchangeable, something finite. Viewed always from an ever-shifting present, the past undulates, tilts, distorts.
Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.
The place I was in when I started writing this piece is completely different to the one I am in as I finish it. The memory of you, the memory of light, is now scorched, soured. I have no desire to cradle that memory, to stay proximate. I have tried to keep you at a fixed distance and maybe some distances have now been fixed.
I have sometimes found myself wondering […] if seeing a particularly astonishing shade of blue, for example, or letting a particularly potent person inside you, could alter you irrevocably, just to have seen or felt it. In which case, how does one know when, or how, to refuse? How to recover?
The light creeps through the interstices in fractured sentiment, gives new shape to a changed geography. The seasons, still, roll ever on and through. The potency of blue dilutes. The question of how to refuse? how to recover? becomes irrelevant.
I am in communion with new memory, staying bound to something boundless: an expert on imaging my own interior.
 A description of French geophysicist Barbara Romanowicz on Wikipedia
 Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
 Joan Didion, Blue Nights
 Maggie Nelson, Bluets
Image: Claire Summers photographed by Nadeemy Betros
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