Yesterday was the first day of the Every Contact Leaves a Trace exhibition at Fabrica.

This is what the gallery says to introduce the exhibition:

‘In the early twentieth century Dr Edmond Locard, a pioneer of forensic science, proposed his ‘exchange principle’. His idea, that whenever two surfaces come into contact a transference of material, however slight takes place, has laid the foundation for modern forensic science and coined the phrase ‘every contact leaves a trace’.

Taking Locard’s exchange principle as a starting point, this exhibition brings together the recent work of two scientists and two artists who individually and in partnership explore the idea that our physical existence in the world and particularly our actions leave indelible traces upon our environment and other people.

Carole Hayman’s documentary film installation No-one Escapes and newly commissioned textile pieces by Shelly Goldsmith provide the main visual elements of the exhibition. Biologist Alison Fendley, a Senior Scientist with the Forensic Science Service, and Anna Motz, a Consultant Clinical & Forensic Psychologist in Oxfordshire Healthcare NHS Trust, share their work and thoughts through commissioned texts and discussion.’

I went into the gallery to do some more work on setting up my project space – I had got it basically set up the night before for the opening of the exhibition.

I had a load of pictures of different bits of me which I assembled on the wall to make a sort of collage photofit image of myself. There are also various bits of information on the wall about the events I’m doing during the exhibition and bits of writings/musings that I’ve been putting down as my reidency has been going along.

Under the picture there is a table with books and articles about the body, body memory and performance and a few anatomical models. There is a plastic spine, small skeleton and a ‘Visible Man’ which is a see through plastic model of a man with all the organs on display.

I’ve put all these things there because I wanted to find a way to have a presence in the gallery while I’m not there and to leave some items for people to look at and wonder about in relation to the exhibition. I wanted to create an image of myself alongside all the anatomical imagery as a simple way to point out that I am working with myself as subject and with the body – that what I am is what I’m working with as a dancer.

I’m really putting myself on the wall as an example of anybody, and there is a story on the wall (posted here as ‘body memory’) which is intended to explain something about my own experience of how the body retains it’s experience.

I will add things to my space as my residency develops. I’m feeling my way into it really to see what might come out of being there in amongst the work of the two visual artists and with the ideas, images and feelings that the exhibition brings up for me.

So, having set up my space I went to spend some time in Carole Hayman’s installation: No one Escapes. Here is what the gallery says to introduce her piece.“Anna Motz works to understand the roots of severe psychopathology in women who are violent against themselves and others and explores the possibilities for professionals working therapeutically with these women.

She expounds the link between traumatic childhood experience and adult behaviour and is a key voice in Carole Hayman’s documentary film installation No-one Escapes. Hayman’s work uses the notorious case of serial killers Fred and Rosemary West to examine the psychological impact of extreme violence on those immediately connected with the case as well as intimating a wider impact, a psychological ripple, through society as a whole.”

Wow.

What an experience it is.

The installation is all do with the Rosemary West case – the Rosemary West that was convicted of murdering 10 people along with her husband Fred West who committed suicide before he could be tried.

The installation is set up in a specially created space which has a series of tv screens showing interviews with people involved in the case. the space is intended to be domestic – in some way to remind the viewer that these things take place in the home – in the homes of normal people and that normal people are affected by these events.

I sat and listened to Anne Marie West – Fred West’s daughter and Rose West’s step daughter, to the solicitor that represented Rosemary West and to his wife, to the sister of one of the murdered girls, and to a police officer and a psychiatrist involved in the case.Listening to the stories, I was trying to locate the feeling that they brought up in me.

I felt quite physically sick in my stomach and I had this sense that I sort of fled my body. The sensation of listening to these people who had dealt with these awful things really is so crushing. There is something which makes me feel so numb, so powerless. I think there’s something to do with the idea of murder on such a scale that is so outside of my own experience that I just don’t even want to let it near me. It’s compelling to hear people talk about it, but at the same time it’s just so awful – because it’s so real.

It really happened.

It isn’t a made up story, but a telling of real events happening to real people. What is there for those people who have been affected by it?

It’s like their lives have been so tainted – it’s so absolute – it’s innocence stolen away in such an uncompromising way – such things affect people in so many profound emotional and physiological ways – it’s almost as if you can see it in their skin.

It’s devastating. I don’t even know if I want to have it in my mind because it taints me. From this point of view, the effects – the traces left with anyone that comes into contact with such things (which is part of what the exhibition deals with) are so palpable and widespread.

It makes me wonder why do people want to make work about such things. I can think that about horror movies – the nasty ones about serial killers and such like.

Why would I want to have these things in my head? As if somehow, if these things must happen, as it seems they must, maybe we should let them just be confined to the incidents themselves, so that they can’t keep infecting beyond that horror of the actual time in which they occurred.

Carole gave a (really fascinating) introductory talk for volunteers at the gallery and one of the things she was talking about was the question of just how far any of us are away from those sorts of behaviours, she quoted a statistic of 1 in 10 having psychotic tendencies, and talked about how all kinds of people committed abominable acts of cruelty that they would probably never have committed had they not been in those circumstances. The idea that it’s not necessarily exttraordinary people, but extraordinary circumstances that produce such acts. I’ve thought a lot about this before – just what might I have done had I been in that situation – would I have been in the resistance or a guard in a prison camp, or shopping my next door neighbour to the authorities – it freaks me out actually – I’m not really sure how strong I am or would be under those circumstances.

I like to think that I would stand up for what I believe and be honourable and brave, but I don’t know so much.

So the act of listening to those stories about Rose West, I found defeating, deadening somehow – I think it’s a despair at the human condition.

I think I need to see it again, to glean more information from it, though in fact, I dread it. I think I just feel that everything about such cases are a tragedy – of course unbearable to think about the people who were murdered, tortured and their friends and families, but also somehow for the murderers too – the total loss of humanity that must have taken place in order for them to do what they did, and for all of us – this is such a tragedy for humanity as a whole – that this is a part of us. It lives within our midst and is somehow a product of the world we create.

And somehow it is important to explore these things, because the questions delve into the dark core of who we are as humans, of what defines us and asks under what circumstances might our own humanity disintegrate?

It’s a call for us to eplore what we we are and to strive to live better lives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.