Early morning rising. Ripped from sleep by the alarm, struggling to remember Lucy Bleach’s instructions on how to locate the right street, and through bleary eyes, I drive to the little lane-way, a small nook down a side street in Hobart’s CBD. The dawn air is crisp with expectation as I arrive to find a couple of people, one of whom is Lucy, waiting. We gather on the other side of Mathers Lane in the Hobart CBD, familiar faces, we are huddled together, passive witnesses to the events Bleach has set in motion.
As the appreciative crowd of the Hobart art community grows, Lucy flicks a switch somewhere and a neon pigeon is illuminated, hovering over the lane. Delighted murmurs at this abstract symbol are distracted by concrete reality, as a big truck pulls up, a silver bulldog on the front illustrating the contrast with the pigeon. It backs up close to the nook, bringing a set of concrete steps into view. Instead of dawn silence ( a neon bird in flight), the lane is filled with the noise of the truck’s mechanisms; the reversing light; and creaking hydraulics as the driver hooks the steps to the crane, lifting and rotating them. For a few moments the structure becomes a stairway to heaven spinning slowly on an invisible axis in time and space. When lowered to the ground, the steps have become a portal to a newly created space that feels somehow sacred. A monument – but to what is as yet unrevealed.
Then a second truck grumbles up the lane, ensuing a gavotte as Truck One leaves and Truck Two repeats the process all over again, but this time placing a Vinnie’s charity clothing donation bin at the top of the steps. Pre-warned, I have brought my clothing donation as instructed and run up the steps, ceremonially opening the shaft of the bin and in they go, my offering to this new temporary/permanent place. Others do the same, and then before breakfast it is time to disperse, to begin our day.
I reflect on this dreamlike encounter all day, the simplicity of this monumental piece of work, the shared early morning experience charged with the excitement of those who came to see a new art work being made.
The following Saturday I rise early again and watch as a truck pulls up, Bleach unlocks the belly of the bin, and I am delighted as the rainbow of contents spill out into the lane, the invitation to donate has been fruitful, and I offer my services to help relieve the bin of these gifts. The lane is lined with bags and piles of clothing as the driver lifts the bin back onto the truck and drives it away, its role in this unfolding drama over.
The following Saturday I rise early (again) and watch as a truck pulls up. Bleach unlocks the belly of the bin, and I am delighted as the rainbow of contents spill out into the lane; the invitation to donate has been fruitful, and I offer my services to help relieve the bin of these gifts. The lane is lined with bags and piles of clothing as the driver lifts the bin back onto the truck and drives it away, its role in this unfolding drama over.
Only a ring of soil remains on top of the steps, remnants of a plant offering left by a passerby earlier in the week. This is the end of the first part of the work. The stairs remain. The pigeon remains.
The second part of the work begins with Bleach emptying all the contents of the donated items into the shop front window of the building to the right of Mathers Lane.
Bleach and a costume designer, Roz Wren, spread out a large section of mossy green material (some old curtains, I think), and map out several sections of material which will be torn up and re-stitched to form a cloak .The cloak is to be worn by an unnamed Hollywood diva who will be coming to Hobart soon, to sing/lament about loss and notions of home.
I return many times that week. Bleach and Wren working on the garment, a multi-coloured patchwork of our collective memories – the sentimental attachments we have from these threads of material removed and reconfigured – now gifted as important components of this evolving piece of costuming. The shade of the cloak begins in purple, a piece of a top here, a bra and sock there. Then red, orange, yellow until it turns green and finally blue. The colours represent the shades of sky light, from dawn to dusk. Divided into sections, the cloak is displayed in the windows of the shop for passers by to admire, whilst Bleach and Wren work on Singer type sewing machines, sewing for our singer.
Bleach has also invited a group of women to come work with her, the ladies of ‘Stitch’, a sewing group for newly arrived refugee women; an opportunity for them to begin to feel comfortable in this new home. Those who donate clothing let go of a tiny part of themselves, small reminders of past experiences. These women have let go of everything. The cloak holds all of these stories.
Recycled clothes, recycled opportunities. We wait for the singer who we now know as Rebekah Del Rio to arrive, she is our story teller. A new Dawn service awaits us, cloak and all.
At sunrise on Saturday morning Del Rio laments to us, she sings about loss and notions of home. She begins standing on the concrete steps wearing the cloak created for her in the previous iteration, just the hood on the first day. At each performance over the week, the cloak grows. They gradually cocoon her with a new panel added each day, that matches the colour of the natural light over the course of the day from dawn to dusk. The times of the singing across the week echo these transitions.
Bleach’s intentions for ‘Homing’ were to explore what public space can be and how we engage with it. These fragmented moments, begin as intimate early morning performances for the audience and as they take place later and later into the day, there are increasingly minor disturbances, the background noise of people walking through the laneway,traffic roaring past. These effects only add to the experience, something about Del Rio’s voice transcends the space, and these uncontrollable noises give us a reality check – yes we are still in the real world. I focus on how the passersby interact with the work. Some stop, some don’t. I guess even the beauty of Del Rio’s a cappella singing cannot pierce the internal monologues of some people’s minds.
However, for those that do stop or have come to see the performance, the raw emotion brought about from Del Rio’s voice is shared by the audience. There’s something magical about this space and what happens in these moments. Overwhelmed, a number of people have tears in their eyes. Perhaps it’s the choice of songs? Indeed, the common thread that runs through each performance is the song ‘Llorando’ a Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’.
“Yes, now you’re gone and from this moment on
I’ll be crying, crying, crying, crying
Yeah, crying, crying over you”
What makes these moments so special are the choice of site and the people who unknowingly contribute to the work. During her final performance, a dusk lament there’s a moment where Del Rio has left the lane way and walked across the road to sing in the arcade, the crowd following at a distance,. The acoustics of this site project her voice into the space drawing people out of the shops. Some drunks leave ‘The Oasis’, a local pub and gambling venue, and begin to holler at her, Unfazed, Del Rio makes her way to the end of the arcade and in a flash sheds the cloak and is gone.
For those of us who were expecting her and those of us who weren’t Mathers Lane has become imbued with the memory and resonance of the encounter. Marked by this iteration, I wait to see what will become of Mathers Lane next.
The final day of ‘Homing’ arrives. I return for the last time to the little area off Criterion Street that has become so infused with emotion, expectation and meaning. The time is 4:45 – this seems fitting, not long til dusk. Nature is winding down for the night, but there is the usual disconnected bustle from shoppers and workers returning home. I wait, transfixed, wondering at the precise time – why not 5:00? – for Bleach to orchestrate the final event, the final ‘happening’ of ‘Homing’. Just the word, ‘final’ has already evoked in me that feeling of loss so potently explored by Rebekah’s laments – Llorando – ‘you’re gone and now I’m crying’…
After Rebekah Del Rio’s departure, throughout the following week, Lucy had taped up big black and white prints of pigeons and photos taken by the pigeon fanciers of their trophies and paraphernalia to do with homing pigeons. This display, introducing yet another different community with its own shared experience and associations, grew incrementally on the laneway wall to which the neon dove sign is attached. Lucy said she wanted it to look like guano. This made me consider the ambivalence I have about pigeons. They are natural creatures who typically live in public spaces. Children often delight in feeding them, but others find them a pest fouling areas humans wish to claim as their own. Diversity of perspective tends to polarise judgement.
One hundred and twenty pigeons had been in cages, in a trailer parked in the laneway, all day. Bleach had rigged a microphone in there so the sound of their cooing was amplified eerily and sweetly throughout the public space.
At 4.45pm Lucy Bleach and David Cross released all one hundred and twenty homing pigeons. With a loud clamour, they all rushed out of the cages, flew straight towards the crowd and then up off they went, over our heads. I watched them stream off into the dusk. Bleach later told me that they had all arrived home within 9 minutes! Now I understood the significance of the precise time. By 5 pm, the pigeons were all in their homes, and we were returning to ours. It was a sad homecoming for me, the end of a transcendent experience I shared with friends and strangers, art lovers and scoffers.
As the birds soared over my head I was irresistibly reminded of the airplane that would take me away from Hobart, away from Mathers Street, from the airspace traversed by the pigeons, the air breathed by all the inhabitants of Tasmania and the whole Southern hemisphere. I had come to value the locale, I had formed an attachment to it.
Lucy’s last act was to turn off the neon dove on the wall, no longer an ‘abstract’ symbol as it had seemed at the outset of ‘Homing’ but now infused with the flight of the birds as they headed for home. The birds summed up for me the spiritual and religious feel of ‘Homing’ in its different phases. It had been a mosaic of emotions – a lament and a celebration of the human spirit, of the spirit of place and the spirit of nature, the endurance of loss and the quest for home. The Holy Spirit of God is symbolised in religious iconography as a dove, but I think for me, it was rather that the pigeons captured a moment of time that would last in our memories, an enduring symbol of the spirits of all of us, Lucy Bleach, Rebekah Del Rio, the refugees from the ‘Stitch’ group, the general public who experienced this work through accidental encounter and the other art lovers who were in the know.
While reflecting on Iteration:Again and ‘Homing’ I think of my own spirit on a journey, with the hope of returning ‘home’ one day. I think of the celebration and generosity of the works, the word iteration indelible in my mind; how this series has affected me, how the laneway has affected me. And I wonder if ‘home’ is really what I thought it was, before Iteration:Again…
Lucy Rollins, 2011