30 August 2021
Re: The Tower (2020)
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to offer my support for Jessie Bullivant upon the publication of their booklet The Tower (2020) , despite said booklet being an inadvertent plagiarisation of my own work The Tower (IRL Press, 2019).
I say inadvertent, as Jessie does, but there is no way of knowing whether this is truly the case. The fact that mine was published months before, and in development for the best part of three years, including the period during which Jessie and I connected in London and wandered around the knot of galleries in Globe Town talking about life, work and transit, bodes poorly. But I am prone to generosity, and certainly the fact that The Tower (2020) was distributed at big wet, a one-day exhibition in a Finnish water tower, is a literal alignment bolstering Jessie’s claim in subsequent correspondence. Also the implied audacity in then approaching me for a letter of support – it puts me at ease. It’s clear.
There are further correlations between our respective works, as Jessie has pointed out:
It’s almost uncanny: the cover of mine contains a cropped closeup of a fingertip; yours, a foot. Both use a somewhat medieval font. I wasn’t using instagram at the time, so don’t know how the title crept into my subconscious… magic?
As a feminised artist of a certain kind, I’m not averse to the suggestion. But more specifically than an occurrence of magic, I might point out the synchronicity of the publications can be identified as just that, described by Jung as a meaningful, acausal connection that is simultaneously numinous. I’ve been reading him; a scarab is tapping at my tower window.
The fractured but hyperconnected nature of creative economies means that intellectual property theft looms large among the ways that artists can be exploited and exploit eachother today. But preemptive mirroring is also common; where in parochial Australian art communities you can hear about how PhDs changed hands and suddenly Valerie’s showing work utilising identical ceramics techniques, enter any writer’s workshop and they will tell you, with a certain deflated candour, that this can happen before the idea has even migrated from brain to page. There exists a sort of collective current, one that is arguably stronger the closer people are socially and demographically. Perhaps a sweet spot exists where two are close in one way but not directly or diligently consuming each other’s work.
In such writers’ workshops, geared to competition and prize winning, they will also tell you that it is your responsibility to oil yourself accordingly that you are ready and able to receive and package an idea before some other automaton beats you to it. Those of us of minority experience will relate to this feeling of sitting with what seems the painfully obvious (in the most literal sense) for a period of time before finding a streamlined media personality speaking categorically for us, about us, in public. This is what’s at stake in body parts, creative framing, names.
I would argue that to produce any work and place it into circulation increases its chances of playing a part in synchronicity because of its proceeding capacity to numinosity, that is, to act as an omen. This is something which Jessie seems to have lightly heeded in taking the synchronous sign—the title with my waving foot, their nub of a fingertip—to invite me to offer support. Jungians say that it is the compensatory element of the synchronous connection that differentiates it from pure superstition. Compensation for loss of the complementary impulse, for this endless confusion and unbalanced labour, twisting in the wind, feeling like we are speaking to nobody, perhaps being ‘overseas’. Compensatory, also…for the arrogant one-sidedness of materialism?
Jessie’s booklet already begins this journey in being structured around fluids, which belie the titular structure of the phallus, melting it, if you will. The Tower is further aligned with the severed bee sting of the poor worker who was shipwrecked and arthropodologically castrated on the epidermis of, presumably, Jessie themself. My jointed foot, similarly, is wrong-way up, flexing but severed in frame, its embarrassing Birkenstock tan and glam Orly Beverly Hills Plum polish making it, in terms of the phallus, neither here nor really there. Neither genital nor completely removed from the genital, either. The works take these incidental photographs as sorts of omens themselves (turning to my window I wonder, now, is that tapping a scarab or a bee?)
Of course, The Tower is the name of a famous tarot card, number 19, feeding this supremely numinous, acausal, synchronicity. The Pamela Coleman Smith illustration shows lighting striking the edifice to throw a king and his courtier from the windows: who will end up bested in this implied competition for landing is anyone’s guess, but certainly, it is a game of readiness. The Tower XIX is change that comes with minimal agency, disruption and destruction inaugurating a new order, as if by divine will. Its name in the Marseille deck is La Maison Dieu, The House of God. This wasn’t a strict reference in my medieval manuscript, but it was in the back of my mind, as was the Song of Songs:
8 We have a little sister.
She has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
in the day when she is to be spoken for?
9 If she is a wall,
we will build on her a turret of silver.
if she is a door,
we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
10 I am a wall, and my breasts like towers,
then I was in his eyes like one who found peace.
The publication of these books coincided with a period of dramatic upheavals that were at once collective and therefore beyond our control, but simultaneously experienced intensely personally, in the body. The Tower is a vessel of water storage but also, wealth, the visible, triangulated, the wrongly-exalted. It feels like this sometimes when making work, contending with the problem of having brought this particular tissue of things out into the public realm over others. It is confronting when this tissue is met by another, not identical but related, a new circumstance which perhaps challenges the gestational/developmental meaning. Numinosity then, in the confrontation with deeply personally affecting forces which are beyond not only the self, but beyond this earthly realm.
I said close to the beginning that I am prone to generosity. I didn’t mean this as a lucid brag but rather naming a daily choice to depart from what would otherwise be a defensive gesture, one all-too encouraged by the circumstances and falsely dizzying heights in which we find our labour relations. I’m not interested in responding to something close to home by attempting to deconstruct it and somehow relegate it to the binfire of symbolism each of us keeps in our heart of hearts. To be reparative, in the sense of Eve Sedgwick, is to live in the sense of structural loss, and the real closeness of that loss, while also welcoming connections between ourselves and others.
I too have found myself eating wrong food at the highest point of the surrounding landscape. For this reason and others insinuated I delight in affirming Jessie Bullivant upon their excellent publication The Tower (2020).
ainslietempleton.com | [email protected]
This letter was written on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I am grateful to be safe living and working here during a global pandemic and I pay respects to Elders past, present and future. Sovereignty was never ceded.