I needed somewhere to put my grief. Not to hide it away and forget, but to articulate it, record it, preserve this “preciously awful” time. It was the grief before mourning, the grief before the death had occurred. Anticipatory. A thing in itself.
Oubliette, a book centred on the vicarious gardener, Ericca Godfrey—my mum. The experience of anticipatory grief is woven with scraps of conversations and memories that were shared over several years between us: two people who loved one another wonderfully and irreplaceably. Published by Nevermore Press, autumn 2023.
“The stuttering of fragments from Top Gun to Tracy Emin to Cicero renders a moving present-tense of grief in this text. Godfrey’s keen ear and vivid memory cast shadows that are deftly traced to form an outline of what has been cleft from the writer.” Rebecca La Marre, editor Apophony Press.
I carry an image in my memory of a place that is real but does not exist. It’s a cave, a sandstone-ish cave and I don’t know how big it is. It’s dry, hospitable, and its walls are uneven, full of nooks, cracks, scoops, and sheers of many sizes. Ultimately, it’s a cave that will not ever be fully known, some of its surfaces will remain forever in the shadows and that’s no bad thing; it’s not always for the good to have absolutely everything in sight. This cave is, of course, within me. When I speak or write about it my hands go to my chest and stomach, so I think that’s where it lives.
I first became aware of this cave at the Fort Whyte Nature Centre. I was with my friend, Azzy. We’d gone there a few weeks after we’d stopped dating and started our friendship. She asked me how I felt about our relationship. The cave swam into my mind as I tried to put into words how she made me feel. As I described it to her the cave grew into a real place, I could see it so clearly. She had been like a lantern held up to reveal beautiful peachy-almond colours and depths I hadn’t seen before. To experience that had been wonderful, a true marvel.
The cave’s illumination is not limited to friendship, romance, or family. Fleeting exchanges—glances, gestures, brief words—those lights may be remembered for years. And it isn’t limited to people either, places can be lanterns too.
For months last year, I walked along the stretch of the Assiniboine River that flows through downtown Winnipeg. Close to the water, I watched seeds sprout into saplings that grew optimistically. I began to recognise the people I passed each morning. Most days I’d see the silver slip of a fish as it broke the water’s surface with a tight flip, and once I’m sure I saw an otter floating on her back. I enjoyed the rogue gardening of a lady who planted cosmos and sunflowers near some unused ornate steps where she hauled water from the river in large ice cream pails. We didn’t share a language but we shared delight in her flowers’ progress. It’s only looking back that I understand that the river and all of the activity around it were lanterns, surprising with me with new patterns of light and movement.
The walks stopped this year with the prolonged flooding of the river path. I made a few half-hearted attempts to reroute through the parks perched atop its banks. In one of these parks is a reflecting pool but in the late spring it was dry with only grit and litter rustling around it. Near one end is a plinth, an empty rectangular cube about a metre high. One morning when passing by I saw a grimy duvet bundled on top of it. I continued for a few steps before the realisation sunk in that there was a person in there. I backtracked and watched for small movements that would tell me the being in the bundle was ok. It remained perfectly still. After a few minutes, I asked softly, “Hallo? Are you alright?” A head with short brown tousled hair suddenly appeared and a face with barely open eyes nodded at me and gave me a sweet, sleepy smile, the kind that’s usually only seen by a lover or a mother.
A lot has changed for me this year, although the river is presently at its more usual level. Maybe the changes are why the cave and lanterns have been in my thoughts and conversations more—it’s an evocative way of describing the effect that people, places, and experiences have on us; as well as their absence. We illuminate different aspects of each other: giddying and gorgeous, it can happen with a new friend or falling in love or visiting somewhere new. The honeylight soaks our stone and illuminates the depth and colour and shapes within us that in turn reflect back onto the lantern bearer. We find ourselves capable of great things, of experiencing the fullest sensations of life, of understanding ourselves in a way different to the one we are habituated to. Amazing, humbling gift of fullness and joy.
From the beginning of our lives we encounter lanterns. It’s not simple at all. For unlucky folks, the lanterns bore down too harshly or cast more shadows than light. I was very lucky. I had a big, beautiful, steadfast one shining on me with an unceasing sunny light as soon as I popped into the world. My mum filled me with such golden love that the walls of my cave are forever glowing with it.
My mum is one the greatest loves of my life and I was one of hers. With her death, the quality of her light within me has changed. Although it is still there, I have to concentrate and close my eyes to feel it instead of giving her a call and hearing her talk. I know her light will always be within me but I miss her gentle lantern, the me-with-her. I miss her so much.
When I reached my home in the UK, I learned she had died before I’d even boarded my flight and terrible mourning fell upon me like a curtain made of treacle. As days passed among the loving lanterns of my family, I was barely aware of some other tiny points of light in the overwhelming darkness that cloaked the future, but by the end of two weeks there was a scattering of persistent white pinpricks poking through. The celebration of my lovely mum’s life took place in the English countryside with those who loved her so very, very much and then—I was back on a flight crossing the gloomy Atlantic again, bound for my other home in Winnipeg, the home where I live.
This city, where many of those tiny, powerful lights twinkled from across thousands of silent miles grew into a quiet chorus of mismatched lanterns held by kind, steady hands, that have been helping me find myself again.
A hybrid novel and collection of contemporary art essays. Generously funded by The Canada Council for the Arts.
The Midnight Florists is a shadowy organization that once menaced and seduced on behalf of its clients. The plot is driven by artworks featuring plants, which are scattered around an elderly, queer woman’s apartment in Winnipeg. Though the story is fictional, most of the art works are real. Artists include Larry Glawson, Ekene Maduka, Studio Morison, Grace Han …
Projected onto a screen partially submerged in water, a looped video shows dancers interacting with the surface of the water.
The dance was conceived of by hannah_g and she invited local choreographer, Rachel Cooper, to choreograph the piece. The work was created with two local dancers, Vanessa Hrynchuk and Lia Loewen.
The idea came during hannah’s regular walks along the Assiniboine River where she sees birds and fish paddling, jumping, and swimming. hannah became fascinated by how the surface of the water creates a line between the above and below, the visible and invisible, and how the line moves with the ripples. One morning, an image of dancers interacting with this line appeared in her mind with great force and became the impetus for this project.
First screened at The Forks, Winnipeg as part of Nuit Blanche 2021.
hannah_g Director, Producer
Rachel Cooper Choreographer
Lia Loewen Dancer
Vanessa Hrynchuk Dancer
JP Media/Jordon Popowich Videographer
Aston Coles Production Technician
Colby Richardson Projectionist
Situated at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers on Treaty 1 territory, The Forks has been a meeting place for over 6,000 years. Treaty 1 territory encompasses the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe, Ininew, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene Peoples and is the homeland of the Metis Nation. We are grateful and inspired to share work here.
The project was funded by the Manitoba Arts Council with support from Shelley Shearer School of Dance, Nick and Todd at the Gas Station Arts Centre, Artisan AV, The Forks. Special thanks to Rose Passante, Niigaan Sinclair.
Photo: a still from the video WATERLINE: A Dance With the Surface of Water; 2021.
A collaboration between hannah_g & Zoe Katsilerou.
Zoe Katsilerou (singer/composer) and hannah_g created a story and suite of songs about the mythical Louloudi birds. Beginning on the small Greek island that is home to the birds, the story takes you to a Cornish forest by the sea and the love and friendship of Bonjay and Nellie, and ends on the rooftops of Toronto for the most beautiful tennis game the world has seen.
A collaboration between Canadian sound artist, Ken Gregory, and hannah_g.
_g reads texts written during the Covid 19 pandemic over Gregory’s soundscapes.
The EP is a gesture of solidarity: by expressing our experiences of the Covid-19 crisis we hoped to provide affirmation and respite, a means of making sense of, and escaping into, experiences that are not one’s own.
The EP is a kind of call and response between two people who, though one-time neighbours, cannot meet in person. This situation is common all over the world now. Plague Fantasies is a small testimony to the determination to listen and respond and the slippery interpretations that can ensue.
Gregory and _g share the goal of creating alternative intimate spaces of experience whether through stories and experimental writing (_g) or performative media and robotics. This was an opportunity for the artists to riff on each other’s practices and expand their respective interests in hacking lived experience to find more connections between people and places as well as new perspectives.
805-4821 is a trans
coming out story. it’s also about the 80,000 words of
facebook messages my
best friend and i wrote each other one fall. it’s also about hamlet and trauma and
having a feeling. it’s also about my mom. it’s mostly performed using an overhead
it’s mostly performed in silence. welcome
to the movies.
performed by Davis Plett. Edited by Gislina Patterson.
took place in The Ugly, aceartinc., Winnipeg, Treaty One Territory.
A response by hannah_g
If I were a journalist, I might begin this piece so:
“Davis Plett (23) a petit blonde in
pink two-piece with wide, gold, metal choker, black stilettos, and glasses,
began their performance in the midst of a rapt audience. Seated in a large 1980’s office chair
(emphasising their build), Plett operated an overhead projector/laptop hybrid
in silence as acetate after acetate, and digital screen after screen of text
and image rolled over the fabric of the old projection screen … ”
The visual description of the subject, once common in
tabloids, directs the reader towards assumptions about intelligence, intention,
personality, social standing, and availability. A female identified body in a
public role was regarded as an available body. This still holds true. With
simultaneously greater subtlety and absolute brazenness, female, and
increasingly, male identified bodies, are still being overtly included in North
American and European neo-liberal economies of sex, fantasy, commodity,
personal branding, and power. Plett takes the brutish, vested language of the
lowest-common-denominator-highest-yield-gaze and issues a layered and
unflinching I would prefer not to. In a counter play to those directives
issued by twenty-first century capitalism, Plett enacts increasingly productive
complexity in a lexicon of courtesies and frankness that lays bare their
rejection of manipulative classifications and decrees to consume and be
The details of Plett’s appearance and
performance I listed are significant, but must go beyond a simple exercise.
These details comprise meticulous elements of a meticulous work; meticulous in
the way a person who has planned a murder is. In a sense, murder – an act of power and
will to destroy another thing –
death are deeply present. Plett uses Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a force within the
warrenous structure of their work, as well as a personal signifier. The play
within a play strafes 805-4821 (not all men are men), but whereas this
device was deployed by Hamlet to reveal his father’s murderer, Plett
uses it to flush out that which seeks to murder their self with essentialist
labels, expectations, abuse, or trauma.
Through confessional texts — conversations, messages, self examination — Plett reveals and
exposes their familial, romantic, platonic, and undefined relationships as a
means of destroying, redeeming, and transcending. Tied in with sex, longing,
and discovery, the texts are not all necessarily destructive. Listening to and
reading them, it felt at times as if one were witnessing a staccatic series of petit
morts, at others, the ecstasies of a mystic. Annihilating the self in order
to experience divine revelations is a trope in spiritual journeys, after all.
The mystic experiences a double release by disseminating revelations beyond the
cloister, situating this as testimony.
On the tired, old, enormous projection screen we read line
after line of text for 40 minutes. It is impossible to catch it all. The
strange concoction of digital and analogue technology had a self-conscious
nostalgia that was very contemporary, but not always legible. The overhead
bulb was dim, Plett’s
fingers, manipulating the acetate text, were fleet, making words, including final
and first sentences, easily missable. The text — and therefore the
act of reading it
was both dense and porous. Since one cannot be sure one has read the entire
thing, the porousness and thus the absorbency of the text to hold perception,
gap-filling, assumptions, and uncertainties is increased. We see the web but
not all of its moorings. The sheer volume, the thickness of the experiences
described, our experiences of them, intensified the density of an already dense
piece of writing. A metaphor for the difficulty of comprehending another’s experience,
perhaps. The lengths required to make that experience comprehensible. To make a
person legible, regarded, understood, and not diminished by any of this.
Instead becoming imprinted on every surface to counter violent hegemonies that
is a tangled revelation; they welcome the weeds and the roots and the intensity
of being under the water of searching. Although they share all this with the
audience and invite us in, the essential interiority of memory, emotion,
relationships, and self-realisation remains intact, facilitated by the audience’s
reading of Plett’s
words pulled across the over head projector. The act of reading transfers the
interiority to us, and we have both Plett’s and our own voice
in our heads. It also positions Plett as a kind of handmaid. A secretarial
Through careful use of clothing and props, Plett conjured a
1980s secretarial aesthetic: the Janine, the Tess McGill, the Nine-To-Fivers –
women whose formidable attitudes are due to incredible latent powers expressed
within and outside the office, amplified by flamboyant accessories, ozone
destroying hair, and rapturous soundtracks. However, these
characters seek freedom and success within the savage capitalist structures
that oppress them. Plett critically draws on this aesthetic, associated with
neoliberal storytelling, masterfully subverting it. Not least with the
unexpected song they sing at the end of 805-4821 (not all men are men). Their
vulnerable, unamplified, unaccompanied voice (which is somehow primed for the
audience by their microwaving and eating of popcorn amongst us in a preceding
scene) makes inescapable the body that is outside of, as well as inside of the
texts. We are rapturously confronted with the realization that there is a body
within those 80’s
clothes, under that make up. That body is queerly present before us. That body
can be invisible, disguised, revealed, heightened, subverted, inverted,
converted, coveted according to their desires. We want to believe that.
I was working the double bill and was right at the back of
The Ugly for both performances. I watched two audiences enter, mill, watch,
mill again, and leave. People were quiet and, I think it fair to say,
expectant. Of what? Of connection? Revelation? To receive a queer sacrament?
Plett did speak in tongues, with tongue, a serpent’s seeking, and a
interior rearing. Transcending and immersing and rejecting the clinging,
incendiary spectacle of a body that is silent and that speaks: a distinctly
queer phenomenon. And yes, a sacred thing. The messy, uncomfortable kind.
was the secretary in the first Ghostbusters movie. Tess McGill was a
secretary in the movie Working Girl, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily
Tomlinson were secretaries in the movie 9 to 5.
With thanks to Derek Dunlop and Bossy & Jayme Spinks and Helah.
Last month I found
myself in a dim café off Platform 1 of Stroud railway station. After getting my
coffee, I stood by a window that repelled light, and idly listened to the
chatter of the other passengers waiting for the 9.04 to London, Paddington. I
soon realised that the woman who ran the place had quite a few regulars: “Going
to the dentist again, John?”, “… you’ll enjoy looking out the window, Barb.”
It’s a cosy though chilly nook, with old railway memorabilia on the walls, and
newspapers presented on a table. The woman (flyaway hair escaping from a grey-white
topknot) dispensed coffee, tea, and bacon sandwiches. Framed cartoons depicting
rail service scenes from the 1930s lined one wall, romances and mysteries lined
the shelf beneath them. The stuff in this place looked like it had been accrued
over time, its purpose only becoming apparent when this café was acquired by
the current owner. Or perhaps not its purpose; simply an opportunity.
A partial meaning
Being near strangers
and also apart meant that we imagined each other’s company. A new space was
formed by the act of communicating. Exchanging thoughts, memories, opinions,
snippets of ourselves we furnished this apart space and dwelled in/used it for
moments of consecutive days. Like any private place, you have to be there to
know, but your there and my there will remain separate. If we should share a
space it will simply be another space, related to, perhaps informed by, that which
we previously created in our respective minds.
An apartment- a place
to shelter from the weather and other people. A place to share an incomplete
praecie of who you are, what you know and value, and sometimes who you love and
have loved. A home. Above, below, or beside other apartments containing other
people using the space in ways most likely similar to you. A place to fulfil
the private necessities and luxuries of life in comfort.
Exhibition / exposition / exposure
properties of the word ‘curate’ such as caring for, stewarding, sharing
thoughtfully and knowledgeably I hold in regard. And I love looking at art
objects and object objects and visiting places in which they have been collected
and presented with intention. It will not be surprising that, for the most part,
I rather like contemporary art galleries and believe in their purpose as places
to encounter objects, experiences, texts, bodies, and ideas. They are places to
think intimately and usually solitarily, despite the presence of other visitors.
Seeing art and objects in a person’s home is a kindred experience though
different in important ways. Depending on one’s relationship with the home one
is in, one might cast surreptitious glances at things or confidently ask after
them. One is exposing one’s level of interest.
A few days ago I asked
an artist, “Where would you like people to see your work?” And via the tumble
of conversation, I wondered about the setting up of circumstances for people to
see art in a home without them realising that that was what was happening.
Using cruising apps was my initial thought because of the nature of the
artist’s work. The moments of being in unfamiliar domestic settings that
precede sex, what would one see in that heightened state? What would one
remember? And what about the act of cruising the art itself? The artist
described doing this when he visits a gallery. Looking within the mists of
intention when anything is possible.
acquaintances, neighbours, pals, friends are the components of a certain kind
of community, usually one defined by geography. How do we get to know one
another and when do we want to do this? How can we see what each other does? What
if it isn’t on neutral ground? What if we become a guest as well as an acquaintance?
What if we become a guest as well as an old friend? What if we become a host as
well as an artist?