Lily Fish unravels the creative process and mythologies behind her upcoming Melbourne Fringe performance, Yarn (created in residence at The Australian Tapestry Workshop).
Begin. Begin. Begin. The cursor flashes: taunting me, even now.
Last year I was awarded an artist’s residency at the Australian Tapestry Workshop. I’d just finished three years of drama school, had no process for devising solo work and had pitched a vague concept for a physical theatre piece. Something about a woman who wakes up, bound, with no memory. She untangles herself, realises she is an image in a tapestry, but in unpicking herself she has dissolved her identity.
I didn’t know how to start. I did yoga. I read books. I spoke with the weavers about interpretation – how when they reproduce an artwork they create an entirely new piece of art. I stood for hours in front of tapestries until single strands of thread brought me to tears because the colour was so immense that it was beyond my comprehension. I smoked cigarettes and watched pigeons and saw for the first time that their feathers are not grey but green and purple. I began to experience what Brett Whiteley calls ‘difficult pleasure’.
I attended an artist talk by Brent Harris. He said that as a young artist he plotted out exactly what he would paint before he created an image, but now he just makes a mess on the canvas, then finds the image in the mess. I opened my computer, defied the flashing cursor and made a mess.
I wrote about Salome. I wrote about creation. I wrote about a young contemporary woman falling in love, desperately in love, and her relationship disintegrating. I didn’t know how these stories were tied together until I stepped back and viewed them as a whole and I saw that they were all me. Like a tapestry, I had written a play that must be viewed in its entirety, and from a distance. I am all of the stories. All the stories, interwoven, compose an image of me. Or someone very like me. All the myths, all the stories I am told, the stories I tell, to myself and others, these are the yarns in my tapestry, and if I unpick them all what remains?
I had wanted to write about Salome for a few years. I’d read Wilde’s play and found it grating but I didn’t know why. In hindsight my early attempts at an adaptation was my way of trying to reconcile my own world view with that of a playwright I admired. Eventually I realised Wilde’s text was deeply misogynistic and the distaste this evoked in me was also the source of my interest in reinterpreting the narrative. I wondered for months why Salome would kill the man she loved.
Finally I reached a conclusion I was happy with. Salome is ‘abjectified’ by Narraboth, Herod, and John in three different ways. Each of them see her not as a person but as a sort of monster. Narraboth sees her as a goddess; Herod a pawn; and John the embodiment of sin. I decided that her choice to ask for John’s head is a rejection of all these interpretations. In asking for John’s head she defies the stories others tell about her by painting herself as something much, much worse. She is the Cuntmonster who kills and kisses the mouth of God. This act of defiance buys her freedom from how she is seen by the men in her life but it also seals her fate. She is killed and cursed.
Lilith’s experience is similar. Lilith belongs to the Kabbalah’s version of the Judeo-Christian creation myth. Before God created Eve from Adam’s rib he made one mud form, split into two equal creatures: Adam and Lilith. Adam said to Lilith, ‘Get down on the ground so I can fuck you,’ and Lilith said, ‘No, why don’t you get down on the ground?’ For this act of defiance Lilith was cursed to become a spirit who kills babies and makes men have wet dreams. She is freed from her mud form and mortality but destined to a live alone, feared and despised.
The contemporary woman in my text is haunted by dreams she can’t remember. Reapproaching the script for performance, as the actor instead of the writer, I began to ask what is it that she can’t remember? And then I realised: she can’t remember being Lilith. The yarn about equality has been removed from her tapestry. The only story she knows about her origin is Eve’s narrative: a creature made from a superfluous fragment of man, responsible for corrupting all of humanity. My contemporary woman tries to find fulfilment in a doomed, one-sided relationship, and when it fails she declares, ‘I want to go back, if not back to you then all the way back to nothing.’
All three of my female protagonists unpick the yarns that compose them and find formlessness. Somehow, in the mess that I’d spewed onto my computer screen, I found the project I’d set out to create all along. A woman, bound in a tapestry, unpicks the threads that compose her image and finds unquantifiable formless freedom. And like God, at the end of the sixth day, I look at my creation and am pleased.
Feature photo by Hannah Spence