Gallanach, adj. Full of young bough. Scottish Gaelic.
A reference to the fragility of youth. A reference to bodies in change, between states. A reference to the unseen, a gesture to the assumed, a work about ability. Gallanach is a durational performance, created by Amy Rosa, that was presented as part of this year’s UNLIMITED festival at Glasgow’s Tramway. It is four hours in length, showing in Tramway Four, which I’ve typically seen as a studio theatre space. The chairs had been stripped away and I sat near the back, on a curved seat with no back rest; I watched the work an hour and a half, between the hours of 3:30PM and 5:00PM. I didn’t see all of it – and many people came and went while I watched.
The artist, Rosa, performs the work. When I enter she is kneeling near the front left of the stage. There’s a crutch to her right, laying on the floor, and a black, possibly ceramic, bowl in front. Behind her, centre-stage, is a hexagonal structure around which are placed an identical set of bowls and a large jug of water where a strong side-light, from both directions, refracts off its surfaces. Above Rosa’s head is a network of electrified copper wire. It crosses from left to right at different angles, overlaying itself, a maze of straight lines. My eyes get lost in it, trying to follow each connection, producing a depth of field I sink into – unable to find a firm hold. My gaze relaxes, and leaning back onto my elbows, I watch.
A few years ago Amy Rosa was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (FMS), a condition characterised by experiences of chronic pain and chronic fatigue. What is most striking about Gallanach is the manner in which it explores many different facets of living with chronic illness. The conditions of pain and fatigue are most obviously made visible through observing the artist negotiate the work over a period of time. The work she is undertaking – a series of repeated rituals involving the movement of water across the space – is strenuous, further complicated by the adaptations she has to make in order to cross the space. Precarious, teetering, she raises a leg over a wire, lowers her neck to move under another and uses her crutch to articulate her body around a third – all while carrying a bowl of water. Watching her move is deeply affecting and clear, and Gallanach is an easy work to understand, comprehend. Living with a chronic illness is both difficult and demands a continued adaptation to the world – new ways of moving, living, are waiting to be found.
It is the sense of loneliness that hits me most squarely, keeps me watching, unable to leave. The artist, encased in this mesh of wire, seems so far away, unreachable, engaged in a task that I don’t understand the purpose or necessity of. This distance between artist and audience is the work’s greatest strength, articulating the sense of isolation brought on by long-term illness and the impenetrability of that lived experience to others. What reads as a refusal to make palatable, refusal to explain (audience members are only given a brief explanation of the work through a programme handed to them as they leave), is surely the only way to communicate what living with with FMS might feel like. Much like the condition itself, the origins of the work remain unknown, and the audience are left alone to piece together their experience of it. Trying to find the language to explain this is difficult, with the piece spinning on the very idea of the unsayable, uncommunicable – but I’m watching her, relating, feeling quite lost, brought into the full being of my own experiences of living with long-term illness. I feel quite emotionally overwhelmed. Then I also feel bored, confused. I sit forward, rest my hands on my knees.
Writing about any sort of work is always an exercise in failure – like dropping a bar of soap. Yet in the case of Gallanach and durational work in general, it’s a bit like dropping the soap and then your hand falling off too. I only see a fragment of this work, only a glimpse, not even half. There are pictures of previous versions (the work has been shown at BUZZCUT previously) where the ground is littered with branches. I struggle to understand, sitting here, now, typing, how what I saw may grow into that. I have no idea how Gallanach ended. What could that end have been? What were those rituals? Around her waist the artist wore a cord, to which were tied multiple silver droplets on string, and throughout the work these fell off. Were there any left at the end? What was their significance? I have no idea. I only graced it for a while. Caught a glimpse of something – then left. What I saw doesn’t exist anymore. It’s already gone. The body in change. It’ll never come back again. Bodies always changing, slipping from view, growing into something else.
Gallanach, noun. Durational art work by Amy Rosa- worth checking out.
Gallanach was on at the Tramway, Glasgow, on 18th October. More info here.