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Guest Holes Guest Holes Guest Holes Guest Holes 

Guest Holes
By Fiction Group

Fiction Group is comprised of five and we are black, brown or queer in the majority.

Nicky Coutts is Research Lead in the School of Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art and a practitioner working with drawing, photography, moving image and writing.

Holly Graham is a London-based artist, working predominantly with print and audio. Much of her work looks at ways in which memory and narrative shape collective histories.

Adam Kaasa is a writer, performer, and facilitator working on feelings and the city, and guided by feminist and queer thinking. 

Shehnaz Suterwalla is Senior Tutor (Research) at the School of Arts an Humanities at the Royal College of Art, where she leads the School Unit, The Urgency of the Arts. 

Jessica Wiesner is a Tutor (Research) on the Contemporary Art Practice MA at the Royal College of Art and is an artist and researcher working across a range of mediums including sculpture, performance, video.
Languages English
Guest Holes began when a member of our group bought 12 photographs at a car boot sale in Budapest, Hungary. The images were acquired as a batch, with no indication of author, title, date or any archival context that could help place them.

Our group writes to prompts as its art fiction method. Each member suggests a text, image, sound, place (the prompts are always evolving) and the group participants respond individually in writing. The texts are then collectively discussed. We approach this as a radical archival gesture for thinking about how knowledge exists, is presented, animated, reconfigured, and how we
might expand the process through altering the conventions of knowledge. Language and its deployment are key, and the group use the language of fiction to write syntactically to the possibilities of 'found' objects and beginnings.

For the prompt of 12 photographs, the independently produced texts overlapped on themes of loss and displacement, fear and excavational brutality. A guest is rarely comfortable where they are. A hole is a place of altered dimensions, a depression from the norm. The prompt invited experimentation with dialogue and with the adequacy of familiar descriptive terms to convey the loss of context that the images themselves prompted. Our response was to build Guest Holes which we see as an artwork.

Explore below
Guest by Shehnaz Suterwalla
Standing there|with| just their|eyelashes for|protection by Nicky Coutts
I wanna scan you by Adam Kaasa

Shehnaz Suterwalla

Khay had told me to come to her allotment. She was keen that we meet there, rather than at her home, though the two were hardly far from each other, neighbours of sorts. As I approached I saw her crouching against a verdant low bed scrutinising chard, rubbing it through her fingers as though trying to wipe away a stain. I didn’t want to startle her and so called her name from afar, stopping, waiting for her eyes to offer green lights to enter. I didn’t know her that well, after all, I’d only met her a handful of times, and not for ages.

Plants are inky things, she wiped her hands on a tea towel tucked into the belt of her apron; kitchen kit that she’d appropriated into her gardening, now stained with chlorophyll green finger prints, childish against her mature elegance, her natural refinement. What time is it? She asked first, then leaned to kiss me on both cheeks. Welcome, she smiled.

Khay told me that she came everyday to the allotment despite the weather, in spite of it mostly, ready to parachute covers over seedling shoots, cool beds with a gentle mist, prune the viney night jasmine. She liked to pop one or two of the flowers into hot water, drink the infusion with oven roasted salted almonds.

Thank you for inviting me here. I meant it, as I stood sincerely but awkwardly, watching her pour tea from a thermos. She’s planned ahead for me. Now that I have my garden, this is where I am to be found. She was not shy to admit the fact.

The tea was scorching and sweet, the milk in Khay’s eyes fresh. I really appreciate your help, there are so many documents, so many photographs, there is no way that I can make sense of it all on my own, she smiled warmly. She appeared capable with her straight back, her balletic poise, but I believed her.

Yet I was somewhat bewildered at the invitation nonetheless. Khay’s documents and photographs were not here, not indexed among the plants, not tucked among the foliage, why did she want us to meet in this spot? Gardens give a sense of possibility, don’t you think, Khay said as a statement rather than a question. I didn’t utter much in reply, ruminating the suggestion under the ruddy sun. I supposed that you could perch anywhere to imagine drama. Move your fabulations to an edge, take a risk in your mind by nudging to a precipice of wonder. I stared at Khay as she crushed some eggshells into the soil, calcium for her marigolds. My mother’s garden was mostly flat, Khay said, not huge. But it was hers, the place where I slashed my ankles and tore my skin among the thorns of damask and pink laventa roses. Where I pressed the print of my thumb into her olive, pomegranate, cedar, acacia, sturdy oak, almond, orange, myrtles.

I stared at Khay’s papery but flawless hands, I can still feel exactly how they burned, she added, better than any memory.

For a moment I tried to think of a place that is beyond memory, perhaps this was how you picture other peoples stories on their own terms. Khay came from a place I could never know, not from the inside, not its prismatic truth. Here look at these – she beckoned me to get closer – I am growing thyme, lots of it. I will pick some for later. The poetic justice of the perennial evergreen among the molten glow of the bangle orbiting Khay’s wrist made me feel as though I never wanted to leave this place.

We both drank our tea, Khay continued to potter, sifting soil through her fingers, crawling her hands through its silt as though searching for an underneath. She was new to this plot, something of a guest still, she seemed keen to make a claim on it. Meanwhile I wondered whose decomposed bones she might be handling in the sedimented mix. I picked up a metallic smell in the air but said nothing. Khay was not young and she struggled to get back onto feet. For a few moments she moved differently, dragging herself, waiting for her joints to release after crouching. The sun shifted. What do we inherit when we are left with nothing, I thought Guest Shehnaz Suterwalla watching her. Perhaps just pains in the body.

I admired Khay’s fortitude to grow new things; the bother of it. The hope within it, or perhaps that was stretching things too far. Some soil is impenetrable, as we know. Nothing can grow, absolutely nothing. Land becomes the enemy. Harsh terrain, rocky quarries, knife edge cliffs. At other times, when terrain is fertile, enemies become the land; checkpoints, guards, walls, eradicated villages, documents needed to enter your front door; land as conditional to who you are, who you are seen as being. And when your land, that of your birth, that of your ancestors, metastasises into the inhospitable, malignantly turns against you to reject you, you can no longer see trees. All that becomes visible then are wolves.

Khay promised to show me a map. It is with the other documents, she said, you will see. It is my grandfather’s, I know this because it has the heavy weight of his fountain pen signature on the back, and the date that he bought it, a date from an otherwise time, when the pink lines that veined across the continent pulsed in directions we once could call a homeland. Lands that throbbed with our presence and contained us, tended to us, held us.

Homeland is like a caul, embodied elsewhere in and of another time. A complete time. When punctured, any make shift sense of home can never contain again, nor carry the weight of its people, the leadenness of their scars. The sun sees it all, of course, the shifting, morphing, moving, migrating, searching; but its rays can never warm another space. Instead a new idea of home must be built but this can only teeter on the cold ledge of a rockface. Cornered, precarious on destitute limestone, it is nonetheless a phare for those who are lost.

Khay’s documents are thin membranes in old dusty boxes. They line the front room of her apartment, personal archives as installations, performative acts of the peripatetic. The documents speak back to all that gets stolen. The photographs reject dispossession. When we enter after having spent a good two hours in the garden, I struggle to adjust my eyes to the darkness, I catch shadows. What is a good time to turn on the lights? Khay asked. I don’t understand early springs.

As I started to leaf through her collection she warned, be careful with those. Years before Khay had grabbed the letters, the parchment – inscribed notes in old hands – the photographs in a desperate moment of grief and panic. She had taken all that she could simply for the strange relief to make sure she left nothing behind. For rams with horns were barraging the front door. Let there be no trace of us here, she had thought, just the whispers of barren ghosts. Women can be wreckers, too. Architects of imperial dissent. In my hands Khay’s materials of her extraordinary, of her mundane felt hot to the touch, as though organically alive, sprouting, birthing, though they’d been locked in a storage room with barely any air. Yet each was a papilla from which I believed feathers could grow. Stories need to be carried, to fly; airborne, they don’t need land. It’s the best we can do given the circumstances –and now I was implicated in their journey. The creases on letters the indelible record of a family line. Ossified memories rigid in photos, unbending. Each print a palimpsest of the hands that cared for it in unknown places, keeping things moving, breath resuscitating reparative life into them, unburying them. These lavish traces spidered through the boxes in Khay’s simple, modest flat, her second-class living room created on a precipice: a crag where she had no option but to always be a guest, beholden to mercurial hosts who could decide at any point that her fate was to forever skim the thin ice of the periphery.

That’s me as a young girl, Khay held up a family photo. In it her hands gesticulate in another language to any that I could understand, her mouth speaks with unfamiliar sounds, her tongue rolls. There are flowers around her, buttery yellow. And mountains, too. Is rock more resilient than the petal? Or is it that rocks and cliffs and mountains are the fortresses that never allow the immigrant heart to wilt? The conditional hospitality of strange weather beating against them, smashing rain bruising their body, no matter, flowers might still grow. But can anything beautiful really ever bloom in wounded soil?

Or is it just pity that spawns?

My father often took photos of us, Khay said as she passed me a box and with the nod of her head encouraged me to open it and look inside. Here are the ones I particularly like to listen to, she offered. Every time I see my mother’s face I hear her peeling laugh and her resolute refusal to be quiet. I know exactly what is beyond each of the frames that can’t be seen, what happened at the sharp edges that nonetheless played a part in determining the image: the jostle of soldiers circling the edges of our vegetable patch, the odd horn of a car that would pass, the quiet hum of the kitchen.

There are as many untaken photographs, cobwebby placeholders in the archives that wait for someone to blow the dust off them, to weave something from them, to fill in the gaps.

Look at this one, Khay continued. My mother is standing in front of a pudding she had made for my brother’s birthday, she knew how to smile for the camera. Earlier that day the hot chamber of a kalashnikov had been rubbed up against her, pushed between her legs as she had walked to the market to buy a small piece of lamb. She was to slow cook it for dinner, with sumac, with cinnamon, some ground cardamom and cloves. On her return she had first retreated to her bedroom to change, to get rid of the stink of steel from the violating appendage, throw its abject stench into the washing pile, turn her back on it all. She’d put on a freshly ironed shirt, a crisp apron, cheerily she had begun to chat to us about school while grabbing a knife to dice onions. Later in the evening she had recited a folk poem for good fortune, I remember the cadence, her lilt, even, measured. Different to the deep dark timbre that cut ‘no’ as she pushed past teenage soldiers who tried to pull our hair, just because they could. She would shove them away as she enveloped us into the folds of her skirt.

Her skirts, large and cave-like. Cauls; and elsewhere within them we celebrated and rejoiced in rapture.

Elsewhere it is always another time, beyond any technology of capture, a time for unlearning; here the hillsides remain sunny for picnics, the cedars abundant, the honeysuckle blossoms. Khay loved to pick these as a young girl while walking and hiking and climbing, and after, once coolness had descended, she would sit in the quiet hum of the kitchen and press them for posterity.

Standing there|with| just their|eyelashes for|protection
Nicky Coutts

Boungy (underlined in wavy red)
Smother (corrected from smather underlined in wavy red)
An unusual word meaning (to press in threateningly…) not underlined as it is a real word.

I am with so much. With heat under my elbows. With a panel of tree middles framed by the round cornered train windows. With flies inexplicably buzzing between the double glazing. With withness: the ability to be here and now with and without the possibility of being anyway else. With the smell of tea, sweat, burning off fuel, commercial detergent, armpit, hair gel, sprihnk, pnuchimx, vehplfre and spmmmgh. With a constant background that is following me around and changing everywhere I go. Being away is producing new withs. ‘Withs’ that are changed to ‘witches’ by autocorrection underlined in wavy red.

I’m with just the right amount of it to never think of air. With just enough to feel, too much most often.
With just you often and that’s more than enough and I don’t notice that ‘enough’ as I don’t need to think of air. ‘With’ and ‘just’ can flatten each other. The ‘with’ so very thin. The ‘just’ measuring its thinness. Sometimes the ‘just’ takes over from the ‘with’ and I find myself held in thinly. I feel the weight of blood column within my skin.

Just their luck to die between the window panes. Just their style to do so upside down with their legs bent inwards towards their abdomens, immediately dust, alien for their lack of need to ever think of air. What is just theirs closes off. Is a snapped off signal extending invisibly from their bent legs. It is just their claim,
falling out from the air when they die, the oxygen that they don’t use held between their dead legs. Their
materials held as just theirs.

Eyelashes for keeping her eyes clear of dust, stares, blows and missiles. Eyelashes for flicking wide, hanging half arc, for remembering all the hair loss from closer to ape days. Eyelashes for filtering what she wants to see, for veiling and softening, for choice of what and how much she sees. Eyelashes for black, rich black.
Eyelashes for lassoing whoever she wants, hauling them in as she pulls herself in hand over hand, in and out of danger.

Protection from them. From them that weren’t ‘them’ until they decided to be so. For protection from them before they decided, before it was decided in their minds by former decided minds. She lashes them with her eyes. She stands with only her eyelashes.

‘Eyelashes’ appear nine times in Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake.

‘…those extravagant eyelashes that curl back to the lid, the uncovered wounds, that
bit of paper on her lip, and a leaf on the gown and in her hair. “standing
here in eyelashes, in/…/ the brittle gnawed life we live,/ I am held, and held.” p.120

I marked her youth, the scar on the bridge of her nose that seems to continue
through one eyebrow, her eyes and eyelashes, the uncovered wounds,
a bit of paper, and a leaf. p.45

One pulls back so that the other details I described
become visible: the gown, the leaf, those big brown eyes with their im-
possibly long eyelashes and an uncovered wound under the right one,
the stretcher and the cold pack. p.48

Let me declare doorways,
corners, pursuit, let me say
standing here in eyelashes, in
invisible breasts, in the shrinking lake
in the tiny shops of untrue recollections,
the brittle gnawed life we live,
I am held, and held —Dionne Brand, Thirsty. p.68

With that first poem of Thirsty one cannot not think of the ways
we, Black people in diaspora, are held and held in and by the “brittle
gnawed life we live,” unprotected from the terrible except by eyelashes. p.68

The holds multiply. And so does resistance to them, the
survivance of them: “the brittle gnawed life we live, /I am held, and held.”
We understand this because we are “standing here in eyelashes.” p.73

Her big black eyes, with their lush eyelashes, look glazed. p.118

Delia and Drana sitting there (still) and then standing there (still), and clothed and unclothed (still) and protected only by eyelashes (still). p.118

1 A misremembered quote from Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake

I wanna scan you
Adam Kaasa

It happened again. You woke up reciting the words

I ‘thought you were ‘everything but ‘nothing ‘hurt me ‘more than ‘that ‘thought

The room was blue. A blue you’d never have thought possible, but there it was, looking back at you. Blue blue blue. Blue like that book Jessica got you for your sixth birthday. Blue like that hat you lost hiking the summer mom died. Blue like the 90s song that’s coming back again cause everything old, right? But the words. I can’t tell you how often I hear it come out of your mouth. Sure the words, but the cadence is different each time, like a scanner scanning for some root rhythm. I read once that to scan is to look. But Chantal told me it’s also the anus. And the etymology dictionary told me it was about rhythm, about looking for the stresses, for the punctuated highs and lows of articulable speech. Sometimes I want to scan you, so I can pack you away somewhere forever, in some harddrive. Or print you out in that time from now when I know I’ll miss you. I want to scan you like some important document in the upstairs office of too many suburban homes where these oculi sit dusty and cold for the three times they’re used – passport, deed, ass. Have you ever scanned your ass? You don’t know what flat is until it’s scanned. I want to scan you like an anus projects from the inside out, on some cold day when plans are broken, and it rains regret in a rhythm we’re used to. I want to scan you for meaning, for stress and meaning. Are you iambic? Dactylic? Could the scan help me say you differently? Say us differently? If I read you like some old poem, would it mean something code-like and subtle? Are we subtle? Are we tacit?

I don’t know, but you just woke up again reciting the words

‘I thought ‘you were everything but nothing ‘hurt ‘me ‘more than that ‘thought

It was fourteen years ago, you had changed your name by then, and even then I liked it more than whatever you were called before. Mom was upstairs listening to the rock album she played when nothing was going the way the day needed it to and so for a few minutes it was like we were all in a stadium, a mosh pit, anything went, everything went – you and I singing along, fearful for it to end. I think that’s when we learned how to do calibrated and coordinated repetitions on the record player. I would artificially lower the volume as if the song was ending and you would flick the needle back within the same song, and I’d raise the volume again. For a heartbeat, a glitch was heard, but the fade in and out meant that the glitch was like getting confused whether it was two or three kisses on the cheek and laughing about it anyways afterwards. The song didn’t need to end then. It was an in and out loop, one of those twisted rubber bracelets you got from auntie O. where the inside became outside became inside again. Something like that was the feeling those days at home with mom. A single loop, never knowing if you were out or in, continuous. Maybe we don’t notice repetition in such twisted loops. The continuity betrays novelty.

I’m no longer sad that you’re here, but I can’t tell if you feel the same way. You just look at me and say

I thought you ‘were ‘every‘thing but ‘no‘thing ‘hurt me ‘more than that ‘thought

I hear you, but am sitting at the piano, and so am turned a bit away from where you are resting, if that’s
indeed what you’re doing. It’s the before and after that is sadness. The when you’re in it is somehow
more logistical, slow, long, lingering. The days aren’t the same, there’s always something new, something
changed, something advanced in some way. These days when change is the rule, even stillness feels like
movement. Chords too have their own sense of movement, momentum, feeling and emotion. A turn
from one to another can cause a feeling of this or that. You taught me that within every chord change is the whisper of what’s possible next. If I play a C chord, what follows could be quite literally anything, but some will feel more possible or likely than others. If I play a C and then an Am7, again, technically anything can come next, but something will probably come next. The more you would play the more and more you would tell me how you tried to resist playing what was expected next. It’s the rules of a listener’s expectation that begin to constrain the sense of infinite possibility, and return us to infinite repetition. I try now to make the room change colour through sound, to play a series of chords that you don’t expect so that the unexpected returns as a possibility, but the more and more and more I play, the less and less and less I can continue to escape expectation. It’s the blue that sticks.

You were sitting there murmuring the words over and over, like spring slush mixed with the grit and sand of a long winter

I thought you were everything but nothing hurt me more than that thought

I couldn’t tell if you were fully awake but I brought the pictures again to show you. The ones we developed from that roll of film we found cleaning out mom’s studio. I remember we debated the ethics of what happens when someone dies and all their stuff is there starring at you, asking of you, hiding from you. What was so familiar because its strangeness was blurred by the familiarity of a body we knew so well, becomes just strange without an interpreter, a storyteller, a medium. I don’t think mom ever told us not to read or look at things, but when someone is dead, and you know that they are, but you feel like they might be just out for a walk, or maybe on the toilet, or maybe forgot something upstairs and they’re about to come down to tell you about this picture you have in your hand, how can you not look? I remember picking up the pictures, along with the scans on CD so we could keep and share them on our computers in our different cities, print them off in those kitsch memory books you can order online. I think we were both surprised that any photos came back from a roll of film from what seemed so long ago. We looked at them together trying to read her into them and read them out of her, but as we flipped through it was like a strange sequence of chords. What we thought might be a major 7th was followed by a diminished 6th, and then a I, and then a V. We didn’t know these places, or these people, but I guess we knew that she pushed the button to open the eye (the anus!) and snap these shots and that something of that body being somewhere was something to hold onto. You and I here, sitting in the ‘as if’ of a view she once viewed. I flip through them now for you like on a loop, 12 photos, again and again, so they start to make a kind of sense, they start to make a kind of rhythm, they start to make a familiar sound.

I get up to turn off the light. It’s late, and you’re tired. The words slow down, the breath heavy. I know you mean them about mom, but I feel you say them to me, and I’ve heard them so much I feel I say them about you too. I love you, I’d say, bend down and give you and your too thin body a hug. I love you too, you’d say.


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