Alexandrina Hemsley: Becoming Storm


Becoming Storm: a visual essay and series of poems responding to the question can moments of healing or repair transform into pathways of acknowledgement?

‘I hear my lungs tighten
I hear the colour yellow-orange
I hear the rhythms of a typewriter
I can hear my muscles cool as they set in a chair
I can hear my desire to shake
I can hear my immobility

I hear my relief as I cross out something and formulate a dance about permission

I hear myself being my own mis-translator from brain to mouth. I hear the warm, bloody pathways from ideas to flesh becoming fraught with juddering interruptions and linguistic letdowns.
Unraveling, dispersing. Disappearing.’ – excerpt from Embers (2018)

First, some assertions and questions:

Can moments of healing or repair transform into pathways of acknowledgement?

I continually turn to dancing, movement and choreography to connect to the multidimensional tides of subjective experiences.

The sensations which connect and stimulate my dancing are biological, technological, historical, geo-logical, verbal, non-verbal, old, new, of the past, futuristic, dystopian, utopian, singular, plentiful, in-ternal and external.

In tuning in to dancing, I am seeking counsel from live, embodied encounters. Encounters with my many selves, the selves of others, the environments we are within; earthly, psychic, spiritual, ‘real’, ‘imagined’.

Attempts to dismantle binaries and hierarchies are constant companions. They are innate not only to these processes of bodily and choreographic inquiry but what I believe this dreamscape of dancing can offer up within developing a transformative, reparative practice.

My belief in the potential of these politics for care and healing has clashed violently with the arts and cultural sectors refusal to hold itself (its populations as well as the institutions these populations of people make up) accountable to the ways the sector promotes – willingly, naively or unintentionally – the continuation of systemic oppressions.

I have had to leave spaces more times than I want to remember, or wish upon anyone.

If I had a penny for every altar I had burned…

It is a certain kind of exhausting withdrawal from spaces which once tempted and taunted as ‘home’ spaces, spaces of interest and belonging. Spaces which shed welcoming disguises to reveal themselves as more invested in the convenience of ableism or racism than the inconvenience of addressing and collectively transforming these oppressive systems.

As a disabled person, how can I engage with languages and processes of healing and repair while also holding realities of enduring, permanent experiences of disability? Or perhaps not ‘how’ but being with the fact that I/we do engage. We forever call in our capacities and capabilities to move between holding multiple states; multiple realties across many timelines.

‘The older woman casts her arms wide as a fishing net, encasing the half-girl. Their skin
membranes                melt and the woman absorbs the girl. All the parts we thought were lost crystallised
in her                    bloodstream. They no longer need to flee.

Her blood begins the process of repair to her younger panicked fragments. Calming the
jumbled,                             disorientated voices. The younger finally reassembles. The older’s
bones bend in empathy.’     – excerpt from Retrieval Collage (2020)

Perhaps ‘rebuilding’ can accompany notions of healing or repairing? ‘Healing’ and ‘repairing’ are tense words in disability arts in that they lean too far over into the ableist, industrial wellness complex where a ‘healthier’ version of ourselves lies far of in the aspirational (wealthier, whiter, straighter and slimmer) future.

Working on Maelstrom Under Glass (2020) I was (re)building worlds of sensation, acceptance, value and worth which I had either neglected or been conditioned to neglect through experiences of de-pression, abuse, racism and other traumas. I was also (re)building the way I represented these unfold-ing narratives. I found solace in expressing experiences through metaphor and inviting in the potential for feeling my experiences more fully by drawing on vivid, colourful, embellished aesthetics. Density – of tone, voice and textures – felt important. My film work shifted away from needing to blur the imag-es of my body, in order to escape the violence of dominant cis-white straight male able bodied gazes (and their internalisations), and instead (re)sowed the ground of belonging through creating multiple sites of repair and acknowledgement: autobiographical and mythological prose, embodied material recorded at home, collage and archive footage creating layers of textures to disguise the home/studio and creating a multiplicity of sites for my movement and words as I navigate through intersubjective experiences of isolation, vanishing and retrieval.

I’m realising that the aesthetics of my practice slip and slide. They morph over time as they manifest as modes of survival. There has always been a multi stranded approach to my practice which I have found hard to define and convert into the language of funders and other gatekeepers. In Maelstrom, there are calm, organic, rippling and marbling forms which I hope speak to the slippages between identities and the potentials for holding multiplicity tenderly and vibrantly. There is a spacious but intricate movement score, and the ‘storm’ of Maelstrom, (as ever, both inner and outer) – of rage, trauma, injustice, hurt and swirling, desperate hope – comes from the pace of the edit and the text.

There is a nourishing, a quiet becoming and process of (re)surfacing. Raging and loving are confluences on a/my body’s shorelines.

A piece of text I’d like to share below stemmed from a Golden Shovel I wrote from a line of poetry by Morgan Parker. The original line reads:

‘How do you feel / in the moonrise, the stomach growl / of life slowly closing? Do you wonder / about escape, the blank, quiet frontier?’ (‘Beyoncé Is Sorry for What She Won’t Feel’ in There Are More Beau-tiful Things Than Beyoncé, 2017, lines 14-17)

You will see that I have bent the formal rules of Golden Shovels somewhat, as the poem was worked into the Maelstrom text. Most of the words from Parker’s line remain though. The text below was fur-ther edited in the final cut of the film.

Infant insides screaming towards new, sandy landing site, asking how
have we both arrived and ejected ourselves? How are we to perform
the next inhale along our new ribbon of time?

In an unspoken answer, our ribcage expands.

A moment later, rippling spine joins this new sequence
expelling a voiceless accusation to distant mother;

“You have ripped me from my kinship of stars.
A forced abandonment of the secure, ancient constellation net
which maps and roots me from above.
Instead, this new body is forming in a place where
I feel confined and airless in
a cocoon of lost indigo and murk.”

Feelings of anger, loss and confusion
begin their boomerang from skin to heart.
In the moments before, cresting moonrise
beams songs of light towards her.

The swelling whirlpool of stomach, liver,
lung, spleen remind us with their knotting growl
of digestion, growing pains
and the time it takes to metabolise change.

Dim, orchestral sounds of
tide rising across the day;

life spilling slowly

across cell edges, making them weep open.
Closing memories down into lost home.

She is still alive! Do you understand that, bones?
All that has already been fought within you, for you and before you?
There is a whole ocean here for becoming in.

Survivorship is a wonder.

After a time, the ocean/terror fades and she listens to what her own heartbeat is pulse-telling her;

Move. Escape.

Leave the lonely solace of being underwater,
The coping mechanisms are isolating. Your face has become blank

Listen instead to your buoyancy. The expressions blossoming.
…begin a quiet
float to the surface. Your next frontier.