The Other (2016/21)

The Other is a moving image and scent narrative project based on the poem Le Gars written in 1922 by Russian Silver Age poet Marina Tsvetaeva. This is a notable yet little known piece of feminist literature: Tsvetaeva, who calls her work 'a fairy tale', rewrote the folk story’s original ending in favour of the main female character.

In the poem, a young girl, Maroussia, falls in love with a ghoul and sacrifices her life and that of her family while protecting his secret. There is a clear bifurcation between the creature that is the ghoul, and the orderly society to which Maroussia belongs. In Matters of Care (pp. 32-33) Maria Puig de la Bellacasa recounts Latour’s work, which might help us understand these binaries: ‘…We remain trapped in binary oppositions, in the perception that in order to account for phenomena we need to bridge the gap between two worlds. And even though bridging, we still tend to give one side the power to know, and even do, the other: nature explains society (or vice versa).’

Opera singer Latana Amari Phoung and i read the poem Le Gars while adjusting to each other's physical presence. Latana points out at one point during the shoot-rehearsal that the poem is very cinematic in its landscape, it’s full of textures; we take this on board; we use our bodies to understand the trauma the characters went through, their dilemmas and decisions; we practice trust (i walk backwards with my eyes shut) and our ability to read each other in the space. 

It is not until the end of the second part of the poem that the reader learns of Maroussia's resurrection, and that, defying once again the social system she has been brought up to obey, she takes the opportunity to re-join her love, in love and in death. Maroussia gains agency via becoming 'an other' (she dies and by his will / curse, resurrects, only to choose death again); he, in turn, gains agency of his own ceasing to be an unwelcome guest but becoming instead a person worthy of love, care, and devotion.

With gratitude to The Showroom and Emily Pethick for permitting us to film in the gallery studio. Camera by Katherine Fishman, sound recording and mastering by Giles Bunch.

The first version of The Other was edited as part of my residency at the London Metropolitan University of London (Aldgate) in April 2019. The work will be released fully online in 2021 along with a scent narrative, and a story for young audiences based on the poem. This development is supported by Arts Council England Developing Your Creative Practice Grant.

This poem also makes an appearance in another work of mine, with grandfather (2017), where my granddad reads out fragments from my translation of Hélène Cixous' essay Love of the Wolf (Stigmata, pp.70-82).