I am walking, walking at an idle pace that opens up my field of attention. I am shedding all of the images imposed upon me with a quiet stride. My mind is suffused with the citrus scent of the cypress trees after a gust of wind brushed a soft flow of air across my face. I am savouring the last licks of my chocolate gelato while I am wandering around the green heart of the smallest state in the world. The garden leads to the promise of my journey: the sculpture gallery in the long loggia of the Chiaramonti Museum. And near the entrance, nestled high up above a shelf of antique busts of Roman emperors and gods, here I find the bas-relief of Gradiva.
Gently lifting the hem of her dress, Gradiva is depicted in a forward motion, with her left foot striking the ground while her right rolls from heel to toe. The didactic panel for the marble relief is a reminder that my personal pilgrimage to Rome is following Sigmund Freud’s steps nearly a century later. For the psychoanalyst, the Gradiva figure embodied the very notion of a cure through love. Yet my fascination with her image, “her immobile divinity,”1 rests on the influence of her unique footstep. The tranquil flight of Gradiva has left its trail across the many instants of Le rire de la Méduse, Hélène Cixous’ écriture féminine manifesto. And standing below Gradiva, I find myself transmuted by her gentle, silent assurance resounding through me.
Determined to take a photograph of the sculpture, I swiftly convince the guard to lend himself to this ludic performance; on a chair there I stand on my tiptoes, with my arms extended to hold my medium-format camera as high as possible above my head. As I press the shutter release, the perfect vertical alignment of my body with the chair and the camera forms a reconfigured sensorial apparatus. Simultaneously, I notice that the sounds of the camera shutter harmonize with the chorus of lovesick cicadas coming through the window frames of the open-air museum. Slowly, I too, attune to their buzzing and clicking noises. I reverberate with the vibrations of their tymbals, a drum-like instrument built in the abdomen of the cicadas. My corporeal listening further dissolves the fluid, permeable boundaries between my body and my environment. And my visiting with the cicadas enlivens my metamorphosis into an affective experience, into “a creative excess of intensity.”2
I continue my stroll, and all along, the song of the cicadas heralds my route to making stories, benign histories “rewriting the past to make our present radically different.”3 My personal pilgrimage acts as an improvisational methodology for art writing, for magic to happen, for desire to become real, for being with the world. I am heading to the mythical Maldoror bookstore, and I hum along the cicadas’ shrills, performing an insectile sonic narration, talking-thinking-walking-buzzing around the eternal city to retrace Francesca Woodman’s labyrinthine photographic journey with Moyra Davey.4 And departing from Il Museo del Louvre, I chase after poet and performance artist Valentine de Saint-Point who guides my time travel experience as I follow the map of historical events held by the Futurists throughout Rome that opens up gateways to imaginary worlds right before me. Further along, I find another Bocca della Verità, an old sewer grate, hidden in a very small courtyard, totally isolated, in Sant’Angelo, right at the edge of the Roman Ghetto. It is even more gorgeous and evil and magic than the original, gigantic marble mask, and there is no line up to see it. I do call this one Bocca della Falso, as it bites off your hand when you stick it in its mouth if you speak the truth.
A flight, a dérive, I am walking, and in silence, I am continuously conversing with art, with nature. I am agile, curious, on the qui vive, absorbing everything in my surroundings, taking in all the sympathy of the worlds around me. I easily witness how culture is already inscribed in nature, which is where art is, in the natural world, which is no longer simply a metaphor but an active collaborator in the elaboration of counter-narratives, of speculative fabulations. These stories are a modest yet ambitious revolution brought about by the entrance of écriture feminine into scientific, philosophical discourses. And with enthusiasm, these women thinkers, “they stay with the trouble,”5 and “elles font des histoires et elles s’entêtent!”6 I am an accomplice, and I am laughing. I am definitely free; are you with me?
1 Manners, Marilyn. “The Vagaries of Flight in Hélène Cixous’s Le Troisième Corps.” French Forum, vol. 23, no. 1, 1998, pp. 101–114. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40551995.
2 Massumi, Brian. What Animals Teach Us about Politics. Durham and London : Duke University Press, 2014, p. 45.
3 Elizabeth Pavonelli, in conversation during a studio visit in Banff, August 2017.
4 Davey, Moyra. I’m Your Fan. London: Camden Art Centre, 2014.
5 Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Staying with the trouble: making kin with in the Chthulucene. “Chapter 7: A Curious Practice.” Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 126–133.
6 Despret, Vincianne, & Isabelle Stengers. Les faiseuses d’histoires; que font les femmes à la pensée? Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 2011
Maryse Larivière is an artist, writer and scholar whose work re-imagines how we engage with the textual, visual and social through bodily and emotional acts of encounter. Her practice crosses art, literature, politics and theory, taking the form of text, performance, sculpture, collage and film. Recent exhibitions include Talking Back, Otherwise (Art Museum University of Toronto), Down to Write You this Poem Sat (Oakville Galleries) and A Pool Is Water (Galerie Division Montreal).