Ghost Songs Feb 2, 2018
A response to Tamara Saulwick: Endings (Feb 1-4)
By Ryan Diaz
Photo: Heidrun Lohr
Tamara Saulwick is a channeler. A medium. A bridge between worlds. She translates the non-verbal world of feeling and personal history, threads it through her body on stage, then dances, sings, and spins light (literally and figuratively) to reach the audience in a language that approaches understanding. She’s the glossy tape between spools in a cassette. The pop and the hiss of a vinyl record carrying the voices of long gone songs. Where grief begins, Tamara Saulwick’s Endings begins. The work of loving someone during and after their death is rendered visible through light and voice. How do we reconcile the love that lingers after our loved ones have passed with the inevitability of our own deaths, the mortal horror of life?
I was in my mid-twenties the first time I had a vision of my paternal grandmother who died before I could remember anything other than snapshots in my memory. I had a dream where she sat on an armchair in a beautiful house. The living among her loved ones filled every room to capacity, spilling out onto the lawn on a beautiful summer day as we waited for a chance to sit across from her, for her to tell us that she loved us and that she was okay. Sitting before her in the dream, her voice came back to me like I had only heard her yesterday. I woke up to tears and texted my family. My father, who never rarely speaks about his grief, simply responded, “I dream about her, too.”
We have artifacts, talismans, and stories that preserve the lives of our loved ones as long as we can bear their testimony. In a race against time, I’ve recorded my living maternal grandmother’s life story, my fragile heart so close to breaking at the thought of a time where she won’t be around to listen to her voice beside me. I remember her laugh during playback, how she struggled to speak a language that no generation before her had ever spoken, her descendents unknowable in the nuances of what’s lost in translation.
Channelers don’t merely relay the thoughts and feelings of the departed, they allow the spirits to inhabit their entire being for the living in need of summoning. Tamara Saulwick’s recording of her own experience with a channeler plays as she channels the channeler onstage, their voices overlapped as she responds to her recorded self. Can a person be haunted by someone living? Are all performances a seance and who or what are we calling in? What do we summon from the past or from ourselves?
In life there seems to be a constant falling. During a recording that plays during the performance, a woman describing a funeral for her father corrects herself, confused whether his body was put into the ground or returned to the earth. Is death truly the first time our bodies have known nothingness? During Endings I saw light come as close to magic as I’ve ever seen. For the first time I witnessed the glint of magnetic tape as it sparkled under a stage lamp, pulled close almost as if it were inspecting the thread for ghosts. In the perpetually dim stage, Saulwick discovered tenderness in strobe lights as well as frustration approaching anger. Who wouldn’t scream thinking of lost love, all the time you are and have been separated by merely surviving?
Witnessing Tamara Saulwick’s work, I’m reminded of Dario Robleto’s At War With the Entropy Of Nature / Ghosts Don’t Always Want To Come Back and how artists are the closest we have to spellcrafters and witches. His constructed audio cassette is an alchemist’s or a necromancer’s dream: comprised of bone dust from every bone in the human body, metal in various levels of rusting, and trinitite, a glass created from the blast of atomic bomb tests at the Trinity test site melting the surrounding sand. The tape inside is a concoction of military drum marches and the voices of soldiers from multiple wars recorded via electronic voice phenomena, or EVP, where the sounds of the dead catch on magnetic audiotape.
What did Tamara Saulwick capture in her recordings if not ghosts? What is artistic creation, any act of creation at all, other than the urge to live on after your own death? When we carry our loved ones in our hearts, are they our possessions? Are we possessed by them? Let me ask another way. Let me ask for what won’t be denied: What happens when we die?
Ryan Diaz is a Filipino designer, writer, activist, and Celine Dion superfan. Boogies with Au Collective, teaches social justice-centered self-defense.
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