Part of her forthcoming collection THE HOPE OF FLOATING HAS CARRIED US THIS FAR (Coffee House Press, 2015), Quintan Ana Wikswo’s AURORA AND THE STORM is a suite of photographs, texts, video installations, and performance. As an ocean storm approaches, two women in an historic old hotel – they are adversarial colleagues who have arrived for a clandestine scientific conference. The geese flee overhead. Mice crawl deeper into the walls. Yet the women dress for dinner, and their ferocity suggests a certain erotic subtext: there is more between them than meets the eye. Yet the gathering vortex of the storm seems to presage a second kind of disaster. This is the shape of love – a V of care that widens from a finite point, or narrows from a gulf into a well. It is the bottom of a funnel, a cone, a wedge, a fang.
Each time I experience so-called “natural disasters” – tornados, earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes – there is a sense of extreme and startling intimacy with the ecosystem. The habitual relationship between human and planet is suddenly interrupted. A loss of control. Tremendous vulnerability, fear, disorientation, and chaos…yet also elation, giddiness, euphoria. It feels like falling in love. I cannot help but to be drawn into the belief that the “disaster” is simply an enigmatic form of planetary self-expression…
I began AURORA AND THE STORM as Hurricane Irene approached the old estate where I was working. As the winds eviscerated the land and many of its human structures, the cosmos of my story began to merge with that of the hurricane. Over the years, I have gathered the films and photographs and gradually built the texts for AURORA immediate before, after, or during these very natural disasters befall my corner of the cosmos. The majority of the photographs for Aurora were taken on the front porch while Hurricane Irene battered our corner of the Catskills.
All the photographs in this series were created immediately before, after, or during hurricanes, tornados, and thunderstorms. Many of the photographs for Aurora were taken on the front porch of an old hotel in the Catskills during Hurricane Irene. The photos were created using several damaged and altered 120mm Kodak cameras from the 1930s and 1940s. The colors, textures, shapes and multiple layers within the photographs are all created using only the unique aberrations of the cameras’ optics, and the chemistry of the film. There is no software or computer manipulation in the images.
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AURORA AND THE STORM
by Quintan Ana Wikswo
Yesterday, I walked to the edge of the terrace of the old hotel, where it begins to crumble over the ravine and what was once the rock garden, now an ocean.
A falcon’s nest savaged by the winds, hanging in strips of birch bark and gangrenous moss.
That black bird an umbrella – armature of wings upended and split back.
The feathers floated on the water, life raft for mites, then moored itself on a log, or a beaver’s corpse.
My adversary is the Norway spruce. Each needle is an antennae urging me to leap forth into the white, and swim. But I know it is the sky. I have seen the savaged falcon. I know the ruse.
I continue to call for rescue, but there remains no answer.
The need now is for routine.
In the journals of my ancestors, there would have been notes on the minutae of cleaning and repair: as their voyage progressed farther off the coasts of an unwanted home, they would have compressed themselves into the dignity of work.
A brass lantern to be rubbed and shined.
Splinters carved from the wooden hull and fashioned into boot buttons. Bored out with knife tips and threaded with string wound from their own hair.
Yet here I sit, cross-legged, knees pulled up to chin, wondering how high the waters will yet rise: the fire and then the storm cleft this place and left it bare as bone.
There are no tasks but this.
It’s impossible to talk of sadness here. Any remaining sense of self must survive unarticulated, decomposed, in shapes and lines that once formed words, but since the storm have unfurled into threads that stitch my layers together, connecting inside to outside, and back in again. I withdraw and emerge in unbounded states, with edges that cannot be marked and meanings that cannot be defined.
Where is the one who knows the questions? At night, I dream in answers – often in sunshine – the sun an orb driving pins of light into my hands, and I wake in pain. I have not seen that yellow planet since the rains.
My flesh nocturnal, my pigment secret, my sight wary of illumination, and I have the soul of a newt. The nose of a mole. A starburst of pink in the middle of what was once my face.
I beg the imagined rescuers: don’t come for me here, don’t look for me with your bright spots of dry light.
I don’t want rowboats, flares, blankets.
I want earth, pebbles, broken branches.
AURORA AND THE STORM is supported by The Corporation of Yaddo, ARC/Durfee Grant, the Puffin Foundation, and Byrdcliffe Colony.
Special thanks to Megan Cump and Stacey Steers.