‘Acts of Observation’ is a poetic audio installation, pamphlet and captioned film of a series of five linked poems that weave themes involving the disabled BPOC body with archeoastronomy and the sublime. It was commissioned by Collective gallery in Edinburgh and part of the group exhibition, Acts of Observation, featuring works by Ana García Jácome, Abi Palmer and Simon Yuill.
For the exhibition (Sep 2021 – Jan 2022) visitors were invited to contemplate Jeda’s work on the viewing terrace where they could hear my readings of the poems whilst looking out over Edinburgh. Alternatively/additionally, you can experience them via the captioned film on Collective’s website (opens in a new tab).
Process and inspirations
During 2021, I embarked upon researching archaeoastronomy which is a mash-up of archaeology and astronomy, two subjects that excite me. I learned the term ‘hierophany,’ where a sacred celestial body reveals itself upon a monumental site at an important time of the year, and dived into Stellarium, an online version of the open-source planetarium.
This project brought an opportunity to reflect on ancient monuments located around the world, built to align with the stars and worship or witness astrological events, from neolithic structures, observatories and temples, to local standing stones. I wondered, as Calton Hill witnessed the city’s evolution, did it once hold standing stones of its own? Were they hidden, removed, carved anew as this steep, city centre hill in Edinburgh was topped with colonial monuments during the Scottish ‘Enlightenment’?
I spent time lying on the grassy slopes on Calton Hill, listening to the sounds of the city from different locations and catching clips of phrases from passersby. Learning about the history of the observatories on Calton Hill, I reflected on their links with setting the ‘correct’ time so that captains and merchants down at the Shore o Leith could stay on course as they sailed the globe to plunder, war and exploit.
In tandem, I was thinking about how we, as disabled people, are observed by non-disabled people and how we observe ourselves, the impact of the medical model of disability and which bodies get to be sacred or sublime.
In this way, the series of poems takes a path from where we are to where we want to be… it is a centering of ourselves.
Clinical Reflections is split into ‘the observed’ (a disabled person) as they navigate years of medical examinations as they navigate towards autonomy, and ‘the observer’ (the doctor).
Empathy Remedy is a spell – a potion to be consumed by non-disabled people.
Courie-in tae th Dark is a lullaby to swaddle yourself in all edges of the night and the ‘nae-knawing.’
Who gets the trees? is a direct response to the site of Calton Hill and our access to nature.
Sublime body reveals itself is an ode to ourselves and our sublime disabled bodies:
Your disabled body holds sacred geometries
Sing this affirmation!
My disabled body holds sacred geometries
Accompanying the audio installation was a printed pamphlet, ISBN 978-1-873653-30-2, which is officially my first solo pamphlet!
With thanks to my family for their love and support; Andrés N. Ordorica for such thoughtful, uplifting and perceptive edits; Siobhan Carroll and the team at Collective, Emmie McLuskey, Aly Wight; Harry Josephine Giles, Sasha Saben Callaghan and their Not Going Back to Normal – Disabled Artists Manifesto.
Big up and thanks to the poets in Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back, edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman; Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability and Making Space by Amanda Leduc; the wonderful SBWN community; Giulio Magli, Polimi Open Knowledge, Stellarium.org; and all the disabled, chronically ill, BIPOC and marginalised writers, artists and activists who came before and have been advocating for inclusion for decades.