MARIA FUSCO: William Grant Foundation Residency, 2019

At Sweeney’s Bothy I thought about enclosure, silence and ritual. I read Donna Haraway’s Making Kin Not Population: Reconceiving Generations. She writes towards “multi-modal, multi-species, multi-situated practices” by evoking the chthonic, that is relating to or inhabiting the underworld: “I call these times, our times, the Chthulucene to emphasise the ongoing powers and processes of mortal beings that come together to resist the curses and blandishments of the Plantationocene, Anthropocene, and Capitalocene.” I read this in my head and pondered it whilst seated on the composting toilet.

Relying only on my own voice I read aloud Sweeney Astray, Seamus Heaney’s iteration of the medieval Irish epic Buile Suibhne and the namesake of the Eigg bothy itself:

My hand was locked in Sweeney’s hand / until he heard a loud command: /                                                      he was called to Moira, bid to join / battle with Donal on the plain

And so I offered thanks and praise / for the grace of my release, /                                                                            that unpredictable off-chance / of marching orders from the prince.

A daily measure, I tested my own voice against the silence: a sort of prayer perhaps.

I was thinking through anchorites – medieval religious solitaries – and the proto-feminist secular significance of anchor-holds, the spaces in which anchorites were permanently enclosed. After performing a ceremony during which the last rites were administered, and at the conclusion of which the door to the anchor-hold would be walled up, the entombed anchorite would spend the rest of their life in prayer and contemplation, with servants looking after their material needs. Could I find, within myself, a crumb of an anchorite’s patience, a splinter of their stillness, a whisper of their voices? I am still trying.

Maria Fusco, 14 April 2020

Image: Ophthalmic surgery. Treatment for lachrimal fistula performed on a nun. Arzneibuch. Western Manuscript 990, page 84, detail. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)