TEXT prose


Winnie Ha






Lately I have started to write about a miniature figure. She is minute in the way of a fleck of light on a blade of grass, stretching outwards to an endless green. Minute in the way the imagination is an infinite wilderness. Minute in the way our deepest, most heart-felt speech is all but a stutter within the boundless expanse of animal expression. She is a slip of the tongue revealing an unending story. A partial glimpse, a vanishing act, an enigmatic Lilliputian of the imagination. I can’t be certain that she has always existed, or perhaps I’m questioning this because this act of inscribing and creating her simultaneously erases her. There are things that I need to ask her, but every gesture towards her makes her fainter in the light.


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From this angle she is a bran-coloured spot. A bubble in the pale brown current. Everything else has not yet come into view. I start walking towards her until the shapes start to form an approximate figure. She is almost the same as I tend to remember her. There is a discernible difference to her this time – she is much more concrete. It is the kind of concreteness that is sensed as gravity; imagined rather than seen, careless language turns it into weight. Her presence is as unnerving as a phantom in the intimacy of thought.

She is covered in sand … and … ? What’s she like? It is difficult to represent her on this page. Words such as ‘raw, ethereal, grotesque, beautiful, dark, etc.’ – used without the nuances of expression, easily turn cold and inert; they become empty frames, surfaces without depth, closed and complete within themselves. She is covered in sand. Each careless gesture of her fingers, nose, hips, lips, eyelids is luminescent through the diffused, shifting nebula. The nuances of her being span the full spectrum of light, but only a portion is visible to us, the invisible realm cradled within the noiselessness of shifting particles. In the silence between words, lie the nuances of expression. These nuances attest to the authenticity of being; they thicken the texture of a story, threading relations between the one and its many possible narratives, or lives – in the visible and invisible. They alone make this pursuit meaningful. Without them we are merely orbiting around an illusory center: letters without words, words without gesture, gestures without expression.

It isn’t so much the darkness that is unsettling, but rather that there aren’t any walls around her. Treading hesitantly across unfamiliar grounds, and with arms and fingers outstretched, she tries to find something tangible to hold on to, some parameters to contain this immeasurable expanse of space. There is nothing, so she keeps to the only thing visible: a shivering slice of light snaking downwards on some steps. She reaches a doorframe and crosses through, and then down more steps. The voice of Sebald appears in shadow-form: And by the faint light that fell ... into the well I saw, with a shudder that went to the roots of my hair, a beetle rowing across the surface of the water, from one dark shore to the other. [1] The last of her steps never touches ground; her whole body hurls into freefall, and this is the point where the gravity of fiction meets the gravity of truth.

She lands on a bed of soft sand, and the beetles dissipate out of my frame of vision. The path in front has rounded into the shape of a cave, with numerous openings leading to tunnels. All around her are skulls and bones, lining the walls and ceiling and arranged as macabre monuments. All are disarticulated, fragmented, anonymous. All are gaping holes and cavities – portals into past lives that only lead back to one another. Over one of the portals is a stone plaque bearing the inscription, Arrête! C'est ici l’empire de la Mort, beckoning her to make the next move.


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There is this woman. She is wearing a short black lace veil that covers her entire face. Her black hair is neatly pulled back into a shiny bun. The woman is dressed in a narrow-fitting navy suit jacket over a cream-coloured silk shirt with a pussy bow tie, the ends of the bow arrested between her breasts. She is in a matching slim skirt, with translucent stockings smoothing down the length of her calves, ending in a pair of black patent leather round-toed heels. She is sitting very still on a wooden chair. Her thighs, knees and feet are pressed together, her elbows bent around the back of the chair, palms meeting, all fingers interlocked. The back of her suit jacket is pulled in, corset-laced, taut. A hessian rope criss-crosses down her lower back, then goes around her wrists in tight figure-of-eight loops. It then does several loops around her waist, bunching up and creasing her jacket, then around the chair, ending with a gratuitously large knot. Her knees are angled slightly to the right, her ankles tied, in a similar fashion, to the right front leg of the chair, slightly throwing off the symmetry of her pose (this picture). Desire circulates through the languor and complicity of her opaline neck and spine, and she smells exquisite.

I think of Markus Schinwald’s women in laced suit jackets and mechanical contraptions, legs helplessly splayed across the bed, John Willie’s rope-bound women in forced postures – and all the mutated dolls of Hans Bellmer. These twisted, and oftentimes fragmented, bodies had always fascinated me, trapped by the strictures of external control: rope, metal wires, furniture, clothing. They are usually faceless – or faces without resistance, language without expression.


+ + + + +


I had just arrived in Paris, and I was there because I wanted to find a way to write. I’d read Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine. And I’d been seduced by movie characters as if they were written for me: the lethargy and boredom of Garrel’s Regular Lovers, and the recklessness of the dreamers in Bertolucci’s ode to Paris. I’d crafted – quite precisely – images of Paris in the 20s, and the late 60s to 70s. I sought to fulfil my fantastical Paris in reality, so that – in my innocence – somehow or other I would find a voice (like other people I knew). I got to Paris, and I found myself tumbling into the underground of the city. I lived with strangers near a quarry not far from the city’s 18th-century ossuary. Fuelled by desire and unmitigated by rules, we were libertines and anonymous to the surface world. We made our own home amongst the dead, and in the dark underground, you were free to live as you imagined. The impatience with which we produced work – performances, paintings, sculpture, music, poetry – was symptomatic of our doubts and insecurities. There were a lot of parties in our underground haven, stumbling in and out of tunnels and potholes, in and out of each other’s lives, and other fictions. We had our very own Cabaret Voltaire. I would dress up as a man in pearls and silk, acting as Colette’s Chéri, and someone else would invariably pretend to be Jean Cocteau. Hemingway was also always present, and of course the Fitzgeralds, Apollinaire, Tzara, Modigliani and Max Jacob. Poiret was our resident dressmaker. We imagined ourselves as the mirror of life above ground, narcissistically peering at ourselves through the filter of other people who never knew we existed, and who undoubtedly imagined their lives as yet other lives. We would talk, drink, and dance like them. We wrote in a borrowed language, and wrote the names of Kafka, Szymborska, Proust, Perec, Poe, Foucault as if they were our own – names that would in turn write the pages of our books. But they were desirable as surfaces upon (what we deemed as) our lesser selves; we wore them as disguise, spoke in fragmented quotes, and threaded ourselves into their (our?) prose. Denouncing the world above, our life underground made sense (even though we all knew it was fiction), and we couldn’t think of any other way to be. Above ground, people were getting around with their reality TV shows and virtual identities and friendships; we resisted them because we believed they weren’t authentic. And what we held as authentic – as undeniably genuine – was our relationship with our imaginations. We lived in a simulated world, in a catacomb – buried in a repository for the past, but what was once flesh, bone and voice. We wanted to be radical, but really we were just restless, fuelled, too, like everyone else, by the desire to mark our flesh, cloaks, masks. After a while the spontaneity became tired and repetitious, and it wasn’t long after that the illusions lost their opacity.

So it was all child play – all of us living out our imagined ideologies, literary references and idols, making a home in the lives of our muses. It was because we couldn’t figure out the future otherwise. And so what?

I eventually did find a way to write – out of the chance conversations with strangers, books read and loved, and encounters with images, sounds and words. Over time they became the repository of experience, uncertain as they were in their degrees of truth and artifice. But most of all I wrote out of extreme boredom, which afforded me the space for daydream. Or perhaps I wrote because I liked the sound of lead pencils scratching across the parchment. Or perhaps I wrote because I was expected to. Whatever the reason is, writing is a way for patterns to reveal themselves in the labyrinth of my mind, in the way that permutations of language clear the path for self-expression.


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The rope-bound woman wants to say something. I move closer to try to get to her veiled face. She senses my proximity but does not flinch. I hold out my hands as a gesture of invitation, and to this, she lifts her head slightly. Her eyes peer at me through the black lace work, and she wants me to leave.





Winnie Ha is a PhD research student based in the School of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University. She studies fashion as a form of fiction, as well as the ‘fashioned body’ within the context of body-dress relation and phenomenology of dress and dressing. Driven by the experience of the verbal and sonic, she facilitates participatory experiences and constructed scenarios. Through her research she is developing a ‘non-product-based’ fashion practice that spans across sound installations, choreographed performances, as well as live reading and listening events. Currently she is developing a subtle, textual practice that draws together critical practice, fiction and embodied writing, to experiment with how fashion-body-fictions could be enacted through words.


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Vol 18 No 2 October 2014
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy, Enza Gandolfo & Linda Weste
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence