Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. Who said this? Joan Didion. And now I am saying it to you. I’m passing it on like the parcel you got when you were small, sitting in a circle at someone’s birthday party. It lands on your lap; you tear open the carbon riddled pieces of newspaper where a small object you’ll never keep falls out. The ‘wow’ is loud from the parents standing around, who try and make this a memorable moment. The parcel moves through your fingers again and around and around to the other excited hands, but it’s not your turn to tear it open. You haven’t reached grief yet. That’s saved for someone else.
Perhaps you will anticipate it when you are much taller and older. Once you read about death, loss, people dying. Maybe it’ll irrupt into your life when someone you love suddenly leaves; they don’t say goodbye. They just die. It’s untimely and sudden. And to think of all the people in the world you came to know and meet; you were each alive at the same time. How do you manage to deal with this? You will get told time and time again there is no right way to grieve, mourn, process. Grave reminders lie horizontal in words that fall flat and hard: “I’m sorry for your loss”, “They were such a good and loving person”, “They will be dearly missed”.
“Remember them”. Keep on remembering to remember. Write it down. Put it in your diary. Don’t forget, try to be the elephant. Eventually, someone will ask someone else who has skill, time and patience to build a monument. A solid structure to commemorate them. It will be made out of marble, granite, stone—the heavy kind gravestones are made from. It might look like a symbol, a sign, a statue, an angel—whatever that someone decided to give it shape. This time it’s for people you didn’t know but now know they were beaten, abused, killed, tortured, persecuted. Their difference considered “unable to contribute” to the population. You don’t know their names, what they looked like, who they really were, how they felt, and it’s been decades since they’ve left. You have never met their relatives, the people who raised them or who they saw when they were undertaking such extraordinary suffering.
There is a great effort, strength, resilience from others to recognise them. Faces look on as others pull strings to reveal their new kind of existence. Standing bodies bowing with heavy heads. Hands clasping others in a simple act of kindness. Speeches by men in ties detail who these people are and what they meant to loved ones and their community. To your surprise, this will happen more than once in your lifetime and you will witness these pixeled offerings through digital disseminations, broadcasts of intense live televised snippets. Each are played and replayed. Sliced up, moved about and reordered into pieces you can download to your desktop, saved in bookmarks or keep on a tab in your web browser. They are kept alive by others in other spaces that aren’t below you or above you in the thick sky of loss.
Sometimes a garden is what’s left. Maintained by arms that pour cans of water to keep the plants alive among the pebble shores. This time it’s a monument without the granite but an abundance of flowers; wild poppies, dark red valerian, cotton lavender and salvia all curiously inclined to flop about in a well-tended border. As they wave and wonder when the wind kicks in, their stems manage to keep things on the straight and narrow while the bright buds bloom. These flowers distinctly marked by such vivid colours in a place that represents someone many people cared for, who travel far and wide to smell and see.
The invisible caretaker is of course the gardener who delights in making love visible. You never see them pictured in photographs of the garden or seen on the premises when visitors come. This is also the case for those who maintain the monuments, memorials and shrines. The ones that are littered with freshly cut flowers when they are first unveiled. Wreathes propped up and adorned with perfect roses standing above lit candles held in glass jars. Notes on paper are marked with sentiments, folded and slid between the tender layers of remembrance. Words can’t leave our mouths as they fall on ears that can no longer hear. So, to speak of such pain, you say it with flowers.
Can people be flowers too? Like those older women who wear hats festooned with silk and velvet blossoms, walking bouquets floating around the neighbourhood. Or how small children are called ‘petal’. How fragile they appear when they fall. It’s a fact flowers grow faster if you talk to them. The same applies when our minds slowly develop and we learn to speak. Naturally, opinions often change and shape themselves around certain values and attitudes. Like begets like. We eventually go out and find other bodies each secretly full of wonderful preference: romantic love, cruising, one-night stands, singles, couples, threesomes.
Music changes the mood. Vibrations from soundwaves stimulate growth. We can imagine a rave. The thumping bass, the doosh doosh doosh set with sweaty fists pumping the air along with a line of loose grinning jaws. In some ways, you can be closer to remembering someone who would also share this space with you. Someone from another life you might’ve seen, touched or even loved. They aren’t here but you are here to stand in for them where the volume is high; the room is dark and noisy.
Film Archives (2020) Two channel HD Video, Colour Sound.
Credit List in order of appearance:
Title: Berlin – German Documentary on Life in Berlin – Reel Two (1930-1939) Upload: 13/04/2014 User: British Pathé; Visiting Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in 2003 “I Walk in This Garden” 02/01/2016 Peruvian Tree Productions; Vancouver Gay Archives: Canadian AIDS memorial Quilt 1993 (includes audio)
2/2/2020 Andre Tardif; National LGBT Monument Fox 5 KRBK 05/05/2016; Israel Unveils Monument to Homosexual Victims of Nazis 11/01/2014 AFP News Agency; Orlando Memorials: 5pm 14/06/2016 WTHR; Orlando Massacre Memorial Continues to Grow (includes audio) 16/06/2016 CBC News; NYC Unveils First-Ever Monument for Those Killed in the LGBTQ Community (includes audio) 25/06/2018 1010 Wins; Memorial Unveiled for Gay Victims of Nazi Regime AP Archive 22/07/2015; Transgender Day of Remembrance 2017 - Amsterdam 21/11/2017 The Transketeers; Poland: Right-wing protesters stop Czestochowa’s first ever LGBT parade 8/7/2018 Ruptly; Istanbul Gay pride quashed by riot police, rubber bullets and water cannon 28/07/2015 Euro News (in English, BPM (Beats Per Minute) / 120 Battements par minute (2017) – Excerpt 2 (English subs) UniFrance 10/07/2017; Raw Footage: Seattle Police Lt. Calder Pepper Sprays Queer Dance Party on Pride Weekend (includes audio) 26/06/2012 Cryhavoxandletslip66; 1979 White Night Riots in San Francisco, Gay Right, LGBT, HD 10/06/2019 The Kino Library; 1979 San Francisco White Night Riots, LGBT History, HD
10/06/2019 The Kino Library; Hundreds gather in LA for an impromptu memorial for XXXTentacion Daily Mail 20/06/2018, Interview with Prof Lee Edelman (audio only) IPAK Centre 21/09/2015; Riots Erupt at Serbia Gay Pride Parade 10/10/2010 AP Associated Press; Riot Police Deployed for gay pride march
16/11/2016 AP Archive; Stonewall Riots (Stock footage/ archival footage) 29/06/2013 Film Archives NYC; The Truth About AIDS in Australia (includes audio) Channel 10 Australia 1985 12/09/2014; USA: NEW YORK: AIDS ACTIVISTS PROTEST OVER PRICE OF DRUGS 21/07/2015 AP Archive; Russian police break up Gay Pride protest in St Petersburg
Euro News (in English) 5/08/2018; President Obama Visits Buchenwald Concentration Camp (includes audio) The Obama White House 25/09/2012; Obama Visits WWII Concentration Camp Associated Press 06/06/2009; Michael Alig & The Club Kids Party at Paddles 16/10/2013 5nightavenueproject; Rave Party 1997 Upload 21/10/2012 Milkgenyo – Music: New Balance – Up & Down; 1989 Illegal Rave Girls Dancing, Acid House UK (includes audio) The Kino Library 28/06/2016; Go Go Dancing Platform Félix González-Torres Ludwig Múzeum 26/03/2013.