Brazilian Residency Notes Part 8



It’s been a while since I posted – I had fallen into the rhythms of the residency – work in the mornings when it was cool enough, then go out to the waterfall, or the beach, or the market, then prepare a meal with the others, then talk long into the night about art and life while the insects chirricked.


At some point, I worked with one of the other artists to create a translation of “Stick to Me, Peel From Me” and “Take Care, I Love You” into Portuguese. The second is a kind of dialogue so we blended it into both languages. In the picture about you can see Pedro reading his translation for the camera. He works with video, and so edited our performances together with footage from a shared meal at Kaaysa, and then we had a screening, projected on the studio wall. The process of translation was incredible – it has changed how I relate to those stories, how I understand my word choices, themes – everything. I hope to work with more translations, a whole book of them is the dream now. Working closely with the translator is bound to provoke new stories too, new modes of seeing.


And now, today is my last day at Kaaysa. It has happened very suddenly and time seems to have rushed and drawn out for years at once. I feel completely changed by my experiences here – in good ways I think, productive for my writing. But all change is disruptive, so I will have to see what a return to Scotland brings. Anyway before then, I have another trip to the waterfall, and over a week in Sao Paulo, kindly staying at the home of Kaaysa’s creator.  I’m viewing it as a second stage to the residency – with hopefully time to write rather than just take in another unfamiliar, hopefully wonderful environment. While in the city I am planning on attending a show Kaaysa are putting on, and seeing loads of galleries and hanging out a lot with many of my new friends. I hope to write another post about my time there too, though internet may be even spottier than it is here (or at least, my access might be). Watch this space.


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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 7



Yesterday a small group of us went to an Amerindian village to meet with a shaman. The above picture is of the ritual hut, where we watched a ceremony unfold, full of stories and musical instruments from the pipes to the lyre and drums. The floor of the hut was dirt, and we sat on pallets or on mats or chairs, or stretched out on the floor. A fire was regularly stoked with long branches, sending snowflakes of ash falling on our heads. The shaman laid out his objects and spoke slowly and at length. Thankfully one of the artists was kind enough to translate the discussions of his cosmology – the four elements that make up the world, and Patchamama, the (if I’m understanding it right) nothingness that rules it all. Some people took a kind of tea made from cactus called Wachuma – not a hallucinogen but a kind of drug that makes you look inward, that is to the shaman the personification of an ancestor who was seeking knowledge and was reborn into this plant.


There was a rhythm to the events, and everything happened at a leisurely pace.  The process of storytelling and ritual and music took over six hours and in the end we all walked back a couple of kilometres in the falling dusk, rather wordless about what we had seen.


Even now it’s hard to distil, an experience which is ongoing and will take some time to unfurl.



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Brazilian Residency Notes 6



(the artists’ studio, taken from the basketball court)

A full week has passed since I came to Kaaysa in Sao Paulo state. Here’s some of what I’ve learned, in an experience overflowing with expansive moments:

1. I am the only native English speaker here, though there is a French-Canadian woman here who, like me, doesn’t speak Portuguese. This state comes with its benefits and challenges.


2. The benefit of being surrounded by people who speak a language you cannot understand is a sense of freedom in social situations. There is no expectation that you will talk. You can flit here and there. You can busy yourself with your work, if you are working in a shared space, the sound of the language flowing over you. When people do talk to you, you know that they are making the effort. Their speaking in English is a kind of gift to you. You can cherish their words a little more.


3. The challenge is similar to the benefit of freedom. You are, in some ways, the ghost at the feast. With so much liveliness and companionship (people are very friendly here), you are the figure that can drift unseen or unacknowledged. Some times plans are made – for an excursion, for a talk – and you will have no idea until it begins to happen, at which point you must awkwardly ask what is going on. That question comes up all too often for my liking to my lips. What’s happening? You must always sound a little clueless.


4. I am the only writer here. The rest are visual artists. That is a double kind of invisibility – perhaps triple, with the language issue and my own introversion. All their art is in the studio, on the walls, on the table. It’s beautiful and complex. It sings out. My writing is in the books of mine I brought to share and on my computer. I have lent one of the artists my book; the rest have not seen my work at all, though we have had lots of conversation about their process, and a little about mine, only in the most oblique, partial way. It’s this that is possibly the hardest part for me. For my work to be unseen in the milieu of vibrant creation here is far harder than for my self to be so. This is some new thing for me to learn.


5. Things happen on their own schedule here – or appear to (see above). When someone is going to give a talk, there is no hour that is deliberately set aside for it. Lunch can happen at 1 or at 4. Dinner can start at midnight, long after you’ve broken down and cooked something and eaten it by yourself.


6. Sleep is a good idea. Brazil is so beautiful, and even with the days of rain we had, there was still so much to see and do, and a desire for the charming company of the others here, and even just listening, learning, writing, writing – people stay up late here, working at times that I have tried to emulate, for the experience. But all this comes at a price. Yesterday I was exhausted all day, and finally I made myself go to bed at the (ludicrously early) time of midnight. I slept til ten thirty, finally, rather than springing out of bed at seven after five hours of sleep as I had been doing. I feel better. A little tender round the edges.


7. I miss the rain. Now it’s gone. I have started listening to Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, and I wonder if she says anything on the role of rain and loneliness. It is a specific type of rain, though, with its own steady, kindly rhythm, that is not found in NYC, which her book deals with. I am fascinated to see what she has to say about visual art and loneliness, to listen to it, here, while I am surrounded with the stuff of it.


The learning continues.



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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 5



Rain. Days of rain, and the flood it brings. Above you can see the patio, under a near permanent two inch flood. So in all that time what did I do? Simply read, worked, talked to other artists almost endlessly. It stopped raining for the morning, in which I (foolishly as it turned out) did a clothes wash that is probably now still under and awning just as wet as it was when I took it out (the air saturated with water).


In that brief window of dryness I walked into town with one of the other artists, and we stopped frequently to look at some aspect of the town that marked it as fascinating – decayed ghost signs handpainted on walls, with black mould and moss creeping over it. A field that had become a swamp. A diy-looking area of construction. The mist draping gracefully over the rainforested hills. A binbag of exploded papaya. Dogs taking themselves quite affably for a walk.


Soon it was raining again, and it did not let up.


So, working, reading, taking notes, watching the others at work (something I could do endlessly, if it probably didn’t bother them), making communal meals, talking hours into the night about art theory and practice, swapping names of visual artists and writers. Drinking a little rum and juice and listening to the magnificent rain who owns the night, and all the frogs in it singing in praise.

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No Longer Naked

The covers for Mayhem & Death and On the Edges of Vision are here!


md-final-cover   oteov-cover


I think they’re stunning & perfectly eerie.


Mayhem & Death is a brand-new story collection which also includes Powdered Milk, a novella, along with woodcut illustrations to go with each story. You can pre-order it from 404 Ink here.


On the Edges of Vision was first published in 2015 and won the Saltire First Book of the Year. This reissue brings it back into print for the first time since then, and I’m so delighted 404 Ink have chosen to do so. You can pre-order it here.


Or – if you’re a little canny and want to have both, you can buy the bundle, and save a little in the process here.



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The Unsung Letter No. 56

This week, a lesser-known book by an author well-known author, one that charts the way a closeted character can try to grieve the loss of her partner:


Just as secret as her relationship with Cara had been, Pen is then forced into a hidden widowhood, unable and reluctant to grieve in public. ‘Funny word, that,’ she asks, ‘why did “hood” added to nouns make them into states of being?


Read the full letter here. And as ever, sign up to receive The Unsung Letter weekly in your inbox – an essay by a different writer or book lover singing the praises of an undersung work by a living author.


PS – no Brazilian residency updates today, other than to say here that it rained all day, and all day it rained, and at night the frogs sang, and I rested, read, worked, and spoke late into the night with other artists on the nature of criticism and the art and wider culture(s) of Brazil.

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Brazilian Residency Notes Part 4



A watery kind of a day.


After I worked a little in the morning, a group of us visited the local waterfall, a few minutes walk and hike into a protected rainforest. Families were bathing in the river, and then, so were we. You could swim right under the falls, and I did – looking up at the arc of water from the underside and all the droplets scattering down.


Walking back, I could feel the pressure dropping – the rains were coming, and stronger than they had so far. It began raining in the afternoon and did not let up. The rain pounded the residency buildings, and the water rose to cover the patio, and in order to walk to the artists’ building you had to wade across. It’s hard sometimes to be in a place where no one at all is a native speaker, where every time they speak to you, it’s a gift they give of themselves. One of the artists, Pedro, played us some of his video documentaries. They were fantastic – challenging and visually inventive, but still very humane. They were connected to his work with a theatre company of actors with mental illnesses. He had kindly provided subtitles in English for myself and the French-Canadian artist Ann.

In the dark the thunder roved around the hills and the frogs sang like the world was ending. It was such a burst of sustained energy that I couldn’t sleep, so I left the group and dragged a chair to the covered walkway outside my room and edited until one or two in the morning, listening to that rain, the frogs, the innumerable insects. There are one or two lights high in the forested mountains that were visible from my vantage point, and they added a sense of mystery, just as the sounds of other artists talking downstairs drew me at remove, giving a special kind of delicacy to the work I was doing. How that itself will translate in the future, I do not know.

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