I had intended to review Sarah Hardie’s new video piece, Spring Sometimes Rises In Me Too, winner of the inaugural Soho House Art Prize, but a review, with its necessary criticality and terms of appraisal, didn’t feel appropriate. I am not one to shy away from modes of evaluation, however harsh they may seem, but to relay the formal successes and failures of Hardie’s work would only detract from my own connection to it – I found meaning in it, and the sharing that part, the human part of art, is far more interesting. Suffice it to say, Hardie’s visuals, sumptuous, delicate and vital as they may be, converge with her disembodied voice to create something that feels altogether untenable; we watch images of flora and dancers, but hear her, a clear and unmistakable Other to the visual world she presents. It is this pervasive sense of discord and absence which is so moving; Hardie, as I know well, is not alone in feeling as if she has been made unwhole.
Unlike Sarah Hardie, my mother was not a singer, but I too was born into this world by a woman whose passions and pretensions would leave lasting impressions on me and my siblings. Unlike Sarah Hardie, I cannot be subjected to the same cruel tricks nature plays on women’s bodies’ ability to reproduce by way of aging, but I am aware of the latent dangers that lie in as innocuous an occurrence as the passage of time. And unlike Sarah Hardie, I do not garden, but I do know what it means to plant seeds for the future, and to invest meaning into nascent growth in order to totemically affirm one’s own ability to create, knowing all too well that that creation is a poor substitute for the trials that undoubtedly lie ahead.
I grew up in a family for which books meant everything. My mother, perhaps the most zealous of the lot, has followed books and their contents across the world, both in amateur and professional capacities. But the others were not far behind: from each of my step-parents to my father, the very least of them could be said to be very well read, while the more ardent amongst them could possess an interest that bordered on obsession. It only follows then that as an eight-year-old I proudly declared that I, unlike my firefighting, football-playing peers, wanted to be a writer. In my mind, this was the only profession that could provide a worthwhile livelihood, but perhaps more importantly, means of garnering familial acceptance, or in its most extreme expression, a way to live. For me, the world existed on the page, and my own story, figurative or otherwise, could only be written if I myself had the words.
It follows then, too, that a writer is what I became. But while I now have the facility to cast my own life in the vocabulary of someone at least moderately interesting (and evidently, minimally humble), it seems too that my own voice – the one that flows through my throat in that scary, all-at-once sensation, unmediated by the comfort of a backspace button – has now escaped me. In ways that are all too real, I struggle to verbally articulate myself with the ease and clarity that I can achieve with my keyboard. My partner, also a writer, and I often will communicate our affection by way of love letters, yes, as tokens and physical commemorations of our love, but also because the words, exactly as we mean them – or, at least, as I mean them – all too often get stuck in my mouth, muddled and rended by an uncooperative tongue. This works well enough now, but gives me serious reservations about the future: a child cannot be keen to the carefully selected diction of a written letter that altogether misses the point of speaking – a soul, a person, a love embodied.
This future with a child is one that my partner Ella and I often talk about. One day our home will be raucous with the pitter-patter of little, care-free feet, and together we will perform the halfhearted mundanities of parenthood: Brush your teeth! Clean your room! Do your homework! But we can only occupy these invisible futures briefly before the weight of reality takes hold. We are twenty-four and twenty-two respectively, and the hard-won victories of our nascent adult lives leave us little closer to caring for another, dependent human being. The plants we bring into our home have an unfortunate habit of dying, while we have held off the purchase of a cat for fear that one, if not both, of us will forget we have a cat at all, let alone that it must be fed. And still, when we do manage to nurse a small succulent through the hard winter months, the meagerness of the achievement leaves a hint of bitterness – flora is a bad approximation of a person, no matter how much you insist you can bear the responsibility.
So, to Sarah Hardie, thank you; I’ve understood your piece to be about all and none of these things, and at least for this moment, you’ve allowed me clarity, spoken or otherwise.