The Colonel & the Toad
Collapsable time, narrative uncertainty and the recolonising mind
by CJ Taylor
One day a kangaroo jumped out from behind a tree and under the wheel of my vehicle.
Time sped up.
It was on this early morning, with the low-lying cloud and mist enveloping the landscape that the roo and I met for the first and last time. I stopped the vehicle up the road, got out leaving the door open and walked back to the animal.
Time slowed down.
Its back legs were shattered. There was nothing to be done. Time skipped a beat. Not having a firearm with me I phoned the local police who are tasked with euthanasia duties. An officer duly arrived; we spoke, made a plan and approached. A firearm in the equation meant I stayed two paces behind.
Time stretched then paused.
THE COLONEL: One day I'm going to tell you what happened but not now. One day I'm going to tell everyone what happened but again, not now. This isn’t the time or the place.
I think…I think I'd like to leave it for a while- at least until they leave. They've been here for a while now and I don't think they're going to go away. I might be wrong but that's the feeling I have.
(sotto voce) What I mean is they're going to have to be…removed. They're going to have to be removed by someone bigger than you. Someone much bigger than you.
(he raises his voice somewhat nervously)
Someone…well someone like me. Aww fuck it, I'll tell you who they fucking are…
I live in rural South Australia. My home occupies the outer border of a space where the city butts up against the country often resulting in an irreconcilable clash. It is an overlapping state where the natural meets the man-made, is inherently dysfunctional and always will be. At the risk of being melodramatic to me it’s like a war zone without a war. It’s quite a violent place in an oddly quiet way. You need to be respectfully cautious to navigate each day.
MAN: Did he have a drink?
WOMAN: No, at least I don't think so. Check your list why don't you?
MAN: I did check my (spits it out) fucking list.
WOMAN: Don't get nasty.
MAN: (not looking at the WOMAN) Tell him that, he's the trouble-maker. He's the one we need to convince.
WOMAN: Look, let's just…let’s just start again.
As the officer reached the animal a second roo burst from the scrub, hissing and barking, rearing itself up on its tail ready to kick.
Time split, fractured, stopped, reassembled itself and temporarily disappeared.
A low-lying fence concealed by the undergrowth prevented the worst, the officer turned back to me with a look of ‘what is life bringing us here?’ I collegially shrugged. He held the still barking defender at bay with a large branch. A cold mechanical shot.
Time came out of its hiding place.
MAN: Did he have a drink?
WOMAN: (pauses then somewhat wistfully, sorrowfully) Yes. Yes I believe he did in the end. He drank quite copiously. You’d better put him on your list this time.
MAN: (said lightly, but with malice) I have indeed put it on my list …(aside) you fucking horrible cow.
WOMAN: (threateningly slowly pulling a shiv from her posey) I’ve told you before not to get nasty.
The defender stood down as the echo of the round still rang through the range, it sniffed at its dead. Time flat-lined and stretched. The officer said, ‘Well that wasn’t pleasant’.
Time became bored again.
MAN: Well at least you managed to convince him not to be a fucking trouble-maker anymore. How did you do it in the end?
WOMAN: (placated, stowing shiv) I lied to him. I told him that he’d won the fight and spurned the invaders from his land, tossed them back into the sea, that his guerrilla military campaign was a success. I told him that his Terra Nullis was now terra firma, his ‘Straying Land’ or whatever he called it was safe and intact. I also told him that he had a soul, that it was unique and that no-one could take it away from him but he was so tired from two centuries of conquest and Settlement in the end he was quite easy to convince.
WOMAN: Thank you.
Growing up, we see things before we know them. Our visual experience of the world is anchored in the experiential, the lived, and crucially, the possibilities suggested by that experience. Impulse is as important as the ability to hunt down its origin. My impulse is to problematise our perception of time beyond the chronological straightjacket it finds itself relegated to on a daily basis. My research continues to explore the notion that time is ‘collapsible’, constantly unfolding and repeating and that photo media becomes our most reliable connection to time itself as lived experience.
MAN: Très importante Klugschwätzer! (he pulls a camo painted liquor flask from his breast pocket) No really I, well I know we’ve had our differences in the past but really I’d like to congratulate you on a job well done. Cheers! (he goes to take a swig but pauses) how rude of me, please…(he offers the flask) To you!
WOMAN: (taking the flask hesitatingly at first then trustingly, in a self-effacing way). Well, it seems somewhat gauche to drink to oneself …but alright – cheers! (takes a swig, coughs) Oh, goes right up your nose (hands flask back)
MAN: (taking flask, not drinking, returns to pocket) Yes Mnemosyne, it does.
WOMAN: What did you say? You called me by my name. You know that’s not allowed. If anyone with a classical education overhears they might work it out.
MAN: Fat chance.
WOMAN: (feeling groggy) You…you didn’t drink…
MAN: No. No I didn’t.
And it is here that the kangaroo whose life ended that misty morning may live and die again. For in problematising time I feel compelled to return to the kangaroo. I remember her alive and I remember her dead. At once, together and apart. Simultaneous states.
WOMAN: It’s not your water is it? It’s hers, it’s Lethe’s. You made me drink her water didn’t you Styx? You fucking arsehole.
MAN: (rounding on her) You fucking whore! You think you’re so clever. You cherry-pick the chosen ones but let mugs like me ferry the fools around, erasing their memories then erasing their souls before sending them back to try again. All the while running your own little agenda making brownie points with His Nibs while I get to taxi them to Lethe but that dozy cow never remembers to say thanks, oh no, thinks she’s above it all just like you. Well now you’re not! Now you’ll start to forget, first you’ll forget your mates, your family, your lovers then you’ll forget yourself. You always say ‘Let’s start again’ well now you can. Now you can really see what it’s like to cross the river, to lose everything and everyone you hold most dear. Go with your lover boy Sweetheart, go with him to the other side and start again. (mockingly) You love him Mnemmy…You’ve drunk from his pail at last! You might have to crawl but go now or you won’t remember why you left by the time you get there and serves you right! I give you a gift of eternal un-memory and a living ignorant bliss. No don’t thank me, it’s a pleasure!!
WOMAN: (sick) I can’t. He’s dead.
MAN: Yes I know he’s dead, they’re all dead.
WOMAN: No, I mean he’s always been dead. He was dead before he got to us, before he started out he was dead. That’s why he wasn’t on your list. He’s been dead for the entire time, he just didn’t know it. He thought he was the original Colonel. He had already gone mad (coughs) He was always dead! (MAN is shocked, WOMAN stares at her hand) Am I fading? (she looks out ahead and begins to weep with despair) You cunt.
MAN: (looking out with blank realisation) Then we returned a dead man. We’re fucked (he uncorks the flask and drinks it dry)
So just what is it that I’m suggesting by relating this fractured penumbral tale in an arts journal? To me it speaks to the core of why I am a visual artist and how the world reveals itself to me. For me art is a philosophy. It embodies questions on how we should live as much as why we are the way we are. Art discourse is replete with treatise on photographic temporality, narrative structure and the spatial poetics of stillness and motion. But it is the revelation of time through not only photography but the space that sits between photography and its fast-moving cousin - cinema – that offers an opportunity for reimaging the ever-present past.
Place, life, death, fact, fiction, change, connection…and remembering. Simultaneous states.
It is the variability of time and the anxieties these create that this research is now examining through an investigation of the colonial life and times of Colonel William Light (1786 -1839). The execution of the work shall contest notions of reality, narrative and history amongst the backdrop of life in South Australian liminal hinterlands. Taking back the colonies while reimaging ourselves and our landscapes not in a territorial land grab of the mind but rather a collapsing un-narrative of the senses.
Andre Tarkovsky, the great Russian filmmaker said, “The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.”
Relived lives amid liminal landscapes. Flora and fauna, fighters and fools. Nature always resists culture. Nature pushes back.
WOMAN: (groggier) …what did you say?…what did you say…?
WOMAN: Didn’t you have a clipboard? What do you mean ‘drunk from his pail’? I’ve seen you before, surely? (MAN rocks gently from side-to-side) That’s the thing about invasions, the winners get to write the histories, the losers get to forget.
MAN: (turning to her) Look, can’t we…can’t we just start again?
WOMAN: Not this time (she pulls the shiv and stabs MAN, he screams)
You win some, Deleuze some.
It’s all so crystal clear.