Mothers of Tongues, Crown of Feathers

Mothers of Tongues, Crown of Feathers 


Written contribution for the publication ‘Dear Friend (of grape seed and iron bullets)’ with Maike Hemmers and Baha Gorkem Yalim

Part of the Pocket Book Series curated by WORKNOT! and Sarmad

Featured in the exhibition Fictioning Comfort, curated by WORKNOT! Showroom MAMA, Rotterdam (NL)

The text follows the invitation of fellow artist Maike Hemmers to participate in the activation of her artistic work on queer and soft resistance, first by recording the interactions with her cushion works in six performative engagements that have been transformed into Hemmers’ video work “Desire Digests What Moves It”. Secondly, I contributed with a written piece that responds to her object-oriented approach to ‘intuitive material relations’. 

Mothers of Tongues, Crown of Feathers is a piece of writing in which I recount traits of reality perceived as a child in the familiar backdrop of women intent in the performance of reproductive and gendered obligations, plus some magic. The context for the telling is the domestic setting of 1980s provincial Italy, in which the women of my family crafted counter spells to concretizations found in my mum’s sleeping pillow. According to spiritualism and folklore, the phenomenon of aggregation of animal feathers inside pillow (known as concretizations) manifests curses addressed to the ones sleeping on them. The effects of their occurrences are physical, psychosomatically detecting unhappiness, tensions and anxieties deriving problems and misfortune in love, wealth and health. 

Growing up, I observed them drawing information and techniques for everyday survival and forbearance from popular lore and neighbourhood practices of word of mouth and gossiping. Reflecting now on this circulation of grassroot knowledge, I recognise that by putting them in actions, the women of my family ritualized care for what seemed to find no explanation or solution. 

In the writing, fiction is a performative disposition that I observe rather than create, put in action by caring gestures with the support of simple means and tools – a layer of practicing that gets scripted upon the everyday. However, while this care tries to solve problems, it also withholds secrets and imposes silences on its participants. 

The pillow and its material content offer the pretext for interlacing remembrance of the lost ones in pandemic times with the domestic rituals in which they manifested themselves creatively and unhortodoxically, where magic was a tool for diagnosis, sisterhood a way to cope with oppression, and secrecy a structure holding the architecture of a household. This becomes a heirloom without nostalgia, because it reminds of the intimidating base of any bond.