Sonya Lacey: By Sea

Salt, like memory, preserves through a process of permeation — altering the structure of its ‘host’ while acting to retain some essential, singular quality. In the landscape of Sonya Lacey’s By Sea, salt fills the gaps and fissures opened up by the erosion that it has set in motion. The architectural space through which the camera glides shows the cumulative result of this process. Each passageway is translucent, constructed of cast salt that appears blemished and brittle when in close-up and in focus.

This imagery sits in uneasy accord with fragmentary narrative pieces afforded to the viewer by voice-over. These shards of information refuse distillation, their loose ends and peculiar tangents circuitously housing the world of the film within a larger set of metaphysical dimensions. We hear of glimpses of life inside a seaside apartment complex where each building forms a letter shape, so that an aerial view elicits the phrase “Par Mer.” We are told that the building is less legible on the inside, that no one knows for sure what it might be like to inhabit anyone else’s living quarters. Despite these challenges, the narrator says, “We resolve to share our partial information.” In these instances, the work’s eerie sense of profundity amplifies such notions beyond the geometric specifics of any one apartment, just as it echoes the conditions and confines of our subjectivity as individuals.

By Sea was inspired by the writings and short films of New Zealand poet and experimental filmmaker Joanna Margaret Paul, which, like Lacey’s work, often take the form of intimate meditations on the experience and minutiae of place. Such a focus is apparent in a 1985 issue of Cantrills Filmnotes, in which Paul wrote that “in a landscape or garden one discerns messages from within.”

Initially, the message-writ-large seems to elude those inside Par Mer. But the specifics of interiority — the slight tilt, the curved walls, the sound of a Supremes cassette, the salt in the flaws — cumulatively come to contain something that exceeds the reach of a two-word phrase read from above. We are told that coastal attrition is threatening to sweep Par Mer off the map. Yet it seems that if this were to eventuate, or if it already has, the granular particulars will preserve, for a select few, what it was like to experience their unique reality from within. Elyssia Bugg

29 August 2017
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