Nora N. Khan

Joan of Arc

Here’s a short piece I contributed to the companion booklet for the Sixth Sense group show that opened at Minibar Artistspace earlier this month. Minibar is in Stockholm and is run and curated by the very gracious artists Anna Sagström and Matilda Tjäder: thank you both!

Featured in the show: Joel Dean, Michael Guidetti, Jenny Kalliokulju and Sasha Litvintseva, Ms. Sagström and Sydney Shen.

Here is the publication PDF, where you can read some really lovely pieces by my former Kill Screen editor Ryan Kuo, Josh Minkus, Sean Fabi, Sydney Beaumont and Jenny Kalliokulju, all speculating on the notion of senses outside the given five.

I’ve put my contribution below.

JOAN OF ARC

When night falls, she leaves the town and climbs up to the woods above it to find the ghosts of Joan of Arc. She is hidden here in the woods, and safe, her body held within the thousand hands of an electric god-swarm.

The new inserts are smooth and egg-shaped. They spin and click happy between her nerves when she walks beneath the tension sheets of power lines. The sutures are just faint marks of ruin on her skin.

As she walks into the innermost clearing, she feels her integrity dissolve, the deep-blood rush of disorientation. Heat comes to her in dim orange shapes of birds and dogs and deer. Sound arrives and cocoons her in thick and brilliant waves: heavy and blue and roiling up from the ground, or dropping in thin yellow slivers from the trees. Distance is a psychic cast.

Joan of Arc wasn’t a woman but a group – JOAN OF ARC – a black operation, with members that had gathered in these woods over the last century for dead drops. These woods were ideal, unreachable, bordered by train tracks and a black lake. Across the lake were the cliffs which had always watched and would continue to watch.

The first weeks she came to the woods, shifts in the pulse stream led her to a pile of electrodes on the floor of a small greenhouse at the edge of the clearing. She slept there on a thin bed, between boxes of lab equipment, aware of the cold white steel mesh under the mattress through her face.

She felt the movement of the night train over the lake as an arc from the base of her spine to the crown of her head.

JOAN OF ARC had dreamt of civilization’s accelerated collapse. The carved marks of their presence were all throughout this clearing. Looking for links to a universe beyond this one, they had turned the ground over, buried metals and circuit boards and chips. They’d burnt thousands of bonfires, leaving a grave’s depth of ash. Masons carrying out gnostic rituals, maybe, or ragtag pseudo-scientists experimenting with sonic assault in the greenhouse bunker. Their work here stretched over decades.

Each day, as the light fades, she tracks the spectral signatures of the soil, the wind, the dead grass and the new. She leans into the weighted contours of shadows.

Bats crane to the quickest moving blood on the ground; she feels their heads turning. The movement of any one thing, known by its ultraviolet range.

There were so many oblique ways to approach a thing, without mapping, without geologic tests or magnetotellurics. She had never felt her body should be left to its own devices. When she was ten, she had read some woman’s strange words:  “Everything that helped your body grow into what it has become today – strong, albeit simple and terrible – will turn against you.”

She had once tried to find chronotropic ecstasy through a loaded drip, tucked into the tissue near her spine. Once the speed started to age her, she had the drip removed.

Now, she can measure time by how slow animals are moving, by the changing colors of waves of decay, by the steady rhythmic flux between warm and cool. She learns the ground so well that she can close her eyes and follow a path of rain water down through the sediments, streams wrapping around battery casings, dead wires, copper pipes, broken stone.

She carries buckets of soil inside and plunges her arms elbow deep into them, soaking in the ore, alluvium and silt through her skin.

She doesn’t need to have seen the faces of JOAN or have read of their work to sense what might have happened here.

There might come a day when she will feel the dull, constant pulse along her frame tighten and surge into a livewire and she’ll fall to the ground, shaken by a rising underground transmission. She might feel the buried power lines packed in a cylinder as wide around as a bus. The dirt will twist ferrous and wild in her hands.

The clearing sits above a cold lake of oil. She feels the earth speak. She feels the heat walk across the clearing towards her.