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  • Amy Winstanley

Strangers

A text written by Harriet Foyster commissioned for STRANGERS, a group show with Amy Winstanley, Kathrin Graf, Lana Murdochy, Younwon Sohn and Mariah Blue at Rongwrong, Amsterdam, Novemeber 2022.



About me, you know:


My basic details; my names, age, height, birthday. Also, more specific details; my allergies, shoe size, metabolic age, the tone of voice in which I like to write.


You know my appearance well, and can visualise the way my face contorts when it experiences any of the emotions to which the English language has assigned a name, including but not limited to: hope, deflation, devastation, thrill. You can see, materialising behind your forehead while you wait for the kettle to boil, the particular hue of pink that tinges the tops of my ears after swimming, the exact twitch of my neck when I hear something shrill, and the precise movement that my philtrum makes when I am thinking about how little time I have left to complete a pressing task.

You also know my tempo, my motions, and my mechanics. Even when I am elsewhere, you can hear the metre of my chewing and how it changes depending on how much I’m enjoying what I’m eating. You can feel the hot throb my joints emit when I’m overtired, can hear the grind of my kneecaps when I stand up from sitting, and can trace the architecturally unsound but striking skyline that the outline of my teeth would make, building by building, if I were to bite into a block of putty.


If you were to review your knowledge of me, you could well find that you hold the largest collection of information on any one person anywhere, ever. Larger than the results of every census ever taken; larger and more scrupulous. Larger than all of the national archives of all of the nations put together. Larger, even, than the history of the internet. It feels plausible that, thanks to how much you know of me, you could be the greediest archivist in the world; there’s so much knowledge of me in you.


On occasion, this knowledge is animated by a physical merger; quick, quiet, and most noticeable when we are sick. Our feverish forms no longer collaborate so much as coalesce (emitting and ingesting the same mass of hot air, attuned to identical periods of rest and sweat, releasing corresponding heaves and sighs). One night, some years ago, you vomited twice and I didn’t. This was an event that I could not get my head around for several days, the stark asynchrony of which felt like a manufacturing error.


I am confident that you would not willingly give up your library of me, though we mustn’t underestimate the risk of degradation. Damage control takes work. Look at the big library in town. Its air is climate-controlled to keep the atmosphere stable, protecting its bounty from damp and booklice. It works hard to ensure there is no organic matter ballooning in small, wet corners of pages, providing perfect feed for termites. It works hard to keep on top of its organising principles, ensuring every recorded entry can be retrieved efficiently when necessary. Maintenance is costly to sustain. I watch Storage Hunters on late-night TV and weep. Imagine! All of that information: carefully gathered, stored, then gone. We mustn’t underestimate the risk of loss. Also, there is the risk of shock. Even with sound internal housekeeping, the ground your unit stands on—just like any location—is vulnerable to external shocks. These shocks can be environmental or manmade, can result in warming, cooling, or toxification.


I once knew somebody very well (almost to merging point), but our knowledge was lost to shock. One day, over breakfast, I looked up to see chewing that occurred at an alien pace, not conducted in the rhythm that I had come to expect. There was a throat I no longer recognised, one that took in a whole mug of coffee in unfamiliar gulps. There were fingers drumming a beat with a force that I’d not seen exerted before, while a tongue tongued its lips after all of the wrong mouthfuls. Right there at the table, as I pushed my orange juice to one side, there was an avalanche. The mountainous knowledge I had tirelessly collected was now dislodging and, with rocks and other ephemera, tumbling silently downward out of reach.


I saw this old friend recently, and I confess I did something imperceptibly cruel. I dredged up all of that old knowledge from the snow; hauled it right out from the sludge pool it had been submerged under for some time. I heaved its complex mass—thick as treacle, impossible heavy, irresponsibly comfortable—up from under the surface and out into the daylight. I turned it around in both hands to get a good look, wiped it dry on my sleeve, and then reduced it into a singular, amicable, zip-file greeting as I said, quite charmingly:

“Hello, stranger.”

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