“The question is are [Science and Art] married, or just engaged? Or perhaps they’re still just flirting? Or perhaps we don’t know it but they’re already divorced? Well, we know they’ve met, because they were both born in the same neighbourhood—probably the same house, which is the house of Magic. Magic exists, as the origin and root of both [Science and Art]”. - Toni MorrisonThe Foreigner’s Home, lecture given at École Normale Supérieure, Paris, 19 December 2003.
Rituals of welcome are timeless. A cup of water offered. Tea brewing. Boots taken and replaced with comfy slippers. A formal bow, the host’s head lowered to the guest. A handshake. One, two or three kisses. An embrace. No matter the length of the journey, these rituals open the way for new relationships. Every time one leaves and returns, or arrives for the first time, a new relationship must be established with a place.
To be strange in the city is not simply to be unknown, it is to be unwelcome - a ritual of welcome has yet to take place, connecting a person to the land, to the people of the city, to its habits and pathways. Strangers move in time signatures that defy or disconnect – out of sync – with the rhythm of the city. They eat at the wrong times, in the wrong places. They travel in the wrong directions. They miss cues of speech and communication. Or no one speaks to them. In their ignorance and aloneness they are in danger, and they are the danger.
I am strange in many cities. I must learn many new movements. The tarot travels with me, providing a way into the times and resonances of place. The rhythm of ritual – quiet, shuffle, cast, cut, spread, pick – drops me deep into the timing of a place. And when I am in a familiar place, the tarot makes me strange again, inducing me to meet and greet the energies of my city, to make my known world unknown, unknowable. In a world in which more and more of us are without (one) country, or (one) city, the ability to welcome strangers and to experience oneself as strange, are invaluable.
In 1919, amidst the wreckage of war, architect Walter Gropius and his students and colleagues set up a school in Germany. They tried, through practice, to teach and learn how to reverse war technologies – “The Bauhaus was a political community as much as it was an artistic one.” Holleran, Max, 'The Dean: out of the ruins of war Walter Gropius made a vital political community' The New Republic, April 2, 2019. It was a place of welcome for strangeness, a place to experiment with different and radical relationships. But by 1925, the citizens of Weimar kicked out this community of strangers and the school had to move to Dessau. By 1933, the school was completely disbanded, as the fascist machine made everyone foreign in their own home.
And now, in 2019, at the Neuhaus academy in Rotterdam’s Het Nieuwe Instituut, we experiment with contemporary forms of teaching and learning, while the ancient Amazon forest burns. “Our geological bonfire illustrates just how unusual the project of humanity is. We are trying to retrieve, burn down, and metabolize all the forests and sea life ever buried, from alien worlds long past. We’re not merely lighting a match to the Amazon and imperiling everything that lives in it with extinction, but also summoning creatures long dead to return to Earth’s surface and give up the ancient energy they took to the grave. This global industrial metabolism, this heedless combustion of the life at the planet’s surface and throughout its history, is a new phenomenon on the face of the Earth. It is a forest fire of the eons.” - Peter Brannen, 'The Amazon is not earth’s lungs' The Atlantic, August 27, 2019. But what do we really need to learn in this time?
My teacher is a tarot deck called Xultun. The deck draws upon the voice and cosmology of the Aztec and Maya people of Mexico and central America. Next year, it will be the 500-year anniversary of the massacre in the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan is the Aztec name for Mexico City. On 22 May 1520 Spanish strangers, welcomed into the Aztec capital, massacred men, women and children of the local elite at an annual feast in the most sacred place in their city. This is the promise and the fear of the stranger entering the city; in the encounter with difference one may lose one’s entire life.
I ask this American deck to help me navigate cities as far flung as Rotterdam and Melbourne. I open myself every day to fear of the stranger, to fear of difference, and the cards provide me a map to find welcome in places I do not understand and that cannot understand me. Now is the time for learning how to welcome change, difference, and even death.
Melbourne, August 2019