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Small Axe 7.2 (2003) 120-126

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Terrastories (notes)

Christopher Cozier


Terrastories is very much a project in process. It began in Copenhagen in 2002. It was an outdoor public work with three parts.

The first two parts were fenced-in enclosures. The first enclosure, which was fenced in with a gate with the Trinidadian "no trespassing" sign on it, featured a park bench that sat in the square outside the Nikolaj art space. If people wanted to sit on the bench, they had to fill out a spurious visa-like form. If this form was filled out "correctly," I would provide the key, which had on it an image of a nineteenth-century plantation owner and the word "ownerman," to open the gate.

The other enclosure had no gate or entry point. Inside was a podium/rostrum, not unlike those you might see at a sports day, with "first place," "second place," and "third place" marked on it.

The third part of the Terrastories project consisted of four hundred yellow, made-in-China rulers hung to blow in the wind between the buttresses of the old church tower. Inside of that area, along with the sound of the rulers knocking together, was the sound of my voice being played through a small speaker. I said, "Man running between two nonspecific points" and "And to think you had me believing that all this time." [End Page 120]


It has always been difficult to decide what to say to people in new places.

Places that I have never been to, or places that I never thought I would ever have the privilege (do not let that word slip by unheeded) of seeing or visiting.

I often look at the BBC on the cable service at home and see images of large cities or antique ones with cobble stone streets, tall churches and people in heavy coats walking with a determined manner and then the opposite. Places like where I live and work.

It is a remarkable thing to even think that one could communicate to anyone, anywhere, just so, just like that. There is a feeling of futility and doubt that comes over me—a sensation of anxiety and then relief. Relief if I manage to get a response or an acknowledgment indicating that I may have communicated something and that a dialogue is beginning or continuing. I said anxiety, because my primary instinct—perhaps derived from some process of historical conditioning?—is to withdraw. The anxiety is then about myself failing to respond, as well as a concern about responding without thinking my way through the situation.

As an artist all I have are my experiences and perceptions, which are all quite personal, speculative, fleeting and constantly shifting. All I have is my ability to give them some kind of visual shape. All I can do is hope that someone, even right here in Trinidad, or somewhere else, will understand me or be interested in what I am trying to say. I cannot control or prescribe that possibility. I have always to be ready to respond, to interpret and negotiate.

At the airport, the man who inspected my travel documents looked through the glass cage at me and asked if I was coming here to work. He was not asking, really, he was warning me. He said, "You are not coming here to work?!" His tone of voice confused me. For a moment, I had forgotten what I represented in his World. For a moment, I was in doubt, even disbelief. I kept thinking—was he asking or warning me? But he had said it loudly enough that I had already become, or had begun to feel, even further isolated from the others in the line. Memories of past entries into Europe in the 80s returned. [End Page 121] [Begin Page 124]

So, again . . . I was entering somebody else's space/place. I answered "Oh . . . am . . . no" defensively but irritated and exhausted deep within at the repeating circumstance. The perpetual dissection in which who I think and know I am and what I...


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