Blooming Suspense

Lovisa Johansson’s Jumping Lullaby

(Photo by Henry Chan)

Two dozen alarm clocks are set out on the floor. Lovisa is asleep next to them, in her oatmeal night-clothes. One alarm clock goes off, starts to cry like a baby. Wah-wah-wah. Lovisa stands up and winds herself into her long red baby wrap. She is shushing the alarm back to sleep, soothing it with her voice, until she’s tied her wrap. She tucks the clock into her sling, as another one goes off and starts to cry. Two clocks inside her sling now, she bounces on her feet and sings to them in Swedish. The clocks stop crying. She puts them down again, unwinds her sling, then sleeps again. All the clocks tick away in unison, telling the same time.

The clocks begin to go off again. She ties on her baby wrap, starts holding each one to her ear, over the racket, to find out which ones are crying, then tucks those ones inside her sling, constantly shushing and singing to them, her Swedish lullabies. This goes on, in some manner or another, for a long time.

(Photo by Henry Chan)

Durational performance has such an interesting effect. It gradually drains you of all resistance, all cynicism and rationalizing, until you actually just surrender to the on-going experience in an authentic way as if it was your own, because in some sense it has become your own by virtue of its length.

The action is obvious. There is no trickery here. No semantics or sophistry to decipher and protect yourself against. There is nothing to figure out. Just observe and endure. There is only the attempt to recreate, with a little edge of irony, the experience of coaxing your baby to sleep. This is what it’s like. Can you remember? Yes, I can. I remember the hours and hours of putting my son to bed. The bouncing until I had the calves of a marathoner, all the deep knee bends. There are women all over the world right now doing this very thing. Frozen in a posture that is painful to them, wishing their babies would slip off the last sticky shelf before sleep, faking their own sleep in an attempt to convince their babies into joining them. That’s the only trickery here. The trickery of the mother, who wishes her baby to sleep, and release her from its clutches, to sleep herself, or join the dinner party down the hall, now going on their third bottle of wine. Hush, little baby, don’t you cry. Momma’s gonna bake you an apple pie.

Even as Lovisa begins to cry through her singing, there is no manipulation here. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it takes to carry a baby through infancy into early childhood. And someone once did it for you. Did it for all of us.

And if, at any point, you found the performance had to bear, the constant crying like a flock of seagulls, cawing annoyingly in your ear, don’t for a moment think it’s any better for the mother who does it every night. The red of Lovisa’s baby wrap is no mistake. It is the colour of sacrifice. And like a wound, it extracts a price.

(Photo by Henry Chan)

She will only stop when she has all her clock babies in her sling and the last one has stopped crying. She lays them out on the floor and stretches out on top of them, at once soothing and smothering, her own exhaustion taking over, transforming her into a bear, a whale now. Sleep with me, my youngsters. She is beyond wanting anything else for herself, now, but sleep.

The agony of suspense at the end is whether they will cry again.

When, after several false finales, there is silence, it blooms as beautiful and fragile as peonies.



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2 responses to “Blooming Suspense

  1. miguel invierno

    duration. a good word to hang this piece around. mw

  2. Pingback: New Maternalisms | Lovisa Johansson

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