File Note 99: Ben Rivers - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Renee Gladman



Edgelands Images References Quote Biography Credits


It was a bus headed for Bashir, leaving once a day, crossing the Eastern plains of Ravicka, a bus not too many took, a ride few wanted to endure across the grasses, though this was one of the most beautiful places in the city-state, the grasses, which used to be the site of our summer gatherings, which became the war ground between two nations (though both were without military), which now spread quietly between two states and was open, golden-colored, was a place to hide, was sometimes where the houses went: you could find things you were looking for if you were willing to climb aboard this bus, take the seven-hour journey. It would be a bus that had its occupants, coming from the centre of the city, and the occupants would exist in various degrees of intimacy with one another: I remembered Dis Lokijé who ran a writers salon in cit Ramtala (from her home which then felt to most of us like a castle: labyrinthine, its hallways would take you, not return you for hours); I had known the bus driver since primary school;

he listened to the two women leaning across their seats talking, the women then turning toward Dis Lokijé, who called out names in a rhythmic, disorienting fashion: too slow, too loud. The bodies were stiff, then loosened, turned and leaned, then stood up and moved a row forward, a row back; a woman bent low in her seat to show the flat of her back, except the spine raised like a bridge, the few men on board, hacking into paper bags, trying to look handsome in bow ties and shaky legs, moving up and down the aisles; somebody stiff the whole time, waiting, wanting to talk about this trip eastward: how antagonisms between the states were at an all time low, but how there were no Basharac on board. The bodies would be constantly turning away from this conversation, slouching, rolling in the grasses out the windows, sleeping in the fields. It was a bus that moved along a road that went straight to the border, toward a line that cut the land only now in story, through some unattended war grounds, arriving on the other side, unseen, outside of the realms of description: it disappeared into the horizon, and the people it carried, still about twenty-five of us, drew to a close. The bus cut through the grasses, which had grown tall, and though they hadn’t taken over the road, the fact of the road was minor in all the movement of the grasses; you didn’t think about the road as you moved along it; voices bisected you, the grasses seemed to brush against the bus, the silence of the plains expanded as the bus drew closer to the border, the silence of Bashir: the bus bringing its silence into that silence, Selma Dyani standing up, pointing to the one structure remaining, far off

on the other side of the flowing plain—the platform of the Hilayli station (once a day the train passing); Selma Dyani having said something about being over there rather than here on this bus, the microclimate of here: the heat, and the women at the front of the bus telling her to sit down, to read something. We rode the bus as residents of one country maneuvering toward another: it was Bashir in the distance, one was always saying, the Basharac calling me, asking my name, wanting my papers; the Basharac stripped of their calling powers, but still there, through the silence, “blanking.” You couldn’t describe what happened there, how people lived. Does the bus drop you off at a terminal? My friends would ask me. I couldn’t say, though I went and returned often. It was a road that carried you, that carried us, through the grasses, and we went along on a plane (geometric and silent), the bus crashing through, the grasses brushing the bus, our actions being named by an old woman who’d seen all the faces of war (those that could be mustered) and who rode this bus, carried it in her memories: the bus cutting borders, the story of Rab and Letic Jehil crossing the plain, sleeping on mats and writing that novel they would misplace sometime later, in the city, in a building that stood up and walked away, that didn’t come here, wasn’t drawn eastward, sitting in some field in some other

corner, seven hours going in the other directions: the novel of their dreams. Selma Dyani stood up and pointed towards the bus’s arrival, the horizon parting and stretching, though we would sit here for hours, sleeping, walking from the front to the back, grabbing our knees as we traversed the plain where Rab and Letic had sat, where I and others had lain in the sun and families gathered in the rushes, talking about war, and predating war with sandwiches and crackers and the latest book from Vranase or Autayvic: the body prostrate, drawn like a novel unfolding, pages turned and nipped with the mouth, and identifying the voices of those around.
I could hear the Jehils from there, their encampment on the other side, nearer the station, our family dug in, near the dunes; the dunes and the station metres apart, whole neighborhoods between; the bus cutting through these stories, twenty-five voices, one stiff body. The bus would ride across our voices that afternoon becoming night in a slow turning of golden grasses to deep brown to lavender to something dark-dark beyond color and beyond time, the time held in the twenty-five bodies humming on that bus, pushing the bus along a hum, the space of the plain on which no bodies fell but nations threshed. The body cut the story into 968 pieces, and the bus ran across those many shards, flattening them, putting them in tune to the disappearing night, a motor sounding like cotton brushing against cotton, curving around the elbow.


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“I do not intend to speak about, just speak nearby.” Trinh T. Minh-ha

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Ben Rivers (b. 1972, Somerset) lives and works in London. Selected solo exhibitions include: The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, Artangel Open Commission (2015); Fable, Temporary Gallery, Cologne (2014); Ah Liberty!, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2013); Ben Rivers, Hepworth Wakefield (2012); Sack Barrow, Hayward Gallery Project Space, London (2011); Slow Action, Matt’s Gallery, London (2011); Slow Action, Picture This, Bristol (2010); A World Rattled of Habit, A Foundation, Liverpool (2009). He has been the recipient of numerous prizes including: FIPRESCI International Critics Prize, 68th Venice Film Festival (2011) for his first feature film Two Years At Sea; Artangel Open 2013; the inaugural Robert Gardner Film Award (2012); the Baloise Art Prize, Art Basel (2011); twice shortlisted for the Jarman Award (2010, 2012); Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists (2010). His second feature, A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness, was made in collaboration with Ben Russell and won the New Visions Award at CPH:DOX (2013). His third feature The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers recently premiered at Locarno and Toronto Film Festivals. He is represented by Kate MacGarry, London.


Renee Gladman is a poet, novelist and publisher based in Massachusetts.

Supported by the The Ben Rivers Producers Circle. With thanks to: Estate of Keith Arnatt; Carlos/Ishikawa, London; Fraenkal Gallery, San Francisco; Le Fresnoy  —  Studio national des arts contemporains; Estate of Helen Levitt; Manchester City Galleries; Collection of Maurice Marciano; Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard; Osborne Samuel Gallery, London; and Spruth Magers, London.