A stain, a sting

XAlison Scott, A stain, a sting, 2018, video still

There is music. There is a rhythm, there is pause, there is poise. A clarinet, a low saxophone, a strum, could make this a frenzied forest of jazz. It builds, it grows, the drum drums. It’s dense; it is a threat? It stumbles. The music halts and stops and soothes, stagger into the shade. A clearing is an attempt to tame and tempt but weedy species still grow. It’s tired of walking. Keep moving, don’t stop for too long. Just listen. A sniff. A breath. A dull thud a squelch a squat. It’s textural, it’s sticky; sticky music, sticky language, the icckk it sticks to the soft-drone, soft-mud, soft-thighs. Ass on the grass repeats ass on grass, close an unlit path, a soaked seat, a soaked sheet. Grass is sheets. It’s dreamy creamy, it’s fantasy, it’s sci-fi. It imprints, pummels the hill into the shape we see in the daytime. Here lava flowed and is still liquid in its own span, wet and moving and hot. Slaggy interbedded tuff. Little puddles everywhere. A cymbal, a rhythm, a ticking, bubbling, ringing. All moving in liquid time, evidence is spread, covered and uncovered. You have a profile, leave a trail, can be traced. You too are not immune.

Your sister is allergic to most perfume. Well, something in them. Gifts from well-meaning grandmothers and boyfriends backfire with violent sneezes, her whole body becomes tense and curled, trying to expel whatever chemicals have been unleashed. It’s truly exhausting, even to watch. The mystery chemicals are pollutants; the luxuries become poison. Rugs, too, have a similar physical effect, and she is a big hayfever sufferer. Can’t lay body loose and fingers plunged into a deep pile carpet, or in long grass carefree, like you can. You’re willing an etymological link to explain the link between pollen and pollution more acutely, it’s not quite there. Or at least you haven’t been able to track it. Your sister’s body is a siren, each sneeze an alarm alerting you to air polluted with pollen, petrochemicals, and unseen micro particles floating in the air. Finding their way up her nostrils, through her eyes and skin, interacting with her body, the hazards are everywhere. Everyone’s done it at some time, or heard the stories. Carefully chop it, get it on your fingers, taste a bit, fuck that’s hot, eyes prickle, rub them, rub it in your eyes, wherever is the most sensitive is where you will inevitably get the stuff. Wash it wash it get it off, keep blinking. Quick more water, here’s an egg cup, no ok, then a small bowl, blink in the water, let it sit a wee bath just for your fiery eyes. There. You should really have a drink of milk too, take a swig and hold it in your mouth, not too much or the thick white droplets will dribble down your chin and you’ll really be in a mess. What you need now is aloe vera on the thin red skin around your eyes, don’t you have the gel it’s so handy. You should really get a plant they grow so easily and they make babies, it’s the best. Your auntie has a sprawling aloe vera plant in her classroom, her pupils call it the Magic Healing Plant, rub it on sore spots and teary faces. Break its limbs, rub it where it hurts, squeeze the flesh out, it’s cool, it’s soothing, yes, the pain will go away. Don’t worry the plant will heal, it will callous over and you too will be fine, chili burns won’t scab and tears don’t really stain.

You remember your mum always told you not to go up the hill at night. More stories everyone seemed to know. The warnings functioned as self-defence lessons; more extreme things, like Mace spray, were reserved for American TV shows. Teenage girls given a canister by concerned parents, assuming they could spray it into the hardened eyes of attackers to survive perilous situations. You only recently realised that Mace is just an American brand name for pepper spray, active ingredient capsaicin from chili peppers. The product has no trace of mace, the spice, at all. An archaic, spikey bludgeon surely would have been the intended Mace-image for marketeers of a blinding spray. Perhaps it should have been obvious, a thing seemingly so far from the homely, comforting stodge of rice pudding and spiced Christmas biscuits. And of course, mace has a violent story of its own. You were ignorant to the origin of the spice, even despite the ubiquitousness of the taste in your food, given also, how distanced you can feel from the production of food and the bitter history of its trade. Predominantly grown in Indonesia, mace is the crimson substance covering the nutmeg seed; it swaddles the seed in a fleshy, sinuous looking swirl. When dried these are sold as the menacing sounding ‘mace blades’ or are ground into a yellow powder, but while fresh appear as brilliant red, thick veins around a solid, darkened eyeball. Green Gold. You think of the type of not-gold that greens your fingers over time; a cheap ring masquerading as truth. It’s the acid in your skin that does it, rubs away the surface plating, oxidises the cheaper metal (copper?) underneath and causes discolouration. It doesn’t wipe off, it’s a deeper stain than that. You rub your hands in the grass to hide the yellowish grey marks among the blades, fresh grass stains cut into your skin and overlay the ugly band. These are brighter but they will fade faster. Grass is so common you barely think of it as a plant, it is just in the gaps between the paths and roads. Cash crop dyes and mined pigments have far more intense colouration than this weed. Their stains lay deep in the skin, in the blood. Plants travelling around the trade routes of the world for their colour, smell, taste, physic and psychic properties. Exploitation is an attitude, it was learnt, and now it stings like nettles. Everyone knows, find a dock leaf, it will be close by, the alkali gel in the leaf will relieve the effect on the acid from the nettles. If only all stains were so benign and so easily neutralised.


First performed at Soft Shell, The Poetry Club, Glasgow, A stain, a sting is an echo of an audio work by Patrick Staff titled, To Those In Search of Immunity (2017). It is a response after a delay, and response is a loose term. It is additive, an elaboration, you could even say an excess. It repeats some of the sentiment but is after the fact and outwith the remit of the unseen original, trying to catch up to it in time. Speaking to another artist, who isn’t aware of the echo, they’re long gone by now. It can’t really be said that they intended it, but text once heard has a lingering effect: a voice speaks through time as a record of its own making, and this text follows in that wake. Enacting a conversation, interacting but just slightly out of time, out of place. In the responsive echo, text bounces off of text, sometimes slotting neatly into gaps in the sentences, phrases interlock. The echo overlays the original, or rather, it underlays, underscoring what is significant in what came before, reiterating the salient, whatever rings true. It dulls one idea while amplifying another, and can be dissonant. The echo strikes the surface text from below, hitting its soft underside. Uninvited perhaps, it exists below the volume of the main track, and is stealthy. The echo makes contact, brushes with the surface, absorbing some of its substance and leaving some character behind. The surface is porous, ways through can be found, but why not continue on another level. The responsive text shoots weedy roots and spindly stems, wilfully entwining itself, unbounded and unkempt. A garden within a garden. It can remain unseen, remain weedy. It is tempting to call it a parasite, a paratext, conjoined to the main body of text but not truly of it, willing to become part of it. A hang on the end of a note, a lingering flourish, and a fade.