Director: Katie O’Loughlin. Performer: Rique Hill. Music: Sara Anderholm. Drone Footage: AJ Carino and Wahtah Productions. Special Thanks: UAA Department of Theatre and Dance, The Ohio State University, The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
By Katie O’Loughlin
I am a child, sitting beneath my parent’s friend, being told the story of how my body was created from the breath of wind, from the soil of the earth. It feels as other worldly as the ecosystem of ants I found while playing with the log in my backyard.
I am a teenager, lying in our neighborhood field, feeling thoughts shift across my mind like the clouds shift through the sky above me. The earth holds me, the sky beckons me. I feel myself dwelling in many places at once.
I am a young adult, standing on the ridgeline my legs carried me to. My spirit feels as vast and untouchable as the surrounding layers of mountains. My heart resonates with the tundra flowers, sustained despite the rocky soil and northern winds. I am safer on this ledge than in my society, and I understand it deeply.
I am walking home, sunlight breaking through the trees, causing shifting shadows on my skin. I let the earth clothe me, appreciating the light and shadow more than my current outerwear. I stop beneath one of the trees, and notice its soft, camouflaged fruit. I touch the trunk. Skin to bark. Lifeform to lifeform. I appreciate the tree, with its hidden sustenance and bold attempts to join the heavens. I begin to appreciate myself too, a gift from the tree, I think. I care and am cared for, touch and am touched in return. A reciprocity that exists before its definition.
I breathe in, and I am compelled to believe in a world that is so intricately intertwined that our inhale is the earth’s exhale, and our exhale in the earth’s inhale.
What if our bodies, including our minds and souls, are threaded together from all the elements of the earth? What if our design is the same design of the world around us? What if our lungs were inspired by the trees; our veins by the rivers; our cycle by the moon? What if we were meant for seasons, meant for adaption, meant for change?
From Dust explores the idea that we are the earth, and the earth is us. And if we are the earth, then when we tend the soil, we tend our own growth. And when we cause harm to the land, we commit a crime to our own bodies.
I came across David Abram’s first book, Spell of the Sensuous, in April 2021. On page 67 he says, “We might as well say that we are organs of this world, flesh of its flesh, and that the world is perceiving itself through us.”
This film is my inhale, taking in all the earth is exhaling. It is the beginning of trust. Trust that the raging winds of the north at times swirl within me. Trust that the galaxies I barely comprehend constellate on my skin. Trust that the earth’s body created my body; her instinct living in me.
Inside this sacred ground, we crawl, run, dance. We sing in response to the song we hear. The song that calls us into the waters, through the branches, between the ferns.
If the earth dressed us, what would we wear?
Red for blood, for fire, for love. As red as the death of a leaf. As red as the sun collapsing against the horizon, signaling its farewell, brightest before it rests. Red to attract the others; to communicate the sweetness of fruit. Red to prove life, red to accept death.
If we are looking for a guide, here she is. She is all around us, she is within us. Her intelligence spreading through our synapses like mycelium. Her wisdom glacially graspable, redefining strength through her slowness. Her dignity pronounced in her interdependence, as her tree roots reach for the river, and the river reaches for the ocean, and the ocean reaches for the sky, and the sky reaches back for the soil.
In Emergent Strategy, Adrienne Maree Brown says, “What we pay attention to grows.”
Thank goodness the earth pays attention to us. I am nervous we have become too distracted for reciprocity.
Maybe life is not about what is happening to us. Maybe it is about our relationship with what is around us. Maybe what we seek is already present, merely waiting for our attention. Somewhere in these lifetimes, we replaced an instinct for understanding with a need for knowledge. What have we stopped listening to?
My generous collaborator and the performer in this piece, Rique Hill, enriched the conversation by multitudes. Her voice radiates throughout the work, an echo of the
deep investments she has already made in her own life. The first phone call we had about this work immediately expanded the concept into deeper perspectives. When I think of someone connected to the earth and to themselves, I think of Rique. She has connected her mind, body, and spirit to the land and asks questions only the bold dare to. I believe her presence in the film created a groundedness only she could bring, and I am grateful to her for it.
I am adamant in my work to not use shame as a tool for promoting change. It really does us no good. I hope this piece inspires you to look to your own connection with this earth. To see that you are already a part of the deeper work because you are breathing in and out. I think if we trusted our instinct a little more and a little more, it would lead us directly back to the soil we stand on and the skies we sing under.
We are already home; let’s take care of it.
This project is partially funded by the Council of Graduate Students at The Ohio State University