Her mouth is a container; a producer and receiver. Her tongue is an instrument, it reaches and withdraws. Together, they deny the outside entry and the insides exit. Together they speak, they laugh, they slur.
The pub may be thought of as analogous to the mouth. It opens and it closes. It is often dim and slightly sticky. It is a space for digesting and absorbing; often for speaking, sometimes singing, and occasionally for shouting. The pub is a space for pleasure and for bitterness, pending the desires of its customers.
As a once-drinker-now-non-drinker, I have a complicated relationship with the pub. I come from a long line of drinkers, and for a while considered my effortless consumption of pints the strongest tie to my bloodlines. It’s the Irish way after all.
According to Irish Folklore, when appearing as a horse, Púca takes pleasure in lugging drunken passengers on trailblazing rides home from the pub. Much like awakening from a long night of imbibing, Jacqui’s video work Bím Caillte (mistranslated: I am, usually, habitually, lost), is instilled with fragmented memories, guilty consciences, and an unnerving feeling of recalling something you would rather forget. In metabolizing its complexity, I have spiralled down many trails of my own. A cameo appearance in my family group chat:
‘McDermott family, when did McDermott come to Australia?’
‘…mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, potato cakes, scalloped potatoes, potato chips, shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash… I’d leave a country if I couldn’t have that.’
In On the Inconvenience of Other People, Lauren Berlant suggests that the main task of a joke ‘is to organise and provide relief from complexity.’ Like the pub and the mouth, a joke possesses the dual function of producing and refusing intimacy, having the potential to provoke ‘mutual affective delight if it works, and shamed, deadened bodies if it doesn’t.’
Berlant’s proposal may be useful in understanding how the flattening force of colonialism continues to circulate. It is no coincidence that the video campaign, vote yes, to that voice referendum thing, starring Yorta Yorta rapper Adam Briggs and comedians Jenna Owen and Vic Zerbst, employs humour in a pub-setting to connect to white-settler viewers. Perched at a bar stool with Briggs, Vic and Jenna express confusion surrounding the Voice to Parliament Referendum, admitting they are yet to Google the details due to their perceived lack of time. In response Briggs jokes, ‘busy life’, eliciting a shared laugh between the three friends, whilst potently unveiling white ignorance; puncturing the delights of humour with white guilt and shame. Experiencing Bím Caillte in tandem with the current political moment lends layers to its sobering affects.
Ireland was the first colony of Britain, and Northern Ireland’s sovereignty is still contentious today. In an interview with Adam Phillips on the ontological nature of shame, James Mann suggests that we are ‘completely scared of going mad that we organise ourselves quite tightly.’ If this is so, then madness may be the antidote to that which services our distancing from shame, and in turn the strength of the colony. Bím Caillte carries this impetus to madden, loosen, disorganise, and disorientate. Slippages in imagery, collisions of histories, and arresting poetics overlap and intersect; denying you the colonial fantasy of a singular delineated path, space or subject.
In my own refusal to succumb to such fantasy, I returned to my family group chat. I followed the Google Drive link my cousin had left there, though doubted its credibility since my last visit showed my birthdate to be incorrect. I traced the family tree to the last of the McDermott’s born in Ireland: William McDermott – Roscommon Ireland, 1842. A quick Google tells me that Roscommon was one of the hardest hit countries during the famine. My Family’s potato-humour had skilfully deflected the suffering that was likely to have plagued our familial history.
It startles me to register that in listening to Bím Caillte, I am experiencing the language of my ancestors for the first time.
Jacqui tells me that the Irish language sits towards the back of her throat. Partly because the language is more guttural than English, and partly because her lack of fluency causes her to retreat. ‘The same area that you sense when you are about to vomit. It feels appropriate’, she tells me. I think of how it is hard to swallow with your mouth open. I think of how swallowing with your mouth closed may be likened to an embodiment of whiteness, in so far in that it awards one the privilege of moving with ease. Cultural theorist Sara Ahmed is known for her continued examination of culture and whiteness. She explains, ‘white bodies are habitual insofar as they ‘trail behind’ actions: they do not get ‘stressed’ in their encounters with objects or others, as their whiteness ‘goes unnoticed.’ But you are forced to notice, or may even choke, when swallowing with the mouth wide open – an otherwise habitual bodily function starts demanding your attention.
Habits take up residence in the body, an in turn, create shortcuts; narrowing our movement possibilities, and causing us to contract. Despite notice to vacate, their affects continue to dwell. Dancer and philosopher Philipa Rothfield examines habit and its potential overcoming in her compelling essay, Beyond Habit, The Cultivation of Corporeal Difference. If as she suggests, habit’s function is ‘to collapse the interval between an idea and its performance,’ how might we rebuild that which has collapsed, and use these tools to examine the muddy ground of the in-between?
I think about the pub as a space that can swallow you hole. I think how Pucá can take you on a ride and spit you back out. I think how it is hard to swallow with your mouth open . And it is hard to swallow the multitudes of Jacqui’s work. Through Bím Caillte I am confronted by my own messy positionality, my own white privileges, naiveties and susceptibility to reproduce the colonial fantasy of a subject that is singular, without history, self-made, and self-sufficient. The fallacies of the colonial project are palpable. You are invited to sit in the messiness of this positionality. A positionality that peels back all that whiteness covers up: both to reveal the ways in which whiteness produces a singular violent force, and to problematise such force by exposing the diverse historical strands that make up its composition .
My own experiences of breaking with cultural inheritances and intergenerational habits demanded I get closer to that which had otherwise been kept at bay. It is through this closeness and attention towards the gaps – between thought and action, self and history – that we allow ourselves to explore ‘another kind of corporeal agency, unfettered by the habits of a lifetime.’
I conclude how I signed off my last email to Jacqui:
Thanks Jacqui. I shall stay in the mess.
 “The Púca (Pooka) In Irish Folklore”, Your Irish Folklore, accessed August 27, 2023 https://www.yourirish.com/folklore/irish-pookas.
 Lauren Berlant, On the Inconvenience of Other People, (Croydon: Duke University Press), 37
 Berlant, On the Inconvenience of Other People, 37.
 Adam Briggs, “Far Enough – Vote Yes”, Blue-Tongue Films & Collider, published Oct 4, 2023, YouTube video, 3:27, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAqIypjk-5A.
 Jacqui Shelton, email correspondence, September 16, 2023, along with other research threads.
 Adam Phillips, “Adam Phillips – Shame”, James Mann in conversation with Adam Phillips, published September 17, 2022, YouTube video, 7:15, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wujPis4IuXw&t=3s.
 Shelton, email.
 Sara Ahmed, “A Phenomenology of Whiteness”, SAGE Publications, vol.8(2) (2007): 156, DOI: 10.1177/1464700107078139 http://fty.sagepub.com.
 Philipa Rothfield, “Beyond Habit, The Cultivation of Corporeal Difference”, Parrhesia, vol.18 (2013): 108, https://www.parrhesiajournal.org/parrhesia18/parrhesia18_rothfield.pdf.
 Rothfield, “Beyond Habit, The Cultivation of Corporeal Difference”, 101.
Anna McDermott is an artist, writer and arts worker living on stolen land in Narrm. Her multidisciplinary practice is informed by a queer-feminist lens, and rests upon choreographic methodologies to better understand, consider and challenge how we move and are moved.
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