An Essay by Claire Summers

Charlotte Ghaie: I Might Come Back as a Mountain or a Bird
29 July - 10 August

Think of The Mother, and you will find yourself thinking of the infinite. There is no edge I could draw, no definition I could write, that could contain such a figure. 

Think of The Child, and you will think of the limitless. Not secured to an arbitrary point on a timeline, The Child is a temper, a state, best perceived through the potential it proffers, through the abundance it supplies. 

Think of The Home, and you will think of a place not bound to place at all. A fluid thing, an indeterminable thing, The Home is the manifestation of all we know or understand of safety, of inheritance, of memory. 

Think of The Family, and you will think of a web of measureless fastenings. A great expanse lays around you on an infinite radial plane, whose ending you might find as easily as you would your own beginning.   

Charlotte Ghaie’s work is alive with that same sense of the infinite that each of these–The Mother, The Child, The Home, The Family–symbolise. There are vast worlds, story lines and misremembered memories that ripple ever outwards, expanding far beyond what could ever be held by the frame. I Might Come Back as a Mountain or a Bird traces several thematic arcs–intergenerational memory, to mother and be mothered, the home, the heft of bloodline inheritance–but does not arrive at a finality or endpoint. Not for lack of conviction or brittle sentiment, but because the pursuit of a conclusion for such notions would be folly. In place of an anchor, Ghaie offers the sky. 

In the eerie atmosphere of her work, Ghaie has found a tear in the veil between what is human and what is mystical or mythological, causing each world to seep into the other. Through this interstice, a stream meanders from one realm to the other, suspending our solid-state understanding in favour of something far more expansive. Symbols and gestures that we recognise as human–a mother breastfeeding or two figures entwined in embrace–are embodied by the morphous creatures performing them. The outline of each figure is as firm as a shadow, a mirage, a fading dream. They flicker across our vision as if hallucination and, were they not suspended here, fade just as quickly. 

Ghaie’s use of colour–soft pastels impressed upon the page in such a way they appear as if a slight breeze might cause them to swell–is a vital character in the narrative of this work. The emotional temperature of each shade functions as metaphor or allegory does for the writer: they convey meaning, advance us toward sensation, illuminate the air that hangs around us. In these works, there is nothing so gentle as a mother’s care or a sister’s protection, except perhaps for the pink or brown hues that give these acts their grain. 

Yet, what impresses upon me most urgently, what compels me the most, is the manner in which Ghaie allows each work to remain as a question, rather than a promise. Each finger stroke of pastel in I Might Come Back as a Mountain or a Bird questions the mother, the child, the home, the family, carefully tracing the delicate threads that bind them unto each other. There are no absolutes or fixed points. Rather, there is defiance of exact definitions, an invitation to be porous, which is to say, to allow loss and love and longing to change you. It is as true in this world, the one I write from, as in the imagined world of these works that a mountain and a bird are, in fact, made up of the same thing, that to be one is to be the other, that to be either is to be all. Just as a single drop in an ocean is itself the ocean entire, so too is each work in I Might Come Back as a Mountain or a Bird both a softly fading memory as well as being all memory, boundless, stretching on into the infinite.