Penelope: at least she was waiting for Odysseus, or maybe not.
By Anne Laure Fayard and Aileen Wilson
The title of this piece evokes Homer’s Odyssey where Penelope’s faithful wait for her husband Odysseus who eventually comes back after 20 years. During that time, Penelope kept her suitors at bay with various tricks. One that has become associated with Penelope is her incessant weaving and unweaving: she told her suitors that she would not be able to marry anyone else before she was done weaving a shroud for her father in low and every night, she undid part of the shroud. Penelope has become a figure of endless, yet meaningful, work, engaged in her interminable weaving.
Reflecting on the experience of people engaged in projects that require them to go through multiple iterations and ongoing changes, people who seem to be driven despite all obstacles, we wondered “who is their Ulysses? Why do they keep going? What keep them going?” Indeed, despite the apparent futility of her interminable weaving, Penelope’s task was meaningful: Penelope was waiting for Ulysses. We often to believe that there needs to be some teleological meaning and an end goal, and for Penelope, it seemed to be Ulysses. However, this reassuring answer is challenged by the work of the feminist Margaret Attwood, who presents the story of Penelope from her perspective, The Penelopiad and suggests that Penelope’s relationship to Odysseus was more complicated and that as times went by, she also became more autonomous. After Penelope and Odysseus reunited, Penelope reflected:
“The two of us were – by our own admission – proficient and shameless liars of long standing. It’s a wonder either one of us believed a word the other said.
But we did.
Or so we told each other.” (Attwood, 2005, p. 173)
The piece will be composed of two main elements:
- An audio piece that provides the dynamic aspect of the work. It includes a repetitive pattern (probably composed of sounds evoking typing; giving also a sense of a heart bit) with a generative component composed of voices of people interviewed and sharing their experiences analogous to Penelope’s continuous doing and undoing.
- A physical form, which will also suggest writing and repetition. We are currently thinking of a laptop open with keys on the keyboard being dynamically illuminated to suggest someone typing yet an invisible agent.
- Participants will be able to take away something from the piece in the form of printed excerpts of annotated drafted of (academic) papers evoking layers, palimpsests.