Lullabies of the Displaced

By Elizabeth Malnar

"Lullabies of the Displaced" was created over the summer of 2019. It was a one-to-one performance/installation in a dressing room, a place impregnated with potential transformation. Although the piece was performed for around 30 participants, Elizabeth always wanted to extend this invitation to others and continue the conversation in an attempt to find a connecting thread between hers and other's individual experiences. It is a journey in the form of an invitation; a conversation about memory and home.

“A child in the dark, gripped with fear, comforts himself by singing under his breath. He walks and halts to his song. Lost, he takes shelter, or orients himself with his little song as best he can. The song is like a rough sketch of a calm and stable centre in the heart of chaos. Perhaps the child skips as he sings, hastens or slows his pace. But the song itself is already a skip: it jumps from chaos to the beginnings of order in chaos and is in danger of breaking apart at any moment. There is always sonority in Ariadne’s thread. Or the song of Orpheus. Now we are at home

But home does not pre-exist: it was necessary to draw a circle around
that uncertain and fragile centre, to organize a limited space […] a wall
of sound, or at least a wall with some sonic bricks in it.”

-Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Of the Refrain”

Notes from the dressing room.
On the 21st of June in Glasgow,
daylight lasts for 17 hours,
35 minutes, and one second.
On that same day in Rijeka,
Croatia, daylight lasts
for 15 hours, 39 minutes,
and 38 seconds.

I still love the end of June the
most. My hometown always used
to smell of freshly mown grass
and warm asphalt. It seemed that
lying on the grass in the city centre,
usually reserved for dogs and ticks,
became acceptable for humans as
well. We used to drink wine from
plastic cups, put our feet up on the
fence while the trees obscured our
view of the sea. The nights were
suddenly warmer, and the rain
became fragrant.

An image like that flashes all of a sudden, blurry and flickering, allowing itself to be perceived and attracting attention, straining the brain in order to pull out a memory box from a dusty corner. A certain smell, a word, the composition of colours on an object sometimes try, quite unexpectedly, to evoke memories – those warm, special ones. I start remembering all the times when I walked barefoot along my beloved pebble beaches, with the ice-cream melting and dripping down my arm. I remember eating the black seeds in watermelons – my favourite fruit – and my mum shouting at me saying that I’ll get a stomach ache because of it. Suddenly, I am no longer here, but in a place decades away. I am once again that little girl naively experiencing everything, rejoicing in the little things. The flame of excitement, which has slowly extinguished with years and events, is still burning. They call it maturation but, in fact, it is a departure from the pure and true happiness that only a child can feel.

Memories arise and I can see almost everything clearly in front of me; one memory brings another, which draws my attention to the third and the fourth. I see myself as I have come to know from the photos: a little girl with short blonde curls. Where does this need for memories come from, the need for a person to
remember those moments? Is the world seen through a child’s eyes much brighter and more hopeful? The childhood period is intriguing because of the specificity of being a child, and the existence of the idea of childhood as a golden age, dominated by carelessness and innocence. Memories from this period are
most often covered in forgetting, and their reinterpretations are rather difficult to capture due to incomplete fragments.

However, by creating narrative forms about oneself, one can read out emotionally important stories marked by the constant destruction of time as well as a background image of one’s own self, family, society, and culture. I have, like so many immigrants, headed West for love, money, success, for nothing, and I carried with me the city in the mist. My first language has atrophied, frozen in avant-garde thought that knows no exile. It struggles to
express change. My adopted language has no zeal and lacks stylistic depth, it makes me objective. Now I talk to myself in the second person, trying to escape the intangible will to dispel oblivion.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that our perception of the world depends on our language. But what happens when we use multiple languages? Do we also have multiple worlds? Split worlds? Has anyone
thought about the efforts needed to build an identity in-between? The existential frustration when we can’t, because we lack words in the depths of our being, translate the smell of the linden trees and lavender, or the deep murmur of the Adriatic Sea into another language?

I am inviting you to go on a journey, Reader.
Prepare a hot drink and look for food in your cupboard that reminds you of childhood. Once you feel ready, find yourself a quiet spot in the comfort and privacy of your home, sit back, relax, and take a deep breath.

The only thing that might manage to translate and capture the essence
of these is a song – where words merge with the music into a story that goes beyond understanding the text itself and invites companionship – to participate in the storytelling of an individual nourished and empowered by the ethereal. When I think of home, I think of the above mentioned wall with sonic bricks in it. I think of all the times that I gathered with family and friends and we sang old songs together, I think of the lullabies that my
mother and grandmother used to sing to me, bringing back the landscapes of a disintegrated country I had only visited once and had very faint recollection of…I remembering telling myself: ‘This is what home feels like’.

Now, take a moment
to think of a sensory
experience that reminds
you of childhood. Is it a
landscape? The melody
of a song? The taste of
a dessert? The smell of the earth after a storm?
The touch of a friend?
Has that made you feel nostalgic, Reader?
What would you say most often evokes a feeling of nostalgia for you?
What about your childhood home? Do you remember it?
Have you always lived in
the same place? If not, have you felt displaced when you moved away?
If you have a computer nearby, try looking up your childhood home on Google Maps and use Street View. Does the image trigger any specific memories?
Ask yourself:
What is home for you nowadays?
What about belonging? What does it mean to belong?
Does one need to belong in order to feel at home?
We are shifting gears now, Reader. What role does music play in your life? Is it a refuge, a necessary entertainment, or mere background noise?
Is there a song that particularly resonates with you in this moment? Would you be able to hum it or
remember the lyrics? How does it make you feel?
And what about lullabies? What kind of song is a lullaby for you? Has anyone ever sung lullabies to you? Do you think they still play an important role in our culture?

Elizabeth is a theatre and performance maker originally from Rijeka, Croatia and now based in Glasgow, Scotland. Her work and research deals with ritual, ethics of care, memory, and trauma studies.

She is interested in exploring empathy and looking at new ways of being together and being in the moment, encouraging care, and generating healing conversations.

You can find out more about Elizabeth and her work  here.