Monica Ross' final performance
In 2013 Monica Ross gave her last performance of Acts of Memory. In this incredibly moving clip we hear her final declarations of our human rights and below a testiment by Caroline Bergvall writer and artist.
Act 56 28.05.2013 Speech Acts 3, Cambridge: solo
Monica has always been part of my life as an artist in London. I admired her humility, warmth and integrity as a woman and as an artist. These are difficult qualities to maintain and live by and I still have much to learn from her. Whenever I think of Monica and especially of her astonishing and moving Acts of Memory project, I admire how she was able to bring critical thought, activism, formal rigour, negotiating skills, love and friendship and much joy to such a demanding piece of public performance. An art piece which also reminds us each never to forget the intense preciousness of the Declaration of Human Rights.
While I was a Fellow in Cambridge (in the academic year 2012-2013), I organised 3 public events around art and writing, inviting various kinds of artists to speak, read and present work. I called them Speech Acts and they turned out to be very lively and well attended events. For the final event I wanted to create an evening of performances which addressed questions of activism and aloud writing in various ways. I invited the poet and activist Sophie Mayer and the Chilean performance artist and poet Cecilia Vicuna then on a visit in the UK. I also contacted Monica to present an Act of Memory. She told me that she was coming to the end of her planned 60 performances for Acts of Memory and that as she was missing one final solo version she might do it in Cambridge. This was fabulous. Preparations for the event got underway and we were in touch as needed. Monica got suddenly sick and we rescheduled the way she would travel. A few days went by and traveling became impossible. One morning we had planned to speak on the phone, she told me in a very hoarse and dampened voice that she was dying, that we had to find another way to do the recitation. I didn't quite understand what had just happened and what was about to unfold. I just felt an incredible wave of shock. She told me that it was unthinkable to her not to perform, not to finish this project.
We decided that I would come down to Brighton and that the recitation would be filmed. This was a concession to the strong live demands she put on this work, that we have to hear it and share together the slow calling up of the universal rights. Knowing that it would be filmed in one take and that it would be played once on the night kept the performativity of the reading intact and made it possible. I arrived in Brighton and found Monica and Bernard sitting in the sun-filled back garden. We chatted and organised the reading, the atmosphere was both eery and very gentle. Since Monica was struggling with shocking pain and exhaustion, kept at bay by heavy doses of morphine, which in turn slurred her speech somewhat and affected her memory, we decided that I would become a guide to her memory whenever it failed her during the recitation and that I would then reread the whole article so that it would be clear.
It is impossible to describe the shock and the emotions I felt throughout her recitation, witnessing the insistence and power she put into it, the way her concentration and sheer courage cut through the pain and the morphine numbness, the way she sometimes just had to let it go and how she would accept this by smiling at me so that I would take the relay until she could continue. It was excruciating and powerful, one of the more beautiful and connected moments I have ever experienced.
Caroline Bergvall, writer and artist