un Projects is based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation; we pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
un Projects

In exchange for a twisted shield

by

Every hour I am paid more than twice a day’s wage to put a stranger to sleep.

I stroke their hair three times then kiss their forehead in reverse. They leave their body so that another might enter as the strip lights change from green to blue.

Reception tells me they come here to surrender,

‘So that another might enter.’

Each hour we see that when you take what isn’t yours, it seeps from you somehow. Launder it a thousand times but still it empties you dry.

Here, it drains through promise notes — money and sweat. Floors littered with every type of crystal. One secret is to bag them up, for twice a day’s wage they sell as mixed party treats.

The backs of my hands are caked in dust from asking for protection. I wipe them clean on my thighs to hide the traces.

Today I earnt the skill of calling my spirit back into my body and asserting that it fills every cell here. No room left for a stranger to enter without permission.

All this means that I am safe now.

This stranger, however, spits as they sleep. They often do when they’re this full.

To test out this skill, I guide my spirit in through my chest then back out again. Who takes possession when it’s no longer there? The space it leaves blooms and this practice stays secret.

Reception once told  me I first left this skill at the seventh gate in exchange for a twisted shield,

‘It worked once as it should, now it works for you backwards.

This helps you bring strangers so easily to sleep and their sleep makes us somewhat eternal.

We say your name, praying to keep you this way.’

They don’t know I’ve descended and collected my skill, but still they have their suspicions. It was my sole purpose when I arrived here and they don’t want me gone.

In the blue room, I scan the stranger’s body and every vein pulses.

I want to know this other that’s entered and so I call to them,

‘Speak, other.’

Nothing but blue light and spit.

‘Speak! Other.’

I glitch — ‘Shu, ana ismi…’

They’re quiet.

I call in my skill so I’m not swallowed whole.

‘Your hair is like milk, it’s less tangled’, reception remarks as they study the backs of my hands.

They name what provokes suspicion — ‘hair soft, fingers wrinkled and wet from sucking dust particles out of nail beds.’

‘Stay with us here,’ they plead. ‘Leave your skill, become somewhat eternal.

We’ll take you with us to the afterlife — as a relic of course.’

I snatch back my hands and I go back to work.

How endless is this stranger tonight —

 they’re drawn from their slumber by a distant alarm, demand a reminder of this refuge when we grow up and get Alzheimer’s and invoke a gate to take me with them from here.

I message reception. They charge double.

We stroke their hair three times, then kiss their forehead in reverse.

To move through a body is to ingest each of its vows, contracts and ties in all the directions of time and space. They plug deep and echo, far into seven generations both forwards and back.

Today I received a machete and three secrets — the first is to sever each chord; the next is to call in your own.

     Then, cross roads to evade spirits who hang from trees at night and tie back your hair so you don’t get entangled.

In the blue room, the stranger lays sleeping so I challenge their other again:

‘You’re not often shy,’ I provoke.

The pin beneath my sternum that holds my spirit in loosens, but I stop it from freezing this way.

‘Speak, other.’

Blue light.

Just spit.

‘Speak, other.’

The room phone rings twice to let me know that the stranger’s hour is over. They wake to me beating their left shoulder, then tell me the code to unlock their phone.

There is somehow enough in them to sell as many stocks as it takes to keep me stroking their hair for another hour longer, as the strip lights strobe from blue to green and their host returns.

https://youtu.be/evP8wQFFu7A
Justine Youssef, In exchange for a twisted shield, 2022-23, single channel video (stills), 8:40 minutes. Images courtesy of the artist.

Young Girl: Abrir
Reception: Franca D’Amico
Stranger: R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R

Writer/Director: Justine Youssef
Cinematographer: Hyun Lee
Hair and Makeup: Yasmin Goonweyn
Nail Art: Kim Tran

Justine Youssef’s auto-ethnographic film, installation and scent works often begin with moments and places that reconfigure authoritative realities. She is currently exhibiting Somewhat Eternal at UTS Gallery & Art Collection (2023).

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