October • 4 • 2020

Iona Mackenzie

Referred to as an autotale — or autobiographical fairytale — by the author, the following excerpt is inspired by the writings of Angela Carter and Leonora Carrington, as well as Marie Louise Von Franz’ psychological interpretations of folkloric storytelling. This particular type of conceptual fiction is characterized by an exploration of the self and psyche through a fairytale filter.

• • •

Down in the valley, the green grass is growing. It’s a steep slope, and for a moment I wonder whether I should just roll down….it would be far quicker. But I spy the prickled limbs of blackberry bushes stretching above the grass. I would be a bloody mess by the time I reached the bottom. So I grab a big stick to steady myself and I walk my way down. I tilt like the hill. Down, down, down — past the clover patches and pockets of wood sage. Down past the blackberries and their knotted spines (I’m reminded that I must brush my hair when I get home), past the precious pink waxcaps, past the burrowing bunnies and wary hares. Past a tired old gravestone that’s been swallowed by bedstraw. Down past the whining wind ’til I hear the burble of water. As I get closer to the sound the ground turns swollen and clammy, like my garden after heavy rain — and my hands when I’m nervous.

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Iona Mackenzie, Punctured Princess (2020), colored pencil. Image courtesy of the artist.

A doe has beaten me to the brook. Darting her slender head from side to side, she’s on watch as her fawn laps at the glimmering water. Their awkward, lean legs move anxiously — never quite settled, always twitching, almost in sync. I crouch down on the mossed rocks and pick the dirt from my nails. I dip my hand into the water like a tongue. It’s colder than I thought it would be. A school of tiny fish politely swim around it. They move with one another perfectly. I look up and the deer have disappeared. Maybe I should go too.

Side by side, I walk with the water for a while. Like a tiny torn seam, the brook stretches through the valley, trilling over its wet body. I become small and quiet. They say that when you spend too much time with someone, you start to mimic them. Maybe I’ll line myself with stones and attract thirsty animals too, I think with a smile.

Soon, I’m led to a little pool. Around it, a patch of long grass has been flattened, like someone had been lying there for a very long time. I gratefully take up the spot they have unknowingly made for me. It’s still warm. The sun is high, so I take a moment to lay back and close my eyes.

 

I wake to find the pond has frozen over, as have I. I brush the icicles from my eyelids and stand, unsteadily. Why had I slept so long? I have a feeling that I’ve forgotten something. It sinks to my stomach and sits there like a wily crocodile on a riverbed. I upturn my palms and stare at them blankly as if they will remind me of what I have lost. They don’t. I let the feeling fester….

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Iona Mackenzie, I Walk with the Water for a While (2020), colored pencil. Image courtesy of the artist.

Dusk — accompanied by a queasy quietness — has descended upon the valley. I look to the incline that is now glittering with ice. I couldn’t possibly make my way back up in the dark.

So I turn to the valley’s gut where I think I see a thick wood. Its piney perfume is far more persuasive than the slippery, slick slope behind me, and so too is the curl of smoke rising from its centre. Could this be a place to rest my heavy head? Warm with the thought of it, I make my way towards the woods.

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In this midnight light, they appear as nothing more than a tarred stain on the lap of the valley. But I follow their scent like a cadaver dog. Soon enough, the vague, shadowed smudge begins to separate into spindly trees. They appear much taller than they did back there. I tread closer and closer ’til I’m standing on the threshold between open-air and closed forest, plagued by a feeling that I should not enter. Their skeletal trunks rise before me, like castle guards, asleep with one eye open. Do they see me? Must I ask permission? Will they gobble me up with one more step? Perhaps so. I take it anyway, and at that moment, I feel devoured. I stand very still for a very long time. Eventually, I turn around to see not

the moon-blue meadow I had come from, but a troop of perfectly-postured pines receding into darkness. I couldn’t turn back now even if I wanted to — which I kind of did.

Iona Mackenzie, Psychic Inflammation (2020), colored pencil. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

I can’t see much, but there are many sounds. Too many. As my eyes adjust, my ears absorb the place. I hear galloping — a long way off — and the bullish ‘yah!’ of a rider. It circles me. Where is it coming from? I spin with it. The wail of a woman floats somewhere between near and far. For a second she is so loud I think she’s right behind me. She’s not. There’s a high-pitched squealing coming from the treetops. Is it some kind of bat? Or some kind of girl? I can’t tell. And that fattening thud…. is that my heart? Or an owl? My ears are throbbing. I feel like sobbing.

Beneath my feet, the sharp snapping of twigs draws me out of my dogged fixation on the hidden hooves and wailing women. The ground is covered in dead things — weak sticks, brittle pine cones, and bone-dry needles. It catches what the trees no longer want or need, like a merciful net. ‘I will take them,’ the ground says with a sigh.

I wonder how many layers of debris it

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Iona Mackenzie, Sensing (2020), colored pencil. Image courtesy of the artist.

has lovingly suffocated itself with? ‘Many,’ say my feet as they have sunk a good few inches. If I stand still any longer I might be swallowed. So, with a beating butterfly in my belly, I wade through the filth. I should try and find the source of that smoke.

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Iona Mackenzie, Butterfly in My Belly (2020), colored pencil. Image courtesy of the artist.

• • •

Imbued with tenderness and intimacy, Iona Mackenzie’s introverted practice documents personal narratives through the framework of psychlore — a structure  through which folkloric storytelling is implemented as a way to process, confront and discuss the self and the psyche. In this sense, Iona embraces the role of storyteller — reclaiming and validating the performance of storytelling as a historically psychologically-charged, women-led practice. 

Her works convey a rich emotional and spiritual landscape & often function as portals into internal and othered spaces. Iona’s practice is highly apotropaic — a word that describes the act of warding-off, blocking, protecting, and counteracting. The apotropaic is reflected in her cathartic processes, which often involve gestures of care, the labor of love, and self-comforting rituals.