Going through the photo archive:
Some photographs resist simple interpretation, even when their ostensible subject matter (ice, sand, rock…) is clear. Sometimes it’s possible to imagine a figure or a face, but even the most fertile imagination runs up against limits now and again, and one is tugged into surreal territory. Here are three such that I’m puzzling over, from a trip to Drift Inn a few days ago:
Here’s an example of what I aspire to in clarity of line and presentation:
…but no idea how to get to such fluency. I have been working with Adobe Draw on the iPad, using the iPencil as a tracing tool with some success (see back at Drift Inn from a fortnight ago) but the next step to interpretive drawing is a high one. Two more examples, working from
Some of my most off-the-wall thinking happens as I’m waking up. A few days ago Therianthropes guard the bridge between the risible and the numinous bubbled to the surface and I managed to write it down before it went off into the stratosphere. This morning it occurred to me that there was a map to be drawn of the territory of the Risible and the Numinous, on either side of the Ot River (think: Buda and Pest…), having squares and streets and buildings associated with people and movements. The Surrealists surely inhabit the land of the Risible; William Blake and Emanuel Swedenborg and Charles Peirce hang out in Numinous territory, along with Leonardo and Michelangelo (despite the questionable proclivities of the latter pair). Most Cubists are denizens of Risible (though Picasso has moved back and forth), and cartoonists like Robert Crumb and Kliban and Gahan Wilson are to be found in especially disreputable parts of Risible territory, where the tattoo parlors are and punk musicians hang. Some of my photographs definitely belong in one or the other:
I think these might be guardian therianthropes on the bridge:
So I’m starting to gather up waypoints and toponyms for this possible map, along the lines of (but of course less glorious than) maps of Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork:
It’s been cold enough for ice to begin to form on the ponds at Drift Inn, so we wandered by to start the winter’s ice photography. Here’s what the venue looks like:
A wander on the rocky beach at Drift Inn produced this line of six or more spectators:
A couple of days ago I awoke with the question of just who is responsible for the idea that a sculptor liberates a figure from within a block of stone by removing material. It turns out to be Michelangelo:
(photo by Jörg Bittner Unna, Wikimedia Commons)
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
For Michelangelo, the idea was already there, inside the hunk of stone,
whether by divine providence or his own imagination.
His eyes and hands were merely the vessels by which that idea—the art—was brought forth
into the physical world as he or God (or both) originally intended.
And a few days ago I ordered Chris Rainier’s new book Mask, thinking that it would assist in threading together elements I’ve been juggling as I assemble materials for the next Blurb book. Pico Iyer’s Introduction has some very useful perspectives:
(of an owl mask he had bought in Bali) It wasn’t just a mask… It carried a whole universe, a swarm of roiling forces, within. I really couldn’t tell if the spell it cast was happy or malign… All I did know was that it belonged to the realm of the spirit, the world of transformation…
…an agent of transfiguration, which allowed whoever wore it to become something other, belonging to the sphere of angels and demons.
In Africa, I knew, different kinds of masks signified the ways in which another world could enter our own, liberating our minds from the conscious realm into something no less real but much less easily tamed.
Masks are not just a portal to another world, but a reminder of the fact that our lives are defined by amazement and terror and silence. Just to see a mask is to travel out of the everyday into another, a more secret realm.
I’m still trying to figure out in what way my life might be “defined by amazement and terror and silence”, but the rest is surely pure gold, and suggests to me some new ways to think about the rocks I’ve been photographing: they are in a sense sculptures, and they have some of the Powers that are built into masks.
A story in this morning’s New York Times, Mythical Beings May Be Earliest Imaginative Cave Art by Humans, surfaced the word Therianthrope just when I needed it:
In the story told in the scene, eight figures approach wild pigs and anoas (dwarf buffaloes native to Sulawesi). For whoever painted these figures, they represented much more than ordinary human hunters. One appears to have a large beak while another has an appendage resembling a tail. In the language of archaeology, these are therianthropes, or characters that embody a mix of human and animal characteristics.
Therianthropy is the mythological ability of human beings to metamorphose into other animals by means of shapeshifting. It is possible that cave drawings found at Les Trois Frères, in France, depict ancient beliefs in the concept. The most well known form of therianthropy is found in stories concerning werewolves.
Quite a few of my rock creatures occupy territory between human and creature, and it occurred to me that
and one from the recent Nova Scotia trip:
This post is a waypoint in the process of learning to use drawing tools to explicate mysteries.
I included this image in Elevenses but hadn’t parsed it for its content—for its component creatures:
Gradually I’ve discovered a variety of possibilities, beginning with a burro-like creature:
and an elephant:
and just yesterday a woman appeared:
and just maybe she’s holding a baby, though that’s not as clear… yet:
The imp on the shoulder suggests that this is a Sagrada Familia, where the part of Joseph is played by an elephant:
When I first processed this one
This sort of thing happens a lot, and is basically A Good Thing: there’s always more to be found in images and/or in one’s mind. The problem is often how to articulate, describe, convey what one descries. Another example from this morning, from the very same source material, in an unfolding I made a couple of days ago:
Wholly imaginary, since the seed material was a stump, cut off flush with the ground:
I’m not sure whether to be offput, amused, informed… or just what by Andrea Scott’s Reframing Modernism at the New MoMA. On the one hand, I love the basic characterization in her report of “The Shape of Shape” exhibit:
The ethos of the new MOMA—to revise the myth of modern art as a triumphant procession of great white men and instead tell the glorious, untidy truth of a bunch of weird human beings…
but I am less than charmed by
…the emphasis is on oddballs like Clough, whose orphic 1985 painting “Stone” is included.
Well, it’s not Andrea Scott’s fault that I am left cold and baffled by the “orphic” tag on a piece that seems to me to have nothing discernable to do with Stone in the sense that I understand Rocks. I did have to explore the Lexicon a bit to figure out just which “orphic” she meant: there’s the mystic, the oracular; the fascinating, the entrancing; and the “having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence” (vocabulary.com). I’m going with the lattermost, which leaves Orpheus entirely out of the picture.