Thursday, 29 June 2017

Around the Corner

I'm halfway through next year. Living it in advance in a manner of speaking. And, just to bemuse you, I'm talking in my present, your past. Actually, when I next read this, it will be mine too. Confused?
I'm in the beginnings of autumn, you, if I've timed this right, should be in the last week of June 2017, not that I can tell you what state I or the world, economically, politically, environmentally, will be in, but wait, even if I did so it would be too late, after the date, at the time of your reading.
It's not impossible to write about summer, the one gone or the one to come, but right now, my now, I've got the urge to prepare for hibernation. To gather my stores for the winter. To conserve energy, including that used in thought, until the advent of spring. The spring you're passing through.
I'm not a winter person, in spite of it being the season in which I was born, although as a child I think I might have been. Looking back it mostly seems like going through motions, those moments that most children in Europe at some point have of ice and snow. Watching flakes fall and settle; tobogganing down a thick snow-covered slope in a park; building a snowman, and throwing snowballs. Perhaps I was lucky to have experienced frost and not the tropics with its heat, monsoon rains, hurricanes and biting insects.
Then, cold never used to be painful, not as I remember it anyhow, or maybe the stinging cold in itself was a joy. Now, it's a trial to welcome these months when the ground hardens and a bitter northerly wind blows. I begin rubbing my hands and my ears sing, yes sing, in a high pitched whine long before the switch is felt by others, or complained of. A draught settles in my bones and there's a ghost at my feet, blowing cold air on my toes like an electric fan, even with socks and bed coverings.
Summers, too, are different. Different to what they were. Unless it's my perception that's changed. Certainly the way my body copes has altered. I get prickly heat and I've grown to dislike humidity and brilliant sunlight. My eyes are easily dazzled by the light the sun casts and my body is more sensitive to the powerful rays it exudes, and yet it's so nice to be warmed. To be tenderised after winter; for goose-flesh to be banished and to have hands that I or others don't recoil from.
We never like what we're given, or fully realise that we're only given what we can handle. For nothing ever seems that way when you're in it, unprepared for its coming, unless you thrive on circumstances being thrown at you from every direction. Afterwards, you might acknowledge you rose to the challenge, though it might have weaken you, bewildered you, had you run around in a panic or wander in a daze, but not before or during. There are very few made of such stern stuff, visible on the surface and beneath.
Weathering the seasons is much the same. It's unsettling, it brings turmoil like life does. But we adjust. We recover. Return to discarded habits as we do to suitable clothing for the season. It's what our Empire's built on: industry and consumerism. Trade. Store cupboard staples and bolts of cloth; exotic fruits and vegetables; spices and rum.
The world has its own schedule. History too has its periods, some unpredictable, some almost fated to happen, and yet we would like to erase these as we would like to do away with weather patterns. We want consistency, transparency and less unethical practices. We want a more temperate climate. However, there's always a price to pay, something to offset the perceived benefits. In everything: people, history, industry, weather, there's good and bad. Light and shade. They reside together, you can't have one without the other, not entirely. A world in which there's the sun but no moon. A world where ice doesn't exist, anywhere, though that world, some would say, is getting closer to fruition. A world in which items are given for free and nobody pays. Somebody always does.
Yet without these phases we'd be poorer because if nothing has a value there's nothing to appreciate.

Picture credit: Around the Corner, Andrew Wyeth

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Elemental Spells

The well has dried up. Again. There's been wind and rain, but not the right type. The wind sweeping the rain so that it falls across and fails to saturate the land or increase the levels of rivers.
The rivers that used to brim, that were in danger of overflowing, trickle like picturesque streams, creating new paths through the visible mud and stones. Fish, insect and plant life struggle to survive in their much-reduced home.
The sail of a ship atop the swelled seas is filled, pushed onwards towards its destination. The faces of the men on board wet with sea spray and further stung by fine sheets of rain; yet in a back garden, in the heart of leafy England, the pail when lowered comes up empty.
A pebble is thrown down and is heard to smack the bottom, its slap against brick echoing up... up...up; a hollow sound like when you cup your hands around your mouth and call for help. A hopeful gesture that brings to mind being surrounded by hills or mountains or being lost in the thickest part of a forest. The ears strained for a different reply to that of the original sound: water...water...water. But it doesn't come, nor was it, in truthfulness, expected.
Everywhere bone-dry.
The ground hard, the grass yellowed and brittle. Flowers bloom, then wither. Birds sing but stay hidden in the trees, in the little shade they offer. Their leaves shaken free easily, by a light breeze or a creature's touch. New buds of life untethered by any rain that descends from sunny, cloudy or darkened skies.
The weather unusually mild, yet not spiritless nor merciful. The days long, the hours warm, some red-hot. The earth scorched, a fire underfoot, burning deep in its bowels.
The sun's rays hitting towers built of glass so that the light is harsh and strong. Diamond-like cities rise through the haze and from a distance appear to shimmer. Are they real or not? Are they lands that time forgot, ghosts resurrected?
There is the din of working people, spirits or not, coming from these centres of business, and aside from lighter clothing and a few mopped foreheads here and there they seem untroubled by either the heat or the glare. The work cycle – to and from – never stops, the same flow of work changes hands, from department A to department B, to C and D, and even E, where there is a need for a fifth level of scrutiny. Office workers cool, if not calm; flustered by papers and electronic Pings! New e-mail in. The phones ring and ring, and ring.
In the suburbs, life is quiet. Deathly quiet as if there's been an mass exodus, which there has but to indoor shade, temporarily made during daylight hours. Nobody fled with their arms and legs pumping or in a current of marching, though their hearts for a time beat irregularly until the dust of this new living settled. Residents confine themselves to their bought or rented spaces, blinding its eyes to keep the heat out, as outside surfaces underneath a fierce sun bubble like a malodorous witch's brew.
They wear little. They lay down. They perspire freely, adding to the odours of a sweltering earth, and sleep as if ill with a raging fever. Their dreams troubled and hard to break away from, causing them to toss and turn and cry aloud, or make incoherent speeches as if conversing with something or someone.
Everything, everyone gone underground. Though only a few creatures actually burrow to a lower place, to where the walls are damp and softer.
Everything above ferments, turns ripe and sticky. Heavy, near to bursting, and scents the air with its intoxicating sweetness. Begs to be relieved of its burden though there's no-one and nothing to sense its day-long petition.
Every being in suburbia awakens when the sun's gone down and the moon is lighting its own path, traversing soil as well as sand and water.
This is a world, a strange world, full of contradictions and opposites, as if someone somewhere is playing a game with a magic wand or dagger and casting elemental spells.

Picture credit: The Magic Circle, 1886, John William Waterhouse (Tate Britain)

Thursday, 15 June 2017


A woman of unclassifiable age lives alone, completely alone, in a tenanted building. A building buzzing with human life in all three cores, on each of its floors behind numbered closed doors that open onto corridors that lead to a communal lift and stairs. She never sees anyone, well, maybe in passing, but those chance encounters are so insignificant they're not worth mentioning, not even memorising as those faces barely glimpsed are never seen twice.
It's only when the postman, correction: post person, knocks she gets to interact, briefly,with anyone, and even then she might open the door and find it's someone else. A different person, very different in height and features to the man or woman she expected, in that unmistakeable uniform delivering whatever it is that couldn't have been pushed through the slot of her ground zero postbox, the one that has a Royal Mail sticker requesting that any Signed For items are returned to the local depot if she's not home. Why she wonders do these post men and woman change so often, almost as often as the inhabitants? Are these particular flats really that bad? Or do they get bored of trudging up, down and along these floors, and just shoving mail into grey metal boxes? Perhaps they too occasionally thirst for human connection, of the back-in-the-day sort.
That's how we talk of the past now, isn't it? Use phrases like this to make us or it seem hip and happenin'.
But then that bubble of thought bursts and she thinks she could be wrong, no, is wrong to assume and thrust her own perceptions onto to others, those she only knows in a fleeting form, as perhaps they too would rather spend the day glued to their phones like all the rest, the other office or home employed worker bees, instead of having to watch where they put their booted feet or wheel and secure their trolleys in all weathers. Such a job is thankless and undervalued these days, she thinks. The role changed, so changed by the mail that's no longer sent through these once depended upon channels.
But then, so is everything else: altered, almost dramatically like a stage set with too many props so that the audience's imagination is rendered redundant, from the world she entered and grew to like. She rages, inwardly and outwardly, about this often, mourns its passing yet delays the funereal ceremony, her own personal goodbye, for of course, others said their adieus whilst she was content to hang on, has been hanging on for years, though the rope she dangles from has become a thread. A strong thread, but a thread nonetheless.
Others gave the era a pat on the back and that was it. Over. A job well done. Now, however, she's heard, you can't even do that, pat someone on the back for that action might be misconstrued. Every day she wonders what this world, this supposedly improved and improving world, is coming to? Is it the End? Then she sighs, Ahhh, wouldn't that be a blessing, before in thought she adds, for someone like me.
Someone who doesn't like being pushed into changes, full stop, but particularly when many don't seem to bring any benefits, other than making us more estranged; estranged from others as much if not more than from ourselves. And she doesn't believe that many, if any, recent developments save time or make life easier as each new device seems to be a further indulgence for the gratification now, less physically active society. She gets a little high-brow up in her flat looking down over humanity as if the people she sees are part of a social experiment and she an anthropologist. Aloof, yet not apart from the impeding disaster she thinks will one day befall: a mass disintegration, where people are forced into a situation where technology has no answers and neither do they.
And yet she knows she's hopeless at what is termed normal, responsible living. Clueless too (at her age!) though she gets by providing nothing unfavourable occurs. She is no better off then from her elevated view, and is definitely, through stubbornness, less modernly informed, as well as almost entirely lost when it comes to such matters that would once have been labelled 'Male'. Independent, as all women claim they want to be, and yet resourceless.

Picture credit: The Castle of the Pyrenees, 1959, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Talking to Paper

There's something about paper, a smooth white or creamy sheet or leaf of paper, lined or unlined, loose or bound. Blank and waiting to be indelibly marked in some way, although an unwritten upon sheet in itself is pure perfection, so that when written upon it's somehow spoiled, at least to the eye of its scribbler, unless they are proud of their penmanship.
I can't say, being one of these scribblers, that I am, nor why I have often been compelled to write as if to a friend, to unburden myself to a book. A sort of journal where everything set down is for my eyes only and never, or hardly ever, reread by those same eyes. I'm not sure that if I did I'd recognise the hand that wrote those entries.
And I also mean that figuratively, for my writing too, as with my personal views, seems to change constantly. Sometimes I admire it, thinking it's so-so, not so bad; sometimes I think the words look like an infestation of caterpillars inching across each page, which I observe with an interested eye as if I were an entomologist except that I don't have a fondness for bugs, as anyone who knows me would tell you, and so this comparison is far from complimentary. Then, it disgusts me, my handwriting, though legible, for its shaping lacks beauty, as caterpillars do before they transmogrify, although then nature is at fault whereas here the fault is of my own design.
The hand that wields the pen, tightly or loosely, moves left to right like a typewriter arm, Ding!, attempting to convey thoughts, feelings and events: recent or historic, and not just personal but global events. The words formed in a rapid or more considered way, dependent on the mood behind the urge. The hand also crossing out which the mind gets annoyed about, as well as missed or misspelled words when the thinking is quicker than the scribbling pen. The narrative flow broken as the mind worries instead over such errors and the overall look of the entry. Tear it out and start again! No, fight the compulsion! Is this the result of perfectionist tendencies or the computer age?
There's Tippex, yes, but it gets crusty and in a cream book stands out so that your eye, if you glance through or if it falls open to that page, is instantly drawn to what you wanted to hide. To disguise, to tidy up, neaten. Should I count the ways I could put it? and ensure, therefore, that you don't have to work to get my meaning.
A typed or printed word can be taken back or corrected, a handwritten word stays, remains on the now spoiled page even if crossed through or painted over. The evidence there like forensic material, especially if the ink fades. The deficient penmanship I can forgive, but not the errors. They're like blemishes which to you are in plain sight, their concealments botched, but which by others go unnoticed.
What others? when I'm writing for me, and only me. Enough with the explaining! And using allusions to make it relevant.
Sometimes I think talking to paper gives me more dilemmas than it resolves. I guess what I'm doing right now is the modern equivalent, except I can edit and revise, and you'll be none the wiser. Though it doesn't mean I'll be happier or even satisfied with the end result. Still, I'd much rather talk, as I am here, to a blank document or to paper than form attachments of the face-to-face kind. Because, it's not the same. You can't say what you would confide to paper, even a email or letter is similar in that you reveal more, though at times you might regret such open foolishness.
The voice committed to paper is just different, not necessarily more honest or intentionally dishonest, and often confused and definitely critical, yet it's true at the time of writing and that quality is laid bare, in real and fictional accounts. For my attraction to this mode of talk also extends to others self-explorations and recordings, be they emotive, matter-of-fact or fabricated. My introduction with Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole spiralled out of all control to get me here: a mid-thirties-something woman with a storage box full of journals and letters, and a penchant for other people's published diaries.

Picture credit: Still Life with Book, Papers and Inkwell, 1876, Francois Bonvin

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Crumpled Ball

I've hit upon an idea. A very good idea, which is not entirely mine but borrowed. Martin Creed, a conceptual artist, was the first to accomplish something of the kind in '94, however, I think, having come late to Work 88, there were flaws in his design.
Marginal flaws you understand, possibly to my eyes and way of thinking alone. Minimalism was perhaps part of the concept, whereas I felt it lacked a deeper layer. A layer of intrigue. A layer that begged to be opened on receipt, thereby destroying the art yet keeping the concept very much alive and intact.
The Work, in the hands of a buyer, being changed back to its original form: an A4 piece of paper, except now noticeably marked like an aged person's skin. The wrinkles and crinkles unable to be smoothed out and its sheen distinctly faded so that it appears more dulled than pristine white. Prematurely aged and wasted. And not even used.
Are people who have invested as tempted to undo as I would be? Had I seen it, known about it, wanted it at the time of its creation and so purchased for a small fee one of its limited number, then curiosity would definitely get the better of me because I wouldn't be satisfied that a ball was it, even if it was a perfect sphere. I would assume that it concealed and something more would be revealed at its heart. Perhaps that's what you're led to think and if so, then the object as art has done its job. Could the concept be about willpower and temptation? And even gratification – who can delay it and who cannot - and would any actual buyers follow through? Would any dare admit to it? Probably not. And who would ask them anyway? Collectors don't get questioned, they get interviewed, and either show off everything they've acquired or sell it off to the highest bidder: someone they know they can make big(ger) bucks from. Whether collectors buy for the love of or because of what one day it might be worth is a moot point, however, what it essentially means is they would probably have the Work on display but not allowed it to be touched or handled in such a way that its roundedness, in this instance, becomes something other.
And that, I don't think I can bear. A demi-god made of existing materials which, outside of the art world, has a utilitarian purpose, which is not to say its new untouchable status is the fault of the artist; no, it's the critics, the audience. Often, an artist is unconcerned with all that. Their concept has been freed from the cage where it was housed for the public and critics to make of it what they will. A shoe will never be looked at in the same way again or a slept-in bed. A paper clip will no longer just be an object to hold papers together, nor will a crumpled ball of A4 paper just be an thrown away error.
Conceptual art, as it's first viewed , can be taken at face, and of course, monetary value depending on the artist, whereas I, no matter who the creator was, would want to liberate it further, and not just in thought but in deed.
Would I purposely vandalize? Not, I can assure you, if it wasn't mine, as in purchased, nor probably even then, though the temptation to do so would be present forever, but then I don't think I would buy a piece of conceptual art if the object itself was also utilitarian in design because ironically the concept, whatever I thought the thought behind it was, would disintegrate over time. I might see its cleverness, but might also think it futile. I wouldn't want it to become a prized possession of mine.
In art, I need depth, visual depth, and bizarrely not all conceptual art, for me, has that. Thought, yes, sometimes in bucket-loads, but a Work, at least in its outward appearance, can't be expected to hold that for all time. In a nutshell: once considered, it's gone, it doesn't live on. Unless, of course, for you it's a brand new discovery. It can make you pause but can it make you stop? Each and every time? Won't there be times when you just see it for what it once was?
What was my borrowed idea? Oh that, well, it involves a scrunched up ball of published book material shoved through the letterboxes of random addresses.

Picture credit: Work88: A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball,  1994, Martin Creed