The Talking Knot, the Khipu of Rapaz and Cheese and Tomato Lasagne

Pavillon Chinois I Plaster of Paris Encaustic 4x4 Canvas 27 October 2015I wrote in my last but one blog – Trammels, the Cailleach, the Caim and the Gratitude Hot-Wire – about binding artworks and the variety of meaning that could be attributed to the process of binding and this in respect of my suite of 4″x4″ encaustic works-in-progress titled Pavillon Chinois. I’ve been beavering away at their bindings.

Here’s the first canvas I furthered in this way – pre-bound – (left) and here it is again, the binding started (below, right) by winding the edges round with recycled sari silk, adhering this to the work with encaustic medium.

I finished the binding of that canvas with the materials you can see in the third image, which is a shot of the top edge of the fully-bound canvas.

Encaustic Canvas Binding III 17 November 2015In a further development of this binding process, I found myself adding knots at intervals along the binding materials. The knots are most apparent in the cream-coloured twisted paper cord across the middle.

In this, I was re-visiting a past preoccupation with knots – some of which straddled hyperspace –  another abandonment at a crossroads, this one hyperspatial, even – a few years ago.  I recall, of that time, being gloriously entangled in all kinds of knots.  Even unknots.

Unknots (and unlinks) are aspects of  Mathematical Knot Theory which is a branch of Topology, which is about the Placement Problem – the embedding of one topological space into another.  This is the world of the Torus knot, the Tame and the Wild knot, the Framed knot, the Solomon’s Seal knot, the Trefoil knot, the Apache Door, the Satellite, the Trivial (aka the Unknot, which I suppose is, strictly speaking, a glorious entanglement sans knots).

You might wonder, you might not, but I certainly did, why mathematicians the world over would be so preoccupied with knots. What is in a knot?  Well – and I wish that just one of the mathematics teachers at one of the eight schools I attended before I reached the age of 16 had explained this and not left me to get to be 65-ish before having my eureka  moment about it – that Mathematics is about figuring out the design of the universe.  (It is, isn’t it?)

Had I known that this was what all my bumbling about with compasses, protractors, set squares, rulers, numbers called x or y was about, I would have tied myself up with the Joy knot. (I just made that knot up, it doesn’t really exist, but it ought to.) Ah, well, but many of my teachers were entangled in the knotty problem of personal traumas, vis-a-vis World War II.

What gripped me particularly about the subject of knots was the talking knot. The talking knots of the Incas, the quipu. Actually, quipu is the Spanish version of the word, and I’ve seen the plural written both as quipus and quipa. The Incan/Quechuan language version of the word is khipu, which is both singular and plural, so I’m going to use that word.

Inca QuipuA khipu consists of a primary cord, with knotted others, attached to it like in this photo of a huge khipu (in the collection of the Larco Museum, Peru). (I’ve seen a khipu on exhibit in the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) in Paris).

Professor Gary Urton  – specialist in Andean archaeology, particularly the quipu (khipu) – advocates the theory that the quipus encode linguistic as well as numerical information. He heads the team of researchers engaged in Harvard’s Khipu Database Project.

Encaustic Canvas Side Binding I 17 November 2015Khipu were used for accounting purposes throughout the Incan Empire. The position of the knots on their threads gave them differing numerical values.  A knot might stand for 10 or 100 or more, but always in powers of 10. Fascinating as these accounting khipu are, more so are the khipu of Rapaz. (Here khipu is pluralised with an ‘s’. Aargh. You choose). 

Encaustic Canvas Binding V 17 November 2015Rapaz is a village in central Peru, where one will find a priceless collection of khipu, situated in their original building, known as Kaha Wayi, meaning Treasury or Counting House. To conserve the house and its contents, a team, consisting of Peruvian and international experts and the inhabitants of Rapaz, set up a project in 2005 for the purpose. This ongoing project is documented on the project’s web site.

Rapaz khipu aren’t like Incan khipu.  A Rapaz khipu consists of a single cord onto which objects of significance are knotted. Among the collection, there are 10 dolls or figures, two carrying bags of sacred coca leaves.

The story of Rapaz and its Khipu reads like an Indiana Jones film script. And is more sensational because it’s true.  And adds further layers of meaning to the knots I’m binding round my canvasses. They will now, additionally, represent the binding of story and history into the images they bind: the history of the image, its origins in place and time, all the stories of the people bound to those places and times, including my own and even the histories of those who come to view and interact with them and thus also with me.

Everything is connected to everything else. We are all connected. Anything any one of us does, impacts in some way on anything and anyone else. It’s the Butterfly Effect, but don’t get me started on the Lorentz Equations, or we’ll be here all day. I think I’ve blogged about it already, anyway.

Encaustic Canvas Binding VI 17 November 2015Now, how do I get my little khipued canvasses not to look like melted cheese and tomato lasagne? (See right, but in its defence, the photos exaggerate the similarity).

They also smell like honey (that’s the beeswax in the encaustic medium). Maybe when they go up for sale I should attach a health warning:  DO NOT EAT.

By the way, knots and a khipu are an aspect of my novel-in-edit Flint and Feather.

Some published literature which include khipu:

Inca Gold (Clive Cussler)
The Stone Dance of the Chameleon (Ricardo Pinto)
Letters of a Peruvian Woman (Francoise de Graffigny)
The Martian Inca (Ian Watson)
Forerunner Foray (Andre Norton)
The Wine Dark Sea (Patrick O’Brian)
The Kingkiller Chronicle (Patrick Rothfuss)

Here’s where I stole all my information from:

The Knot Plot Site
Knot Theory
The Khipu Database Project
The Khipu Patrimony of Rapaz, Peru

Enjoy (but not in the edible sense).





About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer, Proofreader/Copy Editor
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