Bloganuary 22: The Impossible Finch and The Machines

A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected. …

Reif Larsen: The Selected Works of T S Spivet

I experienced a little thrill when I first read the above, for it defined me precisely.

It’s no coincidence that I call my blog ‘Poetic Mapping: Walking into Art’. Thoughts come as I work and walk (as artist and writer) that seemingly have no connection. When these thoughts arrive, I know I’m at the start of a Great Walk by the conclusion of which I’ll have bridged the disparate ideas, and arrived at an epiphany. It could be said that my life is a map of epiphanies.

Here’s an example: some years ago my cat killed a bird in the garden. He hunted; it was his nature and I could do nothing to stop him; but I was devastated on this occasion, more so than usual, especially because on examination I had discovered something extraordinary about the bird, a young finch. And I began to think of my late brother and how as a little boy he used to make crude ‘machines’ from off-cuts of wood and nails scavenged from our Granda’s shed. And I knew there was a connection between my late brother’s little machines and the little impossible dead bird. And that I was to traverse the terrain between the two ideas until they converged. Make a bridge between them.

Oh, and I’ve been interrupted while writing this. My husband came in from the garden just now and told me there was a bird trapped in a hedge that bounds one side of our property. It was a ringed-necked dove and had somehow got itself between two layers of wire netting erected by our neighbour. I was able to free the bird and it flew off, protesting loudly at its saviour!

Was this compensation for the bird I couldn’t save? I’m going to believe so.

P S I bought the book of course. And there’s a film; it’s called: The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet and stars Helena Bonham-Carter as the mother of T S.



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Bloganuary21: Time Travelling to 9/11

The idea of Bloganuary is to post a blog every day, in response to a prompt. Today, the prompt is asking me: if I could travel through time, which year would I choose to travel to and why.

My immediate response to the question was: What do you mean, if I COULD travel through time?

Bloganuary is a WordPress blogging initiative. I’ve missed most of Bloganuary because WordPress didn’t invite me to take part until today, 21 January. Oh, well. Time travelling gone wrong.

H G Wells’ novella The Time Machine was first published in 1895. The Time Traveller, though he travels to various destinations far into the future and back again, spending some time at each destination – especially the first – is yet not presented as being any older on his returns than on his departures. And the time he spent in future times, is far longer than perceived, after his return. This is explained in Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity – E=MC². Einstein’s Theory however was published in 1905; The Time Machine, was published in 1895, some 10 years earlier.

The prompt, arriving today, coincided with a subject I’d been pondering, earlier today. It was about the different kinds of dreams we have. And I found it difficult to arrive at any way of organising them into classes. A big reason for this is that the word dream isn’t specific enough. What exactly is a dream? One dictionary definition is: a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep. Which gives rise to the question: what is sleep? Definitions generally agree that sleep is a state of mind and body, is a time of altered consciousness during which muscular activity is reduced and there is little to no interaction with the physical environment. Which gives rise to he question: what is consciousness?

There are kinds of dreams that suggest travelling through time as a possible explanation for their contents. Three of these types of dreams come to mind. All three I have experienced.

Lucid Dreams are dreams during which we become aware we are dreaming. From my experience, a number of scenarios follow: I continue to dream knowing I’m dreaming; I do that and sometimes also have the ability to control the further narrative of the dream; I awaken once I’m aware I’m dreaming, whereupon the dream continues in the form of a movie (film) strip in front of my closed eyes; the latter happens and I also have the ability to manipulate the narrative of the dream – this happens when I’m not happy with the nature and content of the dream: I want to change it, so I do. My lucid dreams have always taken place in a ‘scape of some kind and I’d conjecture therefore that this kind of dream may occasion time travel.

Distant Or Remote Viewing dreams are those during which we are able to acquire spatially and temporally remote information. From my own experience, two occasions come to mind where, in dreams, I accessed specific information that in one case, I discovered to be accurate afterwards and in a second, made specific research that verified the information presented in the dream. I’d suggest that this kind of dream may involve time travel.

Perhaps the most spectacular kind of dream is the pre-cognitive dream, in which events yet to come are revealed to the dreamer. My most profound experience of pre-cognitivity came about not while asleep at night and dreaming, but as an artist, during the day, making art. I have two drawings describing – the first of which I made the week before and the second, only a day before – a major catastrophic event. I have subsequently discovered that artists around the world had the exact same experience in respect of that event. Think: Close Encounters of the Third Kind: the Richard Dreyfuss character! It is my experience, as an artist, that such kind of pre-cognition arrives because artists routinely enter into altered (dream) states of consciousness, some of which may be described as time travel, during the creative process.

Are there ways one can learn of an event yet to come that doesn’t require travelling through space-time? Well, one could be informed of an event yet to come by others who travel through space-time, who want you to know about it. Define others how you will.

And so, my answer to the question of which year would I choose to travel to were I able to travel through time, might be: to whichever year in space and time I am directed. I would certainly choose to travel to space-times in America, to 9/11/2001, to try and prevent the events that happened, at those particular spaces and in that particular time.



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On Collage and the Loss of Wonder

When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

I’m repeating this image and this quote from my last blog because it came to me that the quote, while it specifically references photography, can apply equally to other branches of the visual arts. It certainly may apply to certain kinds of collage. There are all sorts of reasons for collage. Here’s a link to an article on the history of collage.

My collage is for a project. While it falls as usual under the canopy of Poetic Mapping, I’ve not been able until recently to name the project satisfactorily to myself (and naming is important). There is nothing to do in this situation but carry on working and wait – and pray if you are so inclined – for the name to turn up. And it did, in the form of Caol Ait: Thin Place. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds; a place where the veil between two worlds is thin; a place where heaven and earth are close together; a threshold or portal.

The collage consists of images of different kinds of prints on paper of plant matter but predominantly eco prints of leaves gathered from around the periphery of the pond in my garden. This is one of my thin places.

The Roland Barthes quote above speaks of the photograph as an image having the quality of motionlessness, qualifying this further as a non-emergence, as a not-leavingness, as an act of anaesthetising and a fastening-down in the [cruel] manner in which butterflies are killed and pinned. I shouldn’t make the pun – but I will – and write that Barthes seems, in this quote, to be somewhat negative about the positive. Ouch.

I saw how the collage could be described similarly. It could be argued that the eco-print process – consisting of trapping leaves as a sort-of sandwich filling between cloth or paper, rolling this up tightly around a rod into a bundle then subjecting the bundle to extreme heat and steam – is a form of cruelty to leaves, unless the leaves have been gathered dead from the ground. The prints (or other types of collage material) have then been glued to a substrate, at which point they are indeed motionless, non-emerging.

But it came to me that in trapping an image in a collage the artist is preserving an observation of something of wonder to him/her (etc) and presenting it to the larger world to wonder at in its turn.

The image does not need to be a replication of plant matter. It can be an impression, a mark like musical notation that triggers a quickening in the artist that will transfer in turn to the viewer.

It’s possible that much art and perhaps especially art that arises from the contemplation of nature, is saying, “Look here at what I’ve found; it filled me with wonder. Is it not wonderful?”

And I wonder at this. At whether – if you believe in a Fall (however you visualise or otherwise structure that for yourself) – a great deal of what was lost in that immense catastrophe, could be called Wonder. I do believe in a great catastrophe. I can’t explain why. It struck me unexpectedly one day, one moment, like a bolt out of the blue and it’s now buried in my bones.

Here’s as close I can get to making sense of that. It’s from the fascinating Metaphysical Bible Dictionary:

Adam in his original creation was in spiritual illumination. Spirit breathed into him continually the necessary inspiration and knowledge to give him superior understanding. But he began eating, or appropriating, ideas of two powers–God and not God, or good and evil. The result, so the allegory relates, was that he fell away from spiritual life and all that it involves.

This definition has distinct echoes of Eastern Spirituality, for me. Food for thought, anyway, if you’ll pardon the pun. Another one.

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Thin Place Peripherals

Study: Eco Prints on Wood Panel

When we define the Photograph as a motionless image, this does not mean only that the figures it represents do not move; it means that they do not emerge, do not leave: they are anesthetized and fastened down, like butterflies.Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

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Caol Áit – A Thin Place

I’d not heard of thin places until just a couple of weeks ago, from Wheel of Seasons.

It seems I’m one of the very few who are not familiar with the expression. And yet, it is such an apt description of what I’m trying to achieve in my work, it seems almost impossible that I’ve only just now come across it.

A thin place is described as (for example): a place where one can walk in two worlds; a place where the veil between two worlds is thin; a place where heaven and earth are close together; a threshold or portal.

Eric Weiner, in The New York Times describes a thin place as “… not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things too. Disney World is not a thin place. Nor is Cancún. Thin places relax us, yes, but they also transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.”

From a review at Hermitary: resources and reflections on hermits and solitude, of Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space: “Bachelard relates an anecdote about Rilke. One dark night, Rilke and his friends were about to cross a field when they saw “the lighted casement of a distant hut, the hut that stands quite alone on the horizon before one comes to fields and marshlands.” They felt like “isolated individuals seeing night for the first time.” For the dark background of our lives is assumed as inevitable until a flash of insightful light is seen. As Bachelard puts it:

One might even say that light emanating from a lone watcher, who is also a determined watcher, attains to the power of hypnosis. We are hypnotized by solitude, hypnotized by the gaze of the solitary house; and the tie that binds us to it is so strong that we begin to dream of nothing but a solitary house in the night.

The expression thin place Caol Ait, expressed also as Ait Caol (pronounced Coal Ate) – is Irish Gaelic, but the concept of thin places derives from peoples who inhabited Ireland before the Celts. These are those who constructed the cairns and the dolmen. From The Wild Geese, a site exploring the heritage of the Irish worldwide:

When the Celts arrived, they interpreted the dolmen and passage tombs as structures built by the gods and goddesses who inhabited the land — the Tuatha de Danaan, or the Tribe of Danu. These gateways were portals to the Tuatha’s domain and venturing too close could yield disastrous results for humans.

The images in the slideshow are excerpts from a series of paintings in progress. They derive from a little pond in my garden, and its environment. It is no more than a tiny man-made parcel of water, but I recognise this, now, as one of my thin places.

I’ve walked back and forth past this watery interval in the landscape, for over 13 seasons, as I write; and at times stood its edge just looking into and at the vegetation around it. There came a day it seemed to me, an eye, an ever-open, unblinking eye in which nature was endlessly reflected – through which it nature constantly passed. It was the eye of a hermit. So I came to know my pond as The Hermit’s Eye. And another day came when, passing by and glancing into it, it looked back at me. And I realised that whomever or whatever I was referencing as The Hermit was trying to converse with me and that my work was to find out whatever it was trying to communicate to me.

It’s been slow progress. Recently I’ve not been able to paint at all due to illness. But I have three series of six paintings (18) in progress. They are small, but this is the most work I’ve ever had on the go for many many years. I need to paint larger so I’m about to start on a series of slightly bigger works, increasing the size of the ground incrementally.

Painting in series is new to me. The principle is that you move constantly from one painting to another. The length of time spent on any one painting isn’t fixed, however – it can be as little as or even less than 15 minutes and this depends entirely on feeling. It’s a principle of the art programme I’ve been taking part in for most of 2021.

I couldn’t at first paint in series, but now I can’t ever imagine not painting in series. During an engagement with a work, you watch what’s happening with your emotions. I found that at some point there’s a freezing up. The painting has developed some interesting, even beautiful areas, that I want to keep, but the rest isn’t working and radical action is called for and I can’t take it. I’m anxious; I’ve become precious about those interesting areas; I can’t paint over them; the usual negative inner voices turn up. Instead of suffering, one moves on to the next painting. It’s a new challenge; enthusiasm returns. Each painting in the series stimulates ideas to carry over to another, or even sparks a new series.

That’s how I came across Caol Ait – thin places. I call this blog Poetic Mapping. It is the overarching name for my art work. The term came to me while I was living in France. I’ve no idea where it came from. It just dropped into my head that that was what I was trying to do. I saw that what I was trying to do was to map out where I was, but not in a cartographical sense. And now I know more, that what I am trying to do is find and map the thin places in my life.

There are books about what are considered thin places, indexes of famous physical places such as Stonehenge, or Iona, around the world. Such places are containers of energy, the quality of energy that compels conversation with a small parcel of water. The why of that conversation is another story.

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COP26 : Why We Must Not Look At Goblin Men

As a gardener as well as an artist – and gardening for this artist means growing plants for food, for natural dyeing/eco printing and for the spirit – the 2021 gardening year has been notable for its length. The images in the slideshow are all in bloom as I write, on 16 November, with the exception of the Japanese Anemones, which, however, have only just finished blooming. The tomato plants, which are growing outdoors, not in the greenhouse, are still bearing fruit.

I know of gardeners who are rejoicing. I started writing this as one of them, but as I was writing, I found myself thinking of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and wondered why and so I dug it out to read again. And as the saying goes, was reminded of the errors of my ways.

This extract from the poem reminded me of the dangers of intensive farming which relies for it success on the use of insecticides and genetically-modified crops, resulting, for instance, in the decimation of bee populations. The protagonist in the poem is Laura, who is warned by her sister Lizzie:

We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots

But Laura bought their fruits and marvelled at their perfection. Fruits which bloomed at all the wrong times. She kept one kernel stone:

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dew’d it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watch’d for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,

It never felt the trickling moisture run:

Laura was saved by her sister Lizzie.

I hope we know who those goblin men work for, and that they aren’t only those who stayed away from Cop 26 (for what harm can goblins do if they do not go among the folk and tempt them with their fruit). I hope we know who Laura’s sister works for and that COP26 will be the sister who will save us.

Rossetti wrote Goblin Market in 1859. Like all great art, its message is as powerful and as valid today as it was when it was written 162 years ago.

It’s funny when you sit down to write one thing and end up writing the opposite.

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Remembering today …

My grandfather George William Shanks, DCO; and his brother, my great-uncle Edwin Shanks (commemorated in stone at the Canadian Cemetery, Vis-en-Artois, France).

My grandfather won this medal for bravery in the field; he went out and fetched a wounded officer back into his trench out of No-Man’s-Land. He won a second medal for bravery later in the war.

His brother enlisted at 14 and followed my grandfather out to the French trenches; when my grandfather found out, he had him sent back to England. But Edwin re-enlisted and was killed in 1917, his body never identified, near the Belgian border.

Not forgotten.

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Eco Printing on Deli Paper

I’ve done very little eco-printing in 2021, concentrating instead, on a return to painting. The programmes I’ve been taking part in have introduced me to a good many different ways of starting and progressing a painting, including various ways of incorporating collage. One idea I’d not come across before is through the use of deli paper. Deli is short for delicatessen and deli paper is used by delicatessans to wrap takeaway foods. Waxed on one side, unwaxed on the other, it’s thin and virtually transparent and when drawn or painted or printed onto, can be glued onto an artwork, adding another dimension to the work and can be made virtually or wholly undetectable as collage material.

I noted, in my experiments with deli paper (which can be bought in A3 sheets in large quantities at little cost) how strong it was and this made me wonder if it was sufficiently robust to survive the eco-printing process. I managed to produce the eco prints in the slideshow above, using some of the autumn leaves now littering my garden. I’m pleased with these first attempts. I used leaves I know will give up their colour – Sumac and Dogwood and St John’s Wort. I’ll be experimenting further with different kinds of leaves.

I like the idea of using colour in my paintings derived directly from plant matter gathered from my surroundings, and in this, making my paintings site-specific. I’ve already begun some paintings using the results of these deli paper eco prints.

Deli paper may not be acid-free and archival, but are rendered archival once glued-down and coated with acrylic medium (I used gloss, which also further enriches the colours).

If you’ve tried eco printing on deli paper, I’d love to see some of your works and any tips.

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Autumn Is Come

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

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