Lines written in darkness
I sit here in darkness, the sound and aroma of a wood-wicked candle flickering through my ears and nostrils. The radiant warmth of the heater next to me plays with the coolness of the bricks I can sense even beneath the sheepskin and blankets. It’s raining outside and I can hear the river running through the forest and the quiet hum of the pumps beneath my cabin. At this moment they seem friendly, like the steady sound of company. How interesting…
When I first discovered that the entire system of pumps for this complex was under my cabin, and therefore the chance of achieving any state of quiet like I have found in the forest here is zero, I had a different feeling towards them. But right now, they’re friendly humming things.
I can feel my womb preparing to shed again, going through each stage of preparation methodically and in her own time, her sacred unfolding. I have become so much more in tune with these subtle shifts inside me in the past month. It’s now the late stages of autumn for both me and the weather. The very last of the fagus leaves are on the forest floor, decorating the rocks and roots with their golden glow.
To be in accord with our standardised measurements, that last claim is inaccurate: it is June, and we are in Winter now. But for the seasons themselves, they lie free of any such abstract notion, and will not take dictation from such a statement.
I have been tracing and tracking, breathing and dancing, seeing and smelling, tasting and touching this place with the intention of getting to know how to understand the story of place, the song of the forest, the language of rocks and sky. As I mentioned in my last email, I have found that the more I show of myself, the more this place shows me. It is an act of surrender into great intimacy to really be touched and moved, surprised and in awe of a place.
I have realised that this work is deeply personal. There is only one me, with everything I have experienced and learnt, every thought I think; purely me. And yet, it is not personal at all, and those thoughts are not wholly mine, and the air I breathe is not mine to claim possession of.
I interact in this way with this place in the wake of events that have rattled me to my core, that have left me unable to be satisfied with the surface layer of ‘just how things are’. I have been left with a longing for deeper understanding, belonging and revival ever since, but I can also trace this longing further back, even further away, outside of myself, to the greater longing of earth.
I have had an experience that I am still freshly integrating and filtering… a whole new visceral understanding of what I once thought was abstract and in the realm of ‘ideas’. This is a revelation. I feel exuberantly free! So wholly in love and devoted to what this asks of me. I am not ready to share the particulars, but I am very excited to infuse my work with this new knowing. I want to share this magic with others.
I’m almost finished my second pastel, and this morning I had an epiphany on the cello. It has certainly been a productive time! But it will take some time yet before you hear the music that is coming…
I’ve been exploring how the ecology of my artistic practices support me as a human within the context of this wild, more-than-human place and all the living beings therein. This process has been incredibly humbling (a word whose etymology comes to us from the root of ‘humus’, earth).
We stand on all that has come before us – our ancestors, the past hidden under the ground, layer upon layer. What-has-been supporting what-is, and what-is supporting what-will-be, or may be. We move towards what beckons us forward - the horizon, the hidden from view, the future.
What supports and sustains what has been and what will be?
It is hidden in plain sight…
Think of what is between your eyes and this screen - the breath that moves your lungs, touching you everywhere, and everything, all at once.
That is the presence of the present.
I have been coming to understand the older layers hidden within our language, and within our music notes and sounds, that serve as odes to the mysterious ways that we are constantly dreamt into being. I move between drawing/mark making, walking and dancing, reading and writing, singing and whispering, playing cello and crying, lying down and laughing, and then crying again. Oh, the layers!
I have found that when I draw a place, I come into relationship with it in such an omni-sensory way. Smells become stronger, sounds more real, colours themselves are breathing and pulsing. Then, I can play cello and sing with that place in a different way, reading the lines and colours and now translating them into sound. Then, when I dance, I can hear the voices of the plants, the stories they are generously giving to the breeze. I learn their movements, and they give me better questions to ask, and then I can go and write about that, or just sit in the pulsing silence.
When I walk, it can all fall away, back to the ground for integration and nourishment of everything that is around me. Sometimes, if it’s a long enough walk, it feels like I become pure breath, pure rhythm.
So, in this way I have been learning about this place, in a very non-linear and, to some, illogical way. I haven’t come here to excavate and cultivate and produce art to a deadline so that I can come up with a hit and sell it to the masses. I haven’t come here to find what I already know.
No. Instead, I have come here with full attention to the long-form process… the continual, deepening integration and reunification of art and life. The cycles shift and change every day, with different combinations giving off differently fragrant understandings. I am enchanted and so in love with the unfathomable. The epic mystery that generously sustains us. Life is a creative act.
I know that this will all be put to the test when “returning” to the human world. But I’m not “going back”. The wild is everywhere, in the darkness that engulfs me right now, and in the metal of a smartphone, or the irrational darting and zig-zagging of a drop of water running along a pane of glass. It’s all one big, wild dance. And being enchanted is part of the gig.
The world NEEDs you to love it, to fall in love again and again with the wild, vast mystery of being.
Sometimes that love will look like being wildly and furiously angry upon witnessing the loss and destruction of this very earth we depend on and have neglected to nourish, or a betrayal you witness, or an injustice that leaves you feeling hopeless… So be it.
“The answer” does not lie in war, retributory justice, or payback.
It might lie in asking better questions, though.
To you who is still reading:
May your rage move you, circulating in your bloodstream until you find yourself ecstatically dancing.
May your laughter reverberate your entire being - massaging every cell, releasing tears of joy.
May you let yourself be touched, seen and known by all beings – especially other than human beings!
May you see the earth as a lover.
May you see that earth loves you back and is saying so in so many various ways, right now!
May you savour each breath as the sacred ebbing and flowing tide of life.
Today, may you shape the air as a prayer when you speak.
Yours in art,
From an email written during an artist's residency at Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. Subscribe to the mailing list here: