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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

04/27/2005 - Why I messed up the words

Thirty or so sessions into the project, I realized it was looking more and more like an unconscious ritual. I wasn't sure whether I was happy about this. Though confident I had discovered a way to unlock psychological content, I wondered 'to what end?' My models could dance their own concerns, or anyone's for that matter, psychological content was there. I wasn't sure what this meant, or if there were rules apart from being respectful, in conducting this work.Strive for symmetry, or not? Now that I had invited the world into the work, by using multiple models, did this mean that all were equal? What of the aesthetic demands of art? Should I be painting images of men? How important was Eros in achieving a result?

I became very unsure of what my role was. Was I an artist, a psychologist, or an apprentice shaman? Was I supposed to be healing, painting, or analyzing? Or all three? I struggled not to let the my ego inflate itself over my small successes so far. From the outside, the whole activity seemed to have a wild erotic component, which got kept sane via the ritualistic habit of work as performance. 

The process was breaking down taboos about how strangers relate. The task of behaving as a gentleman was easy. What was difficult was not comprehending my own objectives and reasons for continuing the work.

Did this project have an objective? Or was I just doing the process? It came to a collision between 'doing' and 'result'. I was doing, but was unsure if I was seeking results.  I hadn't yet read Stahl or other ritualists on the subject, and hadn't broken the work into its result-oriented vs. ritualistic components. If the work was based in art, then as an artist, I should be seeing signs that the works were improving, getting better.  That whole notion of value judgements about process gave me the creeps. How could better mean anything at all in the context of a ritual performance carried out between two people who didn't know each other at all except in this context?

Whatever it was it exposed some kind of truth of the way people behave with each other. Evidentiary. It was impossible to feel precious, I only wanted to share it.

My models were being hired not for what their bodies brought me in curves, or volumes, or lines, to draw, and reproduce, but as vessels of psychic content. I longed to see what was in their psyche, and what their minds were channelling, as I painted. I also wanted to help them see this content. As such any artistic activity on my part was just a vehicle, a channel for recording. Later I might invent another way of catching such stuff, and abandon the brush altogether.

As a shamanic activity, it seemed grotesquely uneven. I was the one paying my models as models. If it were purely shamanic they would be paying me. Yes, there was some discussion first between us on what to expect. I was not being compensated to help them understand or see what their life's dance was, or could be. I reasoned that if that ever started to happen, or if I began selling works to my subjects, that I could logically conclude there was some healing or self-understanding being offered by the work.

I reflected on my father, who was at times, a portrait painter. He sat his subjects for long hours in his studio, and whenever I went in as a youngster to visit, I realized I was witnessing a dialogue. A conversation. An exchange. He was painting, but they were also talking, asking questions, exchanging, learning. Was all portrait painting in some way healing?

Were the Celtic and Ancient writers of Odes, healing their subjects or strengthening them, by dedicating lines of verse to their existence?

All portraiture, written, drawn, or painted, I decided, must have a shamanic component, simply by virtue of being interpretive.

What of Eros? Yes Eros was there. But Eros was not seeking a result.

If I had seen my questions during this period in light of this duality, result vs. ritual, I would have realized I was taking the work powerfully in the direction of ritual. It was lovely when the work brought me close to a beautiful human being. I felt blessed. It was like watching a sunset, when one had never expected too be watching one. I realized however, that 'expectation' would be the nemesis of the work progressing. It would kill it. But where was I supposed to be making my developments? As a painter-artist, or as a healer using art in a new way? Was this just a performance, a drama, that I was enacting. If so how should I be learning from it?

At times I had to just let this inner dialogue drop.

I was on a journey. . . and I had to admit, yes, I had chosen the scenic route!

This became a crucial turning point as I fumbled with my desire to introduce words into the work. I had a friend, a well known painter in New York, who paints various notes and words into his large abstract paintings. They all felt so 'composed'. Is Ego always there? I wanted to torch the word out of existence, and still do. I particularly didn't want to write my own compositions into these paintings.  Maybe others, not these. The lines from my gals held content, as dances alone. I could look at a piece moments after completion and get a feeling of character, of psychic direction. It felt true. I didn't have to invent. I just went through the process. How might I find a poetic equivalent to tracing the Cosmic Dance, but with words?

How could I bring sounds into the project which could be interpreted as words?

Most of the project to date was monochromatic. Should I introduce color? If so, how to do it without imposing color choice? Perhaps I was looking for a contrivance so that I might be freed of the task of composing and instead would simply be required to record. I never dreamed that guidelines for doing the work would eventually be defined by poetry, or that poetry would step out of the maze of lines and silhouettes as a fully formed voice, and that it would very soon, be speaking to me directly.

The work at this time had the feeling of a psychic pregnancy. A sort of gestational waiting period. I was tracing, and tracing, but I had no idea where it was taking me. I felt adrift in a river, in a rudderless raft. . . flowing through bliss, yes . .  but to what end?

Would photography have been allowed at Delphi? I doubt it. Recording equipment?

These are difficult questions to answer. Media has a way of intruding into ritual, partly because ritual is predictable, and media records ritual activities easily. You don't see TV crews stationed at the tops of volcanos waiting for an eruption, because it cannot, in any sound way, be predicted. But the Queen celebrating mass on Christmas can be. So media and ritual have a long affinity.

Yet any study of ritual quickly establishes that new practices have to be arrived at in a ritual manner. This can take a very long time. So while Brahmin priests drive cars, smoke, and watch TVs, the holy places  in most temples contain no cigarettes, no cars, or no electronics of any kind.

Unconscious behavior, needs to be characterized, or attributed, in order to be understood. We need to speak of 'it', 'its needs', or of 'Her' or 'Him'. Carl Jung named them the Other, the Anima, the Animus. The Archetypes, and the Collective Unconscious. The Greeks named them Hermes, Artemis, Zeus, Dionysus. They each had separate areas of work, that affected our lives. How to get along with wind and weather. . . Indra's your man if you from India. Starting a journey?  Ganesh. Those that have sworn off the Gods, have truly 'worn' the Gods, for to swear off them is to swear by them. They cannot be ignored.

It still goes on. All of us deify. Physicists, skeptics, criminals, all of us, to some degree. Once recognized as a being, we are able to cultivate or modify that energy. We need it to understand and exert control in areas where Logos cannot reach.

A year later would I read Stahl's seminal work, and take note of his observations regarding fire in Brahmanic ritual. The wood has to be the right wood. The ghee the right ghee. The fire altar is painstakingly constructed. Yet when the priest wants to step outside for a cigarette, he does so, and uses an ordinary match to light it.

The words, or poems, if they were to be called poems, were never intended to become 'my' compositions, or belong to my models. At that time, my thought was to harness the collective unconscious, working through both of us, to achieve some kind of statement through a form of automatic writing, that could be put into the work. But my emphasis was all wrong. I wanted to hear something, but I had created a method of manufacture, rather than participation, that was inconsistent with my intent. Also, if the ritual had been successful in disarming Logos, and made us more receptive to other forces, then why was I using a mechanical method of binary sorting to come up with the sounds? Couldn't I trust my models more than that?

My notes from the day's work:

"R___ and I did the word sorting, and after pleading to do it she got quite tired . . . [it] has a bizarre soporific effect on a lot of the women. It makes them drowsy, and very bored. Touching the same words over and over again traffics certain nerves with mildly unpleasant energy. This means that it is taking them close to difficult content but in a way that numbs the nervous responses. "

R____'s impatience showed me I wasn't using her talents. She had applied for the job as a Muse. She sensed what I was onto, and wanted to be a part. She was a player, on my stage. I had directed a show, and then at the crucial moment I was not calling upon her talent.

Yet something told me that snapping a photo in the middle of the work was not pukka. It brought consciousness back into our process at a time when consciousness was not needed. I dumped the cardboard she had photographed back into the bucket.

Something was building. Another entity was involved. By messing up what we had done, I had paused to question the quality of our approach.

R_____ departed. Depressed, I snapped some shots of the remaining cardboards in disarray, saving as best I could, the results from this bungled effort. Would she forgive me?

I lay down and fell into a deep sleep. An hour or so later I was awakened by voices of women outside in the courtyard.

They were talking about me. Several women.

But when I went down to look for them, no one was there.

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