In the apocryphal Book of Judith, the beautiful, daring young widow Judith (feminine form of Judah), distressed by her fellow Jews lack of faith in God to deliver them from the Assyrian conquerors, ingratiates herself with the General Holofernes. Having gained his trust she is admitted into his tent where he is lying in a drunken stupor. With the help of her loyal maid she proceeds to decapitate Holofernes and shows the severed head to an awe-struck crowd of her fellow-countrymen. The Assyrians demoralised by the loss of their leader retreat and Israel is liberated from the foreign threat.
The story of Judith was a popular source of art from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. The Symbolists interpenetration brought the perverse and sadistic elements to the forefront. The great Austrian Symbolist painter and Viennese Secessionist Gustav Klimt’s (The Succubus) JudithI of 1901 was the cause of considerable scandal when first exhibited. The focus of the painting is Judith, only a part of the decapitated head of Holofernes is shown and even that is regulated to the bottom right-hand corner, beneath the exposed breast of Holofernes. With an expression of rapt depravity Judith caresses the head, all set against a ornately gilded, Art Nouveau decorative background.
An interesting comparison with Klimt’s Judith is with two masterpieces from the Baroque period on the same subject, Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes circa 1599 and Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes 1614-1620. Here the paintings are concerned with the act of murder itself. Caravaggio who led a tumultuous life and would die on the run after killing Ranuccio Tomassoni, manages to convey with his trademark chiaroscuro all the tension and ambivalence Judith must have felt as she saws through the neck of Holofernes, while Gentileschi’s Judith surpasses Caravaggio (she was the most famous of the Caravaggisti, followers of Caravaggio) in showing the bloodiness and sheer physicality of the scene. It has been interpenetrated as a vivid rape revenge fantasy.
The sound of your laughter in the gloved darkness unnerves me, I’m not in the mood. Not tonight. I really don’t need it, I’m already so tired of everything, especially of being, of being my—Self.
The hastily packed bulging at the seams spilling its shameful contents across the indifferent streets worthless piece of luggage that I unwillingly carry around with me at all times, unwittingly retrieved from the bombed out building that used to be my home, for a little while at least. Impossible to lose or even mislay in some crowded train station, always with me and weighing me down and getting heavier with the pointless accumulations of each and every passing minute.
How to escape this tyranny? No narcotic will fix it and no manner of drink will drown it. The opiate of sleep soon wears off and I wake up confronted with the infantile peep show of my dreams. Yes the angelic-daemonic girl-twins will reign terror in heaven tonight, mirror-imaged inverted pendants swaying between heavy pendulous breasts that touch and rub as they feast on blue meat and drink the bloodiest wine. The sublime promise of love contained within the psycho-drama of lust is a glimpse of a unobtainable mountain range seen from an unexpected opening in a squalid and dangerous alleyway; soon comes the revelation, after the initial rapture, after our limbs have become un-entangled that this too solid flesh will not yield, will never succumb or surrender its sovereignty to the usurpation of another being, of another Self.
Of course there is one way out as everybody knows. But what if this exit only reveals the inexorable sarcasm of the Gods and leads to an even darker and inescapable dungeon or to some cruelly designed garden of eternal artistic torture? Some are willing to take the chance. I have known people like that, my first nine months were pregnant with death. But for me that moment is yet to come. So for now I stare out of the window and see only earth water air and fire; but I know there is a fifth invisible element beyond these four walls that constitute our universal prison cell.
Walking down the street I entered one of those passageways that are created when a city block is undergoing renovation. It was longer than usual and I was starting to feel hemmed in. Finally it ended and I had a view of the open sky again between the buildings. It was even greyer than usual, the clouds were pregnant with rain. As I carried walking along I kept on staring at the sky, I had this anticipation of some kind of inauguration. The clouds coalesced into an eye enclosed within a triangle inside a double circle. I saw the workings of the system, all the letters and words and symbols revealed their latent content to my new self. The weight of the revelation overwhelmed me and I passed out.
In fact I was sleeping on the bus driving through the countryside, the whole vision had been a dream. I looked out of the window and saw up ahead a massive sprawling council estate that seemed oddly out-of-place in the valley that was hundreds of miles away from any urban area. The ominous feeling that everything was off-kilter only increased as the bus inched closer to the development and I could see the smoke rising from the burning buildings. The bus pulled to a halt at a bus stop even though a riot was in full swing and it was being pelted with bricks and Molotov cocktails. A stone shattered the window and hit me on the temple and I immediately lost consciousness.
But I was actually under sedation the whole time and I was lying in a hospital bed. Coming too I briefly remembered my dream within a dream, before going back to sleep.
Then I woke up for real but it felt like those Russian dolls, you open it and inside is an identical smaller doll that opens to reveal yet another identical doll only smaller and so on. A nausea inducing object lesson in infinity.
Nightly, though sometimes in the daytime too, it has to be admitted, whenever I close my eyes, empty my mind and begin to drift, you appear against a shimmering, shifting background of various shades of blue. Sky, Klein, Royal, Electric. The hues of sex, sorrow and the sense of shame that can only be savoured because there is no succour to be found anywhere in this world.
An anthology of every one of your conceivable postures is imprinted indelibly upon my memory.
Sometimes you tentatively gesture with your forefinger, knowing full well that your feigned shyness is the ultimate aphrodisiac and that I will follow you wherever.
The red zonal markings of your target areas (mouth, tongue, the areola, the labial lips and the cleft of your cunt) beckon to me against the white hesitations of your flesh. You lead me into the shower where the water beats against our shoulders while outside the rain drums against the windows and the roof. I hold your glacial stare with difficultly (never have I known such icy depths) as we embrace each other with one arm (our other hands exploring our respective tropics).
Some nights I am rendered immobile. Yet you still approach, straddle my face with your firm flanks as you take me in your mouth.
While on the still deeper nights, you torment me with black echoes of our imagined union with a succession of strangers –your heavy breasts rubbing against the swollen nipples of a series of sluts or mounted from behind by a stable of studs.
During the interminable nights (and days too, if the truth be told) you taunt me, tease me, tempt me, tie me, bind me… I can never get enough, I will never be sated; this fire cannot be quenched.
Till the time when I unwillingly open my eyes and the vision vanishes, all my lust fades in the grey half-light of an ashen dawn and I am left with an unbearable leaden ache in the centre of my being that weighs down every passing moment. That is, until I fall asleep again.
Nádia Maria is a contemporary photographer currently residing in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her work had been featured in National Geographic and Paris Vogue. After featuring her stunning ethereal portraits in my previous posts Heavenly Bodies and Transformations I contacted Nadia who kindly agreed to an informal interview. Further information about this exciting young talent can be found at her website http://www.nadiamaria.com.
Many thanks to my friend Jason Lock, himself a professional photographer, for his invaluable assistance and suggestions in relation to this interview.
AS: Your website gives the indication that you are professional trained, but by obscuring the informative text and concentrating on the creative element it suggests that inspiration is more important to you than technical acumen. Is this the case for yourself?
NM: Training has its importance, or rather, construction has its importance. However when I want to give concrete expression to an image that has suggested itself to my Self I have to, it a sense, deconstruct my training. Only then can the image be set free.
AS: Do you think that studying the creative arts is important for inspiring/aspiring photographers?
NM:I think everything you study, question, observe, believe you know, is important and collaborates with the image.
AS: Where would you say the major influences come from for you photography?
NM: Art, literature, meditation.
AS: Which artists and writers have provided you with inspiration?
NM: It depends a lot upon the moment. I’m always discovering new things, but I have some favourites: Rilke, Fernando Pessoa, Sylvia Plath, Alejandra Pizarnik, Borges, Murilo Mendes, Khalil Gibran, Hilda Hilst, Manoel de Barros, to name a few … I find that one thing leads to another, a piece of music will lead me to myths that leads me to philosophy. There is a whole universe of inter-connected inspiration out there.
AS: In your own field what photographers you admire?
NM: There are so many, but for their complete bodies of work it would be Sally Mann, Masao Yamamoto, Francesca Woodman.
AS: Of the photographers you mentioned I would be most familiar with Francesca Woodman (I have written an article called Angel about her), whose work leaves me with a sense of awe. When did you discover her work and is she a conscious influence?
NM:I discovered Woodman while I was at school. I have always enjoyed long expositions, and when I studied photography I used to make the exercises all “wrong”. I had an open shutter craze and one of my teachers said that I should take a look at her photographs; that I would identify with them. I felt an affinity, but in a different way than my friend thought I would. I definitely admire her work but she isn’t a conscious influence. Woodman reflects the world that she saw and I reflect mine. Sometimes artists worlds cross but they are private reflections of particular kinds of self-knowledge.
AS: Where does that particular kind of inspiration come from in your work?
NM:From reflection, internal dialogues, dreams, the void…
AS: Do you create a narrative before creating the images – or – is it the case that you create images first then work a narrative around the picture?
NM:Usually there is a narrative before the image, but sometimes the images give me a narrative, however it is always a leap into the abyss.
AS: Do you use any analogue process in your work or are you totally digital?
NM: I use both.
AS: How does your use of analogue influence your work?
NM: I have a greater affinity with analogue as it what I started with, but it is becoming harder to work with today here in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My photographic thinking is built on analogue so even when I am using digital I keep what I can from the analogue process.
AS: When using digital, are you imagining the final image before actually capturing the image?
NM: Yes I usually see it in my mind beforehand, however sometimes there is an element of chance where the unconscious manifests itself.
AS: There is a major up take in photography due to the digital world and the access to smart phone technology. People consider themselves ever more creative and explore the world of Instagram etc – do you think that this hinders or promotes the conceptional/experimental genre of photography?
NM:Well, everything has its positive and its negative side, don’t you think?
AS: I do certainly agree that everything has a positive and negative side. What are the positives and negatives with the ever increasing popularity of social media on the arts?
NM: The most striking positive I think is the increased visibility and reach a work can have, and all instantaneously. A few years ago that wasn’t possible. The negative side, and unfortunately I have experienced this myself, is the devaluation of creativity, a lack of sensibility, a levelling effect.
AS: Where do you see your future as a photographer?
NM: Who knows where this will lead me. Maybe the photograph will cease to exist as it now. Maybe I will no longer feel the need to be a photographer.
AS: And finally (and this is an old chestnut) what advice would you give for future generation of image makers?
NM: Whenever I am asked I always quote Jung: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” That about sums it all up.
Another time, a different season
Another place, without reason
You and I indivisible
With desires non-negotiable
Instead I observe obsessed
Your body remaining uncaressed
Breasts uncapped by my hands
Your thighs undiscovered lands
Leading to untouched territory
An unchartered perilous country
Where there lies unknown pleasure
Unearthly rapture beyond measure
Your eyes cause ecstatic distress
Your lips an agony of excess
Your breath to me untasted
My lust so terminally belated.
With desires non-negotiable
You and I indivisible
Another place, without reason
Another time, a different season
The space in between words Tells the tale. You have me mistaken; The rash itch Of imperatives emotional, Biological or social I no longer Care to scratch. Pleasurable friction Ultimate delusion Double backed beasts Are heavenly Seraphim Yet when disentangled Severed inter-twinned Organisms threshing Subsumed to nothing Too many already What the world needs Now is not another Gaping replicant Screaming reminder Of the remorseless Grinding of the clocks You yourself are enough You are beautiful But so are others You are yet more Within lies the germ Of trans-figurance I could make you Yet more; Create something Unparalleled Just give to me Your mind utterly Surrender your soul Absolute and completely Your body is yours To give to whom You do so choose Just do not confuse Fleeting ecstasies Transitory loves As anything other. Just remember That life itself Is so unimportant.
Now is not the moment; The moment is now, One moment, please That moment of ecstasy Still yet to come.
Your silence is so eloquent Articulating the ambivalence Inherent in you and I A continuing discourse On our deferred sensuality My only mistake Is every word That I ever said Ensnaring me in your games But now I will make a play Do you refuse to act? No now is not the moment But the moment is now We stop; Pause for the moment Soon the pause Fills our mouths Then the room Rapidly expanding Blotting out the sun It penetrates further Still and deeper Into the soft core Of the universe; Now there is nothing Between us but This pause.
Eventually at some, As yet unidentified, Point in time Our mouths will open Our lips will shape The words needed To break this silence But now is not That moment; The moment is now, Now is Just a moment.
Phil Baker’s excellent 2011 biography of the gloriously eccentric artist/magician Austin Osman Spare should hopefully revive interest in an unjustly neglected London artist. Hailed as the new Aubrey Beardsley at the tender age of 17 he fell into obscurity and lived in Dickensian squalor when the satyrs and general air of Yellow Book decadence that impregnated his drawings fell out of fashion after the First World War. Later years saw Spare inventing his own idiosyncratic form of magic involving the intensive use of Sigils; using automatic drawing techniques years before Breton posited Surrealism as pure psychic automatism, hanging out with The Great Beast himself Aleister Crowley; hawking his ‘Surrealist Racing Card Forecast’ cards (a divinatory artwork to help you pick winners at the races) in the back pages of the Exchange and Mart, experimenting with anamorphosis in his Experiments in Relativity series which in their use of film stars could be said to have anticipated Pop Art, and holding art exhibitions in dodgy South London pubs.
Because of his self-mythologizing tendencies and the willingness of certain friends to give credence to his amazingly tall tales he has gained a certain cache in occult circles since his death. The above Portrait of The Artist is in the private collection of Led Zeppelin guitarist and previously avowed Crowleyite Jimmy Page.
Like Blake, that other inspired Londoner, Spare created his own system rather than be enslaved by another man’s.
Although Ithell Colquhoun distanced herself from the London Surrealist Group in 1940 she considered herself a Surrealist for the rest of her life. The schism occurred when Colquhoun was unwilling to submit to the group’s leader E.L.T Mesens dictates that any member was forbidden to belong to a secret society: Colquhoun was a serious occultist and was a member of several lodges and organizations including the Typhonian O.T.O, an order that had fallen under Aleister Crowley’s sway and which he had re-directed towards the practice of his own Thelemaic sex-magic. Colquhoun had her run-ins with the Great Beast, one time when she had rejected his advances Crowley chased her around his house.
As well as being a painter and occultist, Colquhoun was a gifted writer. Published by Peter Owen, the same independent firm that published Anna Kavan, Colquhoun wrote two idiosyncratic travel books on Ireland and Cornwall respectively; a brilliantly sustained Surrealist narrative dealing with alchemy, The Goose of Hermogenes (with what must be the only description in literature of a Green-Light district, like a Red-Light district but with the important difference that the clientèle are phantoms) and a biography of MacGregor Mathers, one of the founder members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which numbered among it’s distinguished literary members Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gustav Meyrink, Arthur Machen and W.B Yeats.