Preparations for a Departure

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Exactly where does this mystification end?

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 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.

When did this mystification begin?

The Visionary Eye

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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.

 

Questions & Answers with Nádia Maria

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Nadia Maria 2017
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.

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The Space In Between

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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.

Cockney Rebel: Austin Osman Spare

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Austin Osman Spare-Portrait of the Artist 1907
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.

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Austin Osman Spare-Joan Crawford 1933

Surrealist Women: Ithell Colquhoun

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Ithell Colquhuon-Man Ray 1932
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.

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Ithell Colquhuon-Song of Songs 1933

What I Believe by J.G Ballard

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Paul Delvaux-The Mirror 1939 (Reproduction by Brigid Marlin from a commission by J.G Ballard)
The incantatory prose poem What I Believe from 1984 is a crystallised distillation of Ballard’s artistic credo. Here are all the signature trade-marks and obsessions: car crashes, deserted beaches and abandoned hotels as well as his extraordinarily odd musings on the real appeal of celebrities. It is, as always with Ballard, idiosyncratic, bizarre and strangely beautiful.

The above image is Brigid Marlin’s reproduction of Paul Delvaux’s 1939 painting The Mirror that was destroyed in WWII. After the commercial and critical success of Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun and the subsequent film adaption by Steven Speilberg, he commissioned Marlin to copy two of Delvaux’s lost paintings for his home in the London suburb of Shepperton.

What I Believe

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.

I believe in the forgotten runways of Wake Island, pointing towards the Pacifics of our imaginations.

I believe in the mysterious beauty of Margaret Thatcher, in the arch of her nostrils and the sheen on her lower lip; in the melancholy of wounded Argentine conscripts; in the haunted smiles of filling station personnel; in my dream of Margaret Thatcher caressed by that young Argentine soldier in a forgotten motel watched by a tubercular filling station attendant.

I believe in the beauty of all women, in the treachery of their imaginations, so close to my heart; in the junction of their disenchanted bodies with the enchanted chromium rails of supermarket counters; in their warm tolerance of my perversions.

I believe in the death of tomorrow, in the exhaustion of time, in our search for a new time within the smiles of auto-route waitresses and the tired eyes of air-traffic controllers at out-of-season airports.

I believe in the genital organs of great men and women, in the body postures of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Di, in the sweet odors emanating from their lips as they regard the cameras of the entire world.

I believe in madness, in the truth of the inexplicable, in the common sense of stones, in the lunacy of flowers, in the disease stored up for the human race by the Apollo astronauts.

I believe in nothing.

I believe in Max Ernst, Delvaux, Dali, Titian, Goya, Leonardo, Vermeer, Chirico, Magritte, Redon, Durer, Tanguy, the Facteur Cheval, the Watts Towers, Boecklin, Francis Bacon, and all the invisible artists within the psychiatric institutions of the planet.

I believe in the impossibility of existence, in the humour of mountains, in the absurdity of electromagnetism, in the farce of geometry, in the cruelty of arithmetic, in the murderous intent of logic.

I believe in adolescent women, in their corruption by their own leg stances, in the purity of their disheveled bodies, in the traces of their pudenda left in the bathrooms of shabby motels.

I believe in flight, in the beauty of the wing, and in the beauty of everything that has ever flown, in the stone thrown by a small child that carries with it the wisdom of statesmen and midwives.

I believe in the gentleness of the surgeon’s knife, in the limitless geometry of the cinema screen, in the hidden universe within supermarkets, in the loneliness of the sun, in the garrulousness of planets, in the repetitiveness of ourselves, in the inexistence of the universe and the boredom of the atom.

I believe in the light cast by video-recorders in department store windows, in the messianic insights of the radiator grilles of showroom automobiles, in the elegance of the oil stains on the engine nacelles of 747s parked on airport tarmacs.

I believe in the non-existence of the past, in the death of the future, and the infinite possibilities of the present.

I believe in the derangement of the senses: in Rimbaud, William Burroughs, Huysmans, Genet, Celine, Swift, Defoe, Carroll, Coleridge, Kafka.

I believe in the designers of the Pyramids, the Empire State Building, the Berlin Fuehrerbunker, the Wake Island runways.

I believe in the body odors of Princess Di.

I believe in the next five minutes.

I believe in the history of my feet.

I believe in migraines, the boredom of afternoons, the fear of calendars, the treachery of clocks.

I believe in anxiety, psychosis and despair.

I believe in the perversions, in the infatuations with trees, princesses, prime ministers, derelict filling stations (more beautiful than the Taj Mahal), clouds and birds.

I believe in the death of the emotions and the triumph of the imagination.

I believe in Tokyo, Benidorm, La Grande Motte, Wake Island, Eniwetok, Dealey Plaza.

I believe in alcoholism, venereal disease, fever and exhaustion.

I believe in pain.

I believe in despair.

I believe in all children.

I believe in maps, diagrams, codes, chess-games, puzzles, airline timetables, airport indicator signs.

I believe all excuses.

I believe all reasons.

I believe all hallucinations.

I believe all anger.

I believe all mythologies, memories, lies, fantasies, evasions.

I believe in the mystery and melancholy of a hand, in the kindness of trees, in the wisdom of light.

Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: B.Traven

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Presumed Portrait of B. Traven
In a Technical Sense. Webster’s hand hesitated on Karen Novotny’s zip. He listened to the last bars of the Mahler symphony playing on the radiogram extension in the warm bedroom. ‘The bomber crashed on landing,’ he explained. ‘Four members of the crew were killed. He was alive when they got him out, but at one point in the operating theatre his heart and vital organs failed. In a technical sense he was dead for about two minutes. Now, all this time, it looks as if something is missing, something that vanished during the short period of his death. Perhaps his soul, the capacity to achieve a state of grace. Nathan would call it the ability to accept the phenomenology of the universe, or the fact of your own consciousness. This is Traven’s hell.’

J.G Ballard-The Assassination Weapon-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966

Talbot. Another face of the central character of The Atrocity Exhibition. The core identity is Traven, a name taken consciously from B.Traven, a writer I’ve always admired for his extreme reclusiveness-so completely at odds with the logic of our own age, when even the concept of privacy is constructed from publicly circulating materials. It is now almost impossible to be ourselves except on the world’s terms.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990

 

Stars of The Atrocity Exhibition: Elizabeth Taylor

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Liz Taylor-Richard Avedon 1956
The Atrocity Exhibition. Entering the exhibition, Travis sees the atrocities of Vietnam and the Congo mimetized in the ‘alternate’ death of Elizabeth Taylor; he tends the dying film star, eroticizing her punctured bronchus in the over-ventilated veranda of the London Hilton, he dreams of Max Ernst, superior of the birds; ‘Europe after the Rain’; the human race-Caliban asleep across a mirror smeared with vomit.

J.G Ballard-The Atrocity Exhibition 1966

Elizabeth Taylor , the last of the old-style Hollywood actress, has retained her hold on the popular imagination in the two decades since this piece was written, a quality she shares (no thanks to myself) with almost all the public figures in this book…A unique collision of private and public fantasies took place in the 1960’s, and may have to wait some years to be repeated, if ever. The public dream of Hollywood for the first time merged with the private imagination of the hyper-stimulated 60’s TV viewer…our perception of the famous has changed-I can’t imagine writing about Meryl Streep or Princess Di, and Margaret Thatchter’s undoubted mystery seems to reflect design faults in her own self-constructed persona. One can mechanically spin sexual fantasies around all three, but the imagination soon flags. Unlike Taylor, they radiate no light.

Annotations-The Atrocity Exhibition 1990