Circumscribed

I write you running, first.
I sit at a small table, in a one-room cottage
alone, waiting.

But you – you are running.
Running at full sprint; away from me.
Beneath you is a gravel road,
Beside you is beech forest, and a river.
Ahead of you is the lake.
You run for it.

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I am at the table.
I look at my hands.
Small delicate hands, ladies hands I suppose.
Designed for embroidery and poems.
Not this rough cottage and it’s dirty pails.
There is an ink stain on my right hand.

I say “Der Zeigefinger”

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You are running the radii,
aspiring for the circumference.
This edge of our existence,
the magic circle of our biography.
You are running away from me.

I say “Im Anfang war die Tat.”
[In the Beginning was the Act.]

Events happen to you. Drama! It is yours.
Not mine. I just watch you, from this table.

And then there’s her.
That terrible demi-god.
Inscribing us both. Defining our 360.
You cannot escape her clumsy manoeuvrings

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– but I will not let her move me.
I will remain. Seated at this table.

Encounter – Ignorance

You are heading straight for two young ladies,
in quantities of white satin.
They are in your way, in your path.
They stand with heads held high,
They are superior to you in every way.

They are English.
They watch you, yet ignore you.

circumscribed7“Something silly?” says one.
“A little giggling … ” responds the other.
“Oh, quite so, darling,” crooned the one.

They will not get out of your way.
You plough straight through them!
Through curtains of satin.
Ha! I’m so proud of you!

Encounter – Zeal for Death

Knock! Knock! Knock!
I look up from my desk.
I say “Entre.”

Three full fat bodies fill the door frame.
Framed by my eye. The frame of this work.
The three of them, who demand toll.

Those three detainers.

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A shiny button, a silver medal, a green and yellow ribbon.
Fat hands clasp a terrorized parchment.
Dirty boots. A muddy print on my clean hearth.
The fire smokes, splutters in small protest.

I ask “With what mandate have you come?”
They wave a scrap of paper.
Inscribed with royal insignia.
“War Regulations. Arrest Without Warrant.
Detain at Discretion Of the Minister of Defence.”
The say things that I don’t [won’t] hear properly.
“Close your business. Report to the police station.
Registration. 20 miles.
No communication with enemy country.”
“Enemy Alien”
Enemy Alien.
I just say “Rennen!”
You are running.

Encounter – Foolish Wisdom of the Flesh

You pass young lads on the road, sporting leather strips and balls.
“Where are you going, lady?”
“Lady Frau! Lady Fry!”
“You’re an enemy alien,
you’re an enemy alien,
an enemy alien!”
They trip you up, on purpose.
You graze your knee. It bleeds.

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Then they tie you to a tree! You are stuck!
Trapped, in a prison made by children.

This prison of fools.

I take a map. And a compass.
I draw an X. This is where I am.
I draw a circumference. 20 miles from X.
This is where we are allowed to be.
The extent of our [current] permitted existence.

Enemy Alien
I am an Enemy Alien

But now you are stuck! You must keep moving.
Because I’m sorry to say,
your mother-in-law is coming!

Encounter – Wrathful Wisdom

Roimata cries for her slaughtered bird.
As angry wiry fingers untie your bonds.
“Where are you coming from – son-killer!”
“Where are you going? – destroyer!”
She full spits in your enemy face.

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But you must leave the grief.
You are now free from this tree of death.

Run!

You run away from her.
At the lake you jump in a dinghy
and begin to row.
Faster!

His mother is crumpled on the beach.

You take out a handkerchief and wipe your face.
Our tears and her spit are the same.

Encounter – Desire

And, there he is! Your husband, your mana.
With you, in the boat.
Glorious in his soldiers fit-out. Shiny, brand new.
He is rowing steadily, surely. Of course.
You think “This is enough.”
You think “How good it is just to be with you.”
You think “It’s more than enough.”

You have disappeared from me, in your joy.

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I have never felt so alone.
These walls are so close.
This fire is so hot.
This table is too large.
This piece of paper is too small.

But I will write you back to me.

Encounter – Excitement of Death

Remember, his delirium?
Delirious for adventure?
You did tell our husband.
“It’s the nearest man who’s killed.
Be always behind!”

Manaia did not listen.
He flew ahead,
his human body following obediently.

On the day of the attack. Trench No. 2.
They suggested at first a slight wound
but you knew that it was the end.
For him; for that other perfect us.

With a sudden spin,
He grabs his rifle.
He shoots at the edge of the lake.
He says “Got it!”

He said “Good bye my Aroha!”
With a sharp crack. He is gone.
But never forgotten.

You see, now there is just – us.
And this fog.
This darkness.
This edge.

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You have forgotten me.
I’m just ahead.
Past the fog.

Where we are spread out to the extremity.
So let us concern ourselves with the boundary.
You stand on a frontier,
your toes curled over the rim.
A deep dark endless canyon,
a cliff stretching to infinity.

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To be sure, this place of crossing is frightening, to you.
It’s depth is great, it’s height is staggering.
This cliff is separating –
This canyon is strengthening –

It supplies the form of me [the mater/matter]
It lets you see me clearly [the pater/pattern]

Yet let us be of a single mind and
without hesitation, pass by.

Pass over the boundary.
Do not look back. Look ahead.

Run! Leap!
Jump!

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You are returning.
Yet you are travelling in the same direction.
Maybe you are ascending?

Across a flattened ruin
littered with wrecked narratives and duration debris.
The detritus of story.
A sad story, a senseless story, after all.

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Across this vast desolate distance –
there is no space.
You can see my cottage quite clearly.
My window is glowing with candlelight.
And there I am, at the window.
Looking at you.
You get to my door.
I hear you knock.
I am knocking.

I let you in,
my flower.

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Pythagoras says
“When the art of reflection is discovered,
dissension diminishes and concord increases.”

Let us yield to the sentiment of equality.
Let us adjust our affairs in a friendly fashion – with equality.
Let reflection be our rule.

© Gaylene Barnes, 2019

The VEIL and ICONS IN SPACE

Retrieving a dusty copy of “The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross” from my shelf, I read:

“The less distinct is their understanding of him, the closer they approach him, as Prophet David says: he made darkness his hiding place [Ps. 18:1.1] Thus in drawing near him you will experience darkness because of the weakness of your eye. You do well then, at all times, in both adversity and prosperity, whether spiritual or temporal, to consider God as hidden, and call after him thus: “Where have you hidden, Beloved?” (St. John of the Cross, p. 483)

St John, a Spanish Carmelite monk (1542-1591), postulates that the bosom of the Father, the divine essence, is alien to every mortal eye and hidden from every human intellect. This is called ‘negative theology’ – a theology where God is beyond all that exists and that it is by unknowing that one may know Him, by drawing near to the Unknown in the darkness of complete ignorance. A first century Christian mystic, Dionysius the Areopagitic (a disciple of St Paul) first put up the concept:

“For even as light, and especially abundance of light, renders darkness invisible; even so the excess of knowledge, destroys the ignorance which is the only way by which one can attain to God himself.”(Lossky; 1944, p. 25)

Wonderful dichotomy; beautiful and mysterious. Satisfying the dark and the morbid, as well as the craving and the light of my soul – all at the same time. Considering these themes, (as well as one can in a busy urban contemporary life!), led me to wonder how one might draw God, as part of my Sacred Art investigation, if he is thus Unknowable? Obviously – to really understand this requires a lifetime of mystic reflective work – which is just not practical in my life at present. This is why I love being an artist. We are practical beings. We make stuff. Things that can express half formed ideas and pre-conceptions. So, this led me to two practical and physical concepts to work with – the VEIL, and GOD IN SPACE.

1. THE VEIL: Painting it, using it to cover, to hide, to suppress. It’s seductive power – our longing to see what’s beneath. Repression of desire and and subversion of rampant voyuerism. The ‘covered image’ has another voice, beyond the voice the ‘image’ has – what is hidden and why? Another story is created.

I stumbled across this beautiful photographic exhibition of Robert Stivers called Veiled Images at the Akron Art Muesuem (Akron Art Museum; 2012)”. A reviewer, Starr, comments “—we pass back and forth between historical periods; we are sometimes left between them, or in a zone freed of chronological placement all together.” (Starr: 2012)

“This search for context ultimately drives the whole show. It’s Stivers’ device for turning us in upon ourselves, because the only context that we’ll find is the one we create as we follow the numbered sequence of surprising images that leads us around the room.” (Starr, 2012)

Robert Stivers, Head in Mirror, 2002. Toned gelatin print, 20 x16 in. Gift of Noemi and Daniel Mattis, Akron Art Museum. Courtesy, Akron Art Museum

I like the idea of a story within the shadows. That context isn’t made immediately obvious, that there is a mystery to be uncovered. This was encouraging – maybe in this way I can present work that travels between histories, between realms, revealing hidden desires.

During the exhibition of my work in April, I received comments that they were ‘intimate’, that people were excited to be able to get up close to ‘history’, to see something usually reserved for musuems. There was a desire to view and examine.

“art tempts its audience with desires to come closer, to inhabit or to possess the art they see and admire.” (Starr, 2012)

Perhaps I could subvert this desire by preventing close examination, by hiding the beauty of these strange little ‘windows to heaven’, close it up with a veil, allowing only a peek – to tempt desire? Maybe.

According to Polish theologian and architect, Jerzy Uácinowicz, the revival of Christian icons began in the early 20th century, when old ones were ‘wiped clean of their historical dust’ to reveal a ‘feast of colours’:

“Once again it became the “window to eternity”,a glimpse into the other world. There was no “curtain” covering it any more. There was no black.” (Uácinowicz; 2010)

Not sure how that relates, but there it is. I’m not sure about this line of inquiry, although I have downloaded alot of fascinating literature on the veil. If I have time, I will revisit this.

2. GOD IN SPACE. In an expressionist splurge on photoshop I have designed a series of four large paintings of ‘Icons in Space.’ They are a ‘mash-up’ of worlds that I love. Loving the landscapes of Mars, Moon and Venus and other science fiction themes, ie the skies of deep space, and also the beauty of the byzantine figure. I will enjoy working on these, and hope to finish them by July. I’m not going to show you the designs online, you’ll have to visit me in my Christchurch studio if you want to see them… : )

REFERENCES (to be completed)

Lossky; 1944

“The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross”

Starr, 2012. Review of Veiled Images at the Akkron. Rretrieved from http://starr-review.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/robert-stivers-veiled-images-at-akron.html

Uácinowicz, Jerzy; 2010. NEW LIFE OE ICONS IN ARCHITECTURE: APPLICATIONS VERSUS SYNTHESIS. Faculty of Architecture of Biatystok University of Technology: Bialystok, Poland.

Between the Hidden and the Revelation

In my artwork I have been layering materials, seeing into cracks, peeling back surfaces, exposing origin layers of ‘chaos’ beneath the paint – perhaps trying to get to the bottom of something ‘hidden’. And I have also been painting traditional sacred medieval icons, where the revelation of God is open, ‘present,’ revealed – where there are no ‘shadows,’ where heaven is directly engaged, where large eyes of saints and prophets stare boldly, directly, unashamedly into our own broken souls. Creating sacred objects that have a long established formal communication regarding God and faith.

“Angel of Time” [Work in progress]
But I think it is in between theses places, in the boundary between the ‘hidden’ and the ‘revelation’ – that’s where I want to work.