member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life


This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo


(Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Reincarnation of Remedios

"Still Life Reviving," by Remedios Varo

Among the notes, stories, and letters that she never published is a letter Remedios Varo wrote to --if it was in her usual manner-- someone whose address she picked out of the phone book, probably for his very interesting name, or the very interesting name of his street, or some other significant detail. In this letter, she presents herself as the reincarnated spirit of someone he once knew:


“My dear sir,
I have allowed a prudent amount of time to pass, and now I see--that is--I feel certain that your spirit is in an advantageous state for communicating with me. I am a reincarnation of a girlfriend you had long ago. She was not exceptionally favored, speaking in terms of physical appearance: large nose, freckled skin, red hair, and a bit underweight. Fortunately, my current incarnation has only conserved the red hair as a physical feature. The rest...my friend, hot stuff! Greek nose, seductive curves-- without being fat, I benefit from unparalleled abundances and, bottom line....so I have a few wrinkles? An insignificant detail equivalent to the noble patina that all objects of good quality attain.
This reincarnation wasn’t simple.  After traveling first through the body of a cat, then through an unknown creature belonging to the world of speed--that is to say, one of those who pass through us at more than 300,000 km/second (which is why we don’t see them), then my spirit poured itself, unexplainably, into the heart of a piece of quartz. Thanks to an abominable storm, the electrical phenomena turned in my favor and lightning struck said piece of quartz, rescuing my spirit, which spiraled out to rest in the body of a woman of ample flesh who happened to be around. I am satisfied with my current circumstance, so I am taking a chance, writing you with the hopes that you haven’t forgotten me.[...]” (my translation)

Note that she passes through all these lives while the guy she’s writing to is still hanging around in his one, unchanging (unevolving) mind-body--her travels through life have been so extraordinary that she is no longer the same person at all, though physically it might seem that all she's done is gain a few pounds and a few wrinkles...

“The Immured,” by Remedios Varo; Maybe the atoms of the people who lived there before now form part of the wall; maybe their human forms are not complete because they still shed atoms, some forming the bird, others growing into a yellow flower, watered by the umbrella someone left behind which will now--won’t it--carry some piece of the couple with it when it is next taken somewhere else..

Bill Bryson starts out his Brief History of Nearly Everything  in a manner reminiscent of Varo’s letter:
“Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.
To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It’s an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once.”

He goes on to say something that suggests Varo’s following the right path:
“The average species on Earth lasts for only about four million years, so if you wish to be around for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must be prepared to change everything about yourself--shape, size, colour, species affiliation, everything--and to do so repeatedly....So at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground, lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and a million things more.”

So, spend time understanding cat-hood, upping your velocity, and experiencing yourself as the jewel you have actually been and still, in some sense, are--because you need to be ready. (And all this practice is great for developing a wider perspective, which might just allow you to see the necessary steps to your next evolution more clearly.)

by Remedios Varo
In The Book of Barely-Imagined Beings, a 21st century bestiary in which he describes the impossibility of living beings we know actually exist and the amazing ways in which those creatures interact with the same universe we do, Caspar Henderson says of the Sponge:


“But perhaps the greatest wonder is the insight sponges offer into how animal and human life as we know it came to be. The story starts with the discovery, first reported in 1907, that some species can be strained through a mesh so fine that only individual cells pass through and yet – in the right circumstances – form a new, fully functioning animal. And it continues with the realization that choanocytes, the cells central to a sponge’s functioning, closely resemble single-celled animals called choanoflagellates. 

Choanoflagellates are plankton: tiny protozoans that feed on even tinier bacteria. Thousands or even millions will be in a bucket of water hauled from coastal seas. They often thrive on their own but they also tend to form colonies of cells that are all alike but benefit by sticking together. This characteristic is far from unique; many bacteria and single-celled organisms do the same. What is unique is that the genes choanoflagellates use to manufacture proteins that stick their cells together are very like the genes found in all multicellular animals for the same purpose. Indeed, the match is so close that it seems almost certain that we evolved from them.”

So: divide the whole into all its little parts and then....create a new whole. Fully functioning, there it is. And humans developed from the same basic parts. So, if you were, like me, snorting with laughter as you read her letter to her estimable remembered “friend,” think again. Maybe you, too, have a cat tail .

Simpatía, by Remedios Varo: She has *several* cat tails.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Maki Horanai: Creating the Universe


by Maki Horanai

Ocean whispers.
I am hopping on that sound.

Feeling the tickle of the roots from my toes,
I am departing from the ground.

My bird soul is gently lifting off,
Simply defying gravity.

Brushing the Moon and the deep Sky,
Into the Gold background I fly.

                   --Vesna

by Maki Horanai


Maki Horanai's paintings are moments in which quietly-focused beings create the details of the world we find most startling or inspiring.
Above, the figure pulls the sky over the burning gold fire of the firmament, perhaps to 'ease' the burn of the sun and stars, protect our fragile flesh, allow us life. The sky crosses outside of the canvas, reminding us that this is not a painting, it's an act, a moment of magic which directly affects us. Birds cross from the sky, across the gold and into the red (pulse of life) of the dress, their flight covering layers of being... It is an act of love, a defiance of gravity.

Maki Horanai: Creation of the Forest Song
In Creation of the Forest Song, the mother and child have created a nest, with an egg or a piece of land/rock and a small sapling, to give the bird a place to safely create its song. At the table are other little bits of creation. The child (with a 'child-like' eye, curiosity, and faith) is the one with angelic wings, the one who has produced the safe place for the little bird.


"Carried Away," by Maki Horanai

A figure reads a book, the ideas working through his mind and body via the pedals and wings and pumping upwards, again into a billowing cloud of golden flame (the fires of creation), to make a small community, a place of human life, trees, mountains, a lake. The ideas grow wings, become alive, real...

by Maki Horanai
And another such beings rides a horse, carrying a small rock or egg with life creeping out of it in the form of a small, glowing seedling. Civilization seems to grow only as a development from this creative impulse and focus and care; the horse itself is stone and yet the figure rides, and spanning out from the pair are cities, and three significant stars, like some cross between the 'Guiding Light' and the three wise men.


by Maki Horanai
by Maki Horanai
She creates the window frame and a square of blue sky for the bird out of endless space; on her back is a hand-wound gramophone to teach the music.

by Maki Horanai

by Maki Horanai
"My work has been strongly influenced by the nature of my childhood. I grew up in snowy villages along the sea coast in northern Japan. The severe power of the ocean, together with the pure, clean, quiet atmosphere are deeply embedded in my memory. When I was sleeping, the sound of waves was always in my ears. Away from city lights and tall buildings, the stars and moon were always present overhead at night.
I adore the gold background of old paintings of both the east and west, and, as I started to paint, elements of this style surfaced in my work. The works of Giotto (14th century), Fra Angelico (15th century) and Kano Eitoku (16th century) have particularly impressed me.
I’m not consciously aware of the meaning of my paintings as I work. If I know it, then probably I can’t paint. Towards the end of each painting, stories make themselves known to me."--Maki Horanai

by Maki Horanai

by Maki Horanai
The text: "Some years ago I was standing on the shore, watching the crescent moon in the sky. It was very close to the ocean, almost touching it...I was wondering what kind of sound the moon makes as it descends into the sea." The painting on the left is "The mind in the heart of the moon," the center painting is "on the path down to the sea", and the third is "spinning slowly."

by Maki Horanai
"Nurturing Music" by Maki Horanai

"Unfinished Constellation" by Maki Horanai
She now lives in Queensland, where she holds yearly exhibitions at Marks and Gardner Gallery on Tamborine Mountain.
"Moments of Connection with the Universe," by Maki Horanai
by Maki Horanai
Discovered Via Birdy, who also is offering for the second year the Snail Circle--this was really wonderful the first year and I encourage *everyone* to join: you are paired with one other snail-mailer per month, to whom you send a hand-written letter which includes (along with whatever else you write) a passage from a book by which you are currently being blown away. From this, you are certain to be exposed to many new books you otherwise would have missed, and many new friends all over the world. Join us by dropping her an email.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Art and Science

Book by Poly Potter
Cover painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins


“For you will learn to see most acutely out of/ the corner of your eye/ to hear best with your inner ear.”--John Stone

Established in the early 1990s, Emerging Infectious Diseases sought to bring both academic communities and public health communities timely information on emerging health issues. With such a goal, it was (and remains) important to reach as broad an audience as possible; it was intended not as an reference archive, but as a tool for greater communication. The founders and editors of the journal go about this task in a variety of ways, for example with web-publication as well as print, and with the inclusion of a section entitled  Another Dimension, which is a segment devoted to essays, short stories and poems relating to philosophical issues of science and health. Another method is by drawing the reader in with a full-color work of art emblazoned on its cover, which Managing Editor Poly Potter ties to the theme of each month’s journal in an introductory essay. Those covers, along with some of the most popular of the essays, have finally been bound--in the year of her retirement from the journal--into a beautiful book, wrapped in a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins


In her introduction to the book, Poly explains: “Art humanizes and enhances science content and educates readers outside their areas of expertise about important unnoticed connections. Art accomplishes this by infusing scientific findings with empathetic understanding--in a literal way, through the faces and places of traditional painting or completely in the abstract through new ways of seeing. Beauty, color, emotion, style, and the eccentricity and vitality associated with the artists’ lives and times, against the formality of technical prose, open up the possibility, indeed the capacity, for alternative interpretation of data, by introducing the metaphor. The metaphor, according to Aristotle, owes its strength to making possible ‘an intuitive perception of the similarity of dissimilars,’ by implying likeness. A bird is not human, but a single element in its appearance can invoke humanity, just as a single element in a plant’s appearance can distinguish its species.” xi

But--

“Amidst general enthusiasm about the use of fine art on our journal covers, some readers do question the ‘gratuitous’ use of color by a publication about science, decrying the cost and professing little interest in links to other disciplines. Science reviewers routinely reject Another Dimension manuscripts as ‘belonging in other venues,’ even when the science information given in lay terms is sound. And some in the art community are skeptical about links to science. Copyright permission requests for art images to use on the covers of Emerging Infectious Diseases have often been rejected by art institutions on the grounds that the art has nothing to do with disease emergence and might be degraded by any association with infection, even if the artists themselves have met untimely deaths from such infections or their community was ravaged by the plagues detailed between the journal covers. ‘For you can be trained to listen only for the oboe/ out of the whole orchestra.’[The line of poetry is from John Stone, cardiologist and poet, a contributor to the Another Dimension segment.]." xiii


What has come of it all is a beautiful coffee-table book with both pages of clusters of paintings and full-page covers (Picasso's La Guernica is a two-page spread that I couldn’t fit on my scanner), all in brilliant color and beautifully reproduced. But even more are the essays that link the art, the artist, the time period, the scientific theme of that month’s journal, and us. It is a book to dip into and discover new things, over and over.

Some of the pages feature several covers, while others are full-page spreads.


Painting by Archibald Motley


Sometimes it is the theme of the particular painting she focuses on to find her connections, other times it is the broader themes of a life’s output, and the impact of the personal history of the artist, as in the essay about Edvard Munch’s cover image:

Painting by Edvard Munch

From her essay on the above cover:

“‘Illness, insanity, and death...kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life,’ noted innovative Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Deeply affected by the untimely death of his mother when he was 5 and his 15-year-old sister when he was 14, he devoted his early artistic efforts to painting their predicament and the ravages of tuberculosis, ‘the wan face in profile against the pillow, the despairing mother at the bedside, the muted light, the tousled hair, the useless glass of water.’”
[...]
Munch studied in Oslo and traveled extensively to Italy, Germany, and France, where he took in the influences of his contemporaries (Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Gaughin), who were turning the angst of modern civilization into symbolism and stark expressionism. Preoccupation with decadence and evil pervaded the artistic and literary climate of the day. Darkness and horror inspired deeply personal, highly expressive art in a variety of styles, all of which fit under the umbrella of symbolism, as long as they embodied its peculiarly gloomy state of mind. The movement’s emphasis on inner vision rather than observation of nature captured Munch’s haunted imagination and engaged his moody genius.”
She goes on to talk about his interest in psychology and his ability to express terror and anxiety without monsters, but through unnatural colors and a sense of anxious movement. Then she talks of the painting itself,
“In Self-Portrait after the Spanish Flu, the tormented painter appears judge and victim of this pandemic killer. The terse yet unsteady demeanor, the puffy discolored glare, the quivering lines of fever and chills, only highlight the despair and isolation of the ‘grippe’ patient...”

...and so the art-lover learns something of the particular symptoms of the harsh epidemic...



Image by Fred Machetanz

The essays constantly remind the reader about learning to see in new ways, about studying something foreign until you can see the quality that makes it not so far from your own experience, and then expanding your understanding from there. In her essay on Fred Machetanz’s painting, which graced the January 2008 cover, she tells us:

“The art editor of Scribner’s once joked about a Machetanz painting, ‘You’ve put a cherry collored head on that Eskimo.’ The painter corrected him, ‘If you see an Eskimo under a golden pink sun, you’re going to see a red exactly like that...People don’t realize the colors that we get here. And then we have a longer change to look at those colors’ because of the long hours of daylight in the summer and late spring.”

In the cover painting, he showed a theme of everyday life for Eskimo men of his time (around 1935) which I would posit is not very similar to the everyday life of most of the readers of the journal. But the essay links this human experience to the disease issues of the Arctic regions, including those borne of the recent heating trends that are changing the environment and living conditions there so drastically.

Wood-Block Print by Hokusai


The essay on Hokusai is full of fascinating information, from start to finish, and again, you find the emphasis on keeping the wider view, or sometimes just refuse the usual view:

“In a traditional society of Confucian values and rigid regimentation, Hokusai was bohemian. Eccentric, rebellious, and temperamental, he cared nothing about convention and was reputed to move each time the notorious clutter and disorder of his home became unbearable. Legend has it that when invited once to paint maple leaves floating on the Tatsuta River, he drew a few blue lines and then repeatedly imprinted atop the scroll chicken’s feet he had dipped into red color. When his contemporaries drew the shoguns and samurai, he portrayed the common people, and when he painted landscapes, it was strictly from his own point of view.”

An interesting result of his stubborn insistence on his own point of view was that he mastered the techniques of his contemporaries not only in his own culture, but also in European culture, integrating different features until he had created something “which appeared Japanese to outsiders and Western to the Japanese.”

The theme of the month’s journal was water-related illnesses, and Hokusai’s tiny fisherman, facing this giant wave, presented to her an image of “human plight against overwhelming force,” which linked easily to many of the issues in that month’s journal, some of which were brought about in response to the 2004 tsunami.

Painting by Stelios Faitakis



A popular graffiti and mural artist, Greek painter Stelios Faitakis (whom I've written about before here) says of his art: “From the beginning, I chose to paint narrative pictures, like a still from a theatrical play: human characters in some environment doing some action--the simplest scenario possible,’ with hidden meanings, ‘as an extra for the more demanding eyes.’”
Here, the pathogen-vector, more commonly known as a bug, is front-and-center to the piece, hovering over everything....

The Call, by Remedios Varo
(sorry, this scan didn't process very well...)




Remedios Varo’s Call lit up the cover of the November 2004 issue, focusing on Women and Infectious Disease, and the author explored her particular blend of science and magic:

“To this expansive world, Varo brought knowledge of engineering construction, painstaking attention to detail, a penchant for philosophical discourse, and fascination with alchemy and the occult. The result was a personal approach to surrealism, the unified vision of a fantastic world inhabited by creatures of the imagination, moving freely in and out of consciousness, proposing new solutions, offering alternative interpretations.”

In this issue are studies focused on diseases that affect women, and Poly’s essay highlights the social issues which add to the difficulties of finding and implementing treatments and cures:

“Mysterious and provocative, the architectural stage is cluttered with conflicting clues. The walls are tall; the windows small and out of reach; the sky inflamed; the morbid folds props of oppression. Yet the floor is elaborately tiled, the doorways arched, the steps well-tended.  The stage is firmly cast; oppression is institutionalized. 

Varo’s enigmatic Call, part dream, part symbolic reality, seems at once a calling and a call to action. The flaming figure wears the signs and halo of science. Bathed in the light of knowledge, she steps forward boldly to dispel the darkness. In the painter’s surreal universe as well as ours, the female phantoms on the wall stand for poverty, confinement, disease. Overlooked by societies, biomedical research, and health care systems; battered by AIDS, malaria, and other infections; victimized by globalization; and stigmatized by the very diseases that confine and kill them, women slumber in the shadows. The flaming figure’s flask contains the science. Her call is a wake-up call.”


“It is difficult /to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.”--William Carlos Williams


Enjoy it!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Papa Legba

Papa Legba
Ink, 19x24 inches,  by Zoe Blue
In an interview with Paul de Angelis, Leonora Carrington stated:

“Yes, we distinguish life from death, but in my opinion things aren’t as they have been explained to us; I believe life and death must certainly be different for each person, like dreams are. I think that to understand something about death, first we have to understand the different places that exist within us, and dreams are one of those places; that is to say, the Paul and the Leonora of a dream are in some sense a different Paul and Leonora. It seems as if there exists a world in reverse: we have a body with which we go about different activities while our physical body remains inactive and asleep; with that other body we do things, go places, drive cars, ride a bike...” (translation mine).

In that vein, death could be more like passing into a different dream; it’s not that you end, but more that this particular relationship between you and your surroundings ends and you pass into awareness of a different relationship. It’s interesting to read the interview in its original Spanish (as printed in Leonora Carrington: La realidad de la imaginacion, by Whitney Chadwick), as you see the distinction between the two forms of the verb ‘to be’ reflect a significant opinion about death: ‘estar’ signifies being in an impermanent sense--to say that he is handsome today, or in that suit, rather than handsome all the time; ‘ser’ signifies being in a permanent sense--to say the man is tall and white.  But when you say someone is dead, you say “alguien está muerto,” a simple sentence, which when read this way removes much of the significance of death, as if it were simply a state that someone were passing through, as Leonora suggests above. There is a similar linguistic construct in Spanish when one speaks of the state of dreaming: where in English you dream of someone, in Spanish you dream with them: soñar con. I dreamt with her last night; there was a mystical meeting of our other selves in another place.



Papa Legba reigns over such meetings and crossings as the gate-keeper at any ceremony or attempt to communicate with the loa or the ancestors. He keeps this you from confusing with that you in your day-to-day activities, but he can allow this you to become conscious of that you, to borrow from or give to that you if you (and he) so desired. He can also reach into the ether, call up your dead relative and allow you a conversation outside of time. If we wanted to translate that experience into more scientifically acceptable phrasing, we could say that somewhere in your memory, you had a full model of that person (his perspective-paradigm) , and, given the proper mindset, you could actually converse with that model. That person’s energy, his spirit, exists in whole form across the memories of many people, and why shouldn’t we have the focus and commitment necessary to learning how to call up that energy and speak to it?

There is obviously something of love involved in that exercise, and love is of course attached to the sensation of ecstasy, and ecstasy is what is called up when the drumming of the voodoo ceremony starts and the swaying begins and turns to dancing. Legba is called upon in the midst of that ecstasy; in an ecstasy of love and full-force commitment to the event, we are able to do anything, especially escape the limitations of our meager perceptive blinders.

When I get on the subway, my mind is flooded with faces, words, sounds, the emotions of others. Out of necessity, my conscious mind ignores most of that information--my subconscious files it away without even asking ‘me’ if that’s ok, without ‘me’ even noticing. But if I decide to loosen the perceptive hold of that subconscious, to let go of the ego (my sense of me) that serves as the organizational structure of expectation and understandable experience that my subconscious works through, then I can have access to all the things that are happening around me that I don’t even realize I’m not seeing (recall the easily-missed gorillas here)--if I can somehow handle the overload.

For example, in Fringeology, Volk talks about the MRIs run on the brains of people at the peak of meditation, and how they show that during that peak the brain’s sense of spatial placement--you, there; me, here; person, thing, etc-- is completely shut off. All things, to the brain at that moment, are one. He gave the example of a subject named Robert, whose scans showed the same details as those found in the scans of the brains of Tibetan monks and Franciscan nuns:

“Looking over the SPECT scan, Newberg could see that the areas of Robert’s brain associated with judging distances, angles, and depths—in short, his position in space—had gone whisper-quiet. During normal consciousness, this area—the posterior superior parietal lobe—lights up on a SPECT scan with the furious red of active blood flow. This part of our brain has a lot of work to do. It keeps us from running into walls and missing the chairs we intend to sit in. Even when we’re still, in fact, this area of the brain remains active: always aware of which parts of our body are in contact with the chair, and which are floating in space; how far away the water glass sits on the table, and how high. But in Robert, during the peak of his meditation, the blazing red turned cool green and blue. The suggestion was obvious: Robert felt himself become one with the universe because the part of his brain that tells him where his body begins and the objects around him end pretty much shut down.”

But here’s where it’s taken even further than that by scientist Michael Persinger: once you’ve learned to shut down your ego--your sense of self-as-opposed-to-other-- you can, as I suggested above, move into the minds of others and hear them “speak.” MRIs show that you can experience the world as that other person:

“Working with an under-the-radar psychic named Sean Harribance, Persinger claims to have found a pattern of brain activity that correlates with psychic functioning. ‘Here’s the really exciting part,’ he says. ‘Here’s the wow. When Harribance has actually gotten correct information, his brain state corresponds demonstrably with that of the person he’s reading.’”

Going back to the sense of oneness and peace and union with a higher power all reflected in the MRIs of the monks and nuns and Robert, Volk says:

“The sensations these practitioners report aren’t delusion; they are the self-directed workings of the human mind, like a horse put under harness. And even more important, these positive changes in brain function, if practiced enough, transform our baseline mental states in incredibly healthy ways. The amount of scientific research into the neurological effects of prayer and meditation is still small, but it is growing quickly. And what we’re finding is that short-term changes in our consciousness, during contemplative practice, produce long-term, positive neurological effects. People tend to think of their personalities and ways of being as somehow fixed. And in science, these traits and flaws alike have been linked to brain function. But as Waldman put it to me, ‘The whole notion that our brains are hardwired for much of anything is wrong. The name of the game is neuroplasticity.’”

So, the drums roll, you dance, your ego loses its hold over you and a communion with all things--plants, rocks, animals, the dead, the gods and goddesses of our mythologies, our loved ones who are far far away-- becomes possible as your own specific traits and beliefs fall away. Don’t forget the ecstasy, because it’s key: love is key. And in this drawing, love is offered up with the pairing of the Hoopoe and the Nightingale, two birds with storied histories in several religious and folk traditions of leading the way to such unions of ecstasy; in the Sufi tradition, the Hoopoe leads all the birds of the universe to realize that they, together, make up the lord of the birds, God. In Aristophanes’ comedy, The Birds, the Hoopoe and his wife the nightingale guide the humans in their desire to create a realm of reality (somewhere between earth and the heavens) where they can live free of the political bickering and bloody sacrificial nonsense of normal human society.

And in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Nightingale, a small bird living deep in the forest becomes a favorite of the Royal Court and a source of fame for that Court world-wide. As a result of that fame, an automated nightingale is made as a gift to the Emperor, as a tribute to the real thing. At the moment of its arrival, the real bird disappears, and the people find that they are very happy with the automated one anyway, as its song is always the same, comforting in its familiarity, a song they themselves can learn and sing to themselves. One day, the emperor falls ill, and lies on his deathbed; a new emperor is chosen in preparation. The castle and courts are silent; mats are rolled out so that no disturbance should reach his room. No one comes to wind up his bird, and in the silence, the Emperor faces the harsh skeleton of Death and the whispering voices of all his deeds, all that has gone wrong and all that has been lost.  He cries out in agony.

“Suddenly, through the window came a burst of song. It was the little live nightingale, who sat outside on a spray. He had heard the emperor’s plight, and had come to sing of comfort and hope. As he sang, the phantoms grew pale, and still more pale, and the blood flowed quicker and quicker through the emperor’s feeble body. Even Death listened, and said, ‘Go on, little nightingale, go on!!’
‘But,’ said the little nightingale, ‘will you give back that sword, that banner, that emperor’s crown?’
And Death gave back these treasures for a song.”

It’s the real--not automated--bird-song that brings the dying Emperor back to life, convinces Death himself to leave him be. Being alive, not being automatic (even though what’s known and expected is comfortable and makes us, in a comfortable sense, happy) is how we stay alive. The surprise of the song, the chance, the pure joy that creates it, the love for the listener--these things bring life where routine, blind expectation, and an authoritarian insistence on one, carefully-swept pathway in life, brings death. And in the tale, the Emperor rises from his bed and continues his reign.

Papa Legba detail
by Zoe Blue


The Adonis plant, shown taking over the living side of the drawing, was created, according to Greek mythology, by the mingling of Aphrodite’s tears and the blood of her great love Adonis; it sprung up when the gods, moved by her immense grief at his death and her refusal to let his corpse go, agreed to allow Adonis to live half of the year on earth, and for her to follow him into the Netherworld for the other half. And again, love conquers any form of separation.

I am planning to model my puppet for Clive and Peter’s challenge on Papa Legba, but have not yet decided how I want to model his double existence as an old man and a young man (or even dead/alive); the maquette I made before split his face down the middle; here, the one rises up from the other. I don’t think I will use either method, but I do now have an idea... more on that soon, hopefully.

**Note: Legba is often shown with his companion dog, and here his dog takes the form of the constellation Canis Major, with its prominent star, Sirius. For the ancient Egyptians, this was the the star that rose for the beginning of spring and the floods--floods which replenished the soil, to make new life possible. It therefore represented Isis, protector of the dead and goddess of children, as it disappears for the 70 days that she went to the underworld to bring her brother Osiris back to life. For the Greeks, its rise signaled the dog-days of summer, when you might be ‘star-struck’ or crazy from the heat, as the dogs apparently were. The Polynesians, though, saw it as the main star of a Great Bird constellation (recall Legba’s association with birds as well), Manu, signifying the beginning of winter; so, the constellation is a mark of resurrection, of flooding and regrowth, of summer if you look from here and winter if you look from there--a dog to some and a bird to others. All issues, of course, of perception.

This one was also a present, for Gabriel. :)