Archive for May, 2010

Imagination in the Plastic Arts

May 27, 2010

Imagination in the Plastic Arts

by Tim Hazell

 “Somehow, we feel, the water of the physical brain is turned into the wine of consciousness, but we draw a total blank on the nature of this conversion. Neural transmissions just seem like the wrong kind of materials with which to bring consciousness into the world.” – Colin McGinn

“My souls are like birds

And the wings and bodies are dreams.

With these I am now ready.”

– Jivaro chant from the Amazon Basin

The significance of a good poem and secret of its power may lie in its capacity to refer to concepts and feelings that are not definitive. We can value it for its own sake, reacting effectively on two levels, mentally and sensuously, for the flow and visceral aspects of the words themselves, and, on another, coming face to face with essential mysteries about our own nature and humanness. This is because a poem leaves so much to the imagination. In the pursuit of chimera we encounter sunlight and shadow, sensitized to other possibilities. In the process of forgetting and remembering things unseen, Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was free to listen to voices from other constellations. “Adam Cast Forth” reveals the Garden of the Tree shimmering like the illusion of an oasis retreating before a traveler on the red desert’s rim. Here is an excerpt:

Adam Cast Forth

Was there a Garden or was the Garden a dream?

Amid the fleeting light, I have slowed myself and queried,

Almost for consolation, if the bygone period

Over which this Adam, wretched now, once reigned supreme,

Might not have been just a magical illusion

Of that God I dreamed. Already it’s imprecise

In my memory, the clear Paradise,

But I know it exists, in flower and profusion…

States of daydreaming and clairvoyance have potent implications when interpreted as the basis for great art. In his cubist portrait of Marie Thérèse Walter, “Girl Before a Mirror,” Picasso’s corn goddess dreamily expresses an underlying eroticism. In other paintings of the 1930s his mistress frequently appears sleeping, head melding into the crook of one arm, adrift in fields of reverie, hair cascading in spirals of Mediterranean light. Rationalism succumbs to inspiration and the inherent spirituality of curvilinear lines. The repose of innocence was an embodiment of denial in the midst of the impending violence in Spain and birth pangs of its Republic. Twentieth-century art, like science, would become multifaceted, a hall of mirrors, illusion and implications. Interpretations of beauty transcended simple solutions.

References to the stuff of inspiration and flights of fancy are often complex and difficult to interpret, particularly in native societies where they are inseparable from symbolic behavior and ritual. These beliefs are still fundamental to understanding animism and totemism among Indian nations of widely disparate traditions today. In other societies as different as alien worlds, parallel allusions to visions and things unseen are laced with native concepts of dreams and transference. This entreaty by surrealist poet Guillaume Appollinaire touches primal sentiments through descriptions of shimmering landscapes, seen from the vantage point of his urbane, sometimes irreverent Paris perspective, art movement and philosophy. His pleas for peace , greater tolerance and the easing of imagination’s constraints offer the promise of deep adventure. Here is a translation.

Be indulgent when you compare us

To those who were ordered perfection

We who seek adventure in all places

We are not your enemies

We wish to give you vast and strange domains

Where the mystery of flowers offers itself to all those who wish to pluck it

In those places are new fires, in colors not yet seen

Flames and colors we must make real

French Fauve and decorative painter Henri Matisse spoke about his internalized process of seeing, conversations that became part of an ongoing body of literature connected with the psyche and perception’s role in art and society. Many artists, particularly in movements such as abstraction and expressionism, work away from nature, projecting form onto their retinas. Pure non-objective painting involves composing pattern with no references to images as they appear in space. Affinities exist between ways of seeing that are expressive and imaging as a process, and their relationship to the plastic arts. Just as all nuances and grains of spirit are eloquent to some degree, vision and the rendering of line and form with pencil and paint can run the gamut from flurries of action to strong intellectual processes of analysis. Objects normally experienced in one context are juxtaposed, creating new and tantalizing contextual situations.

Flights of imagination, represented by intensity of feeling, can’t simply be dismissed as accident and urgency without direction. When we think of spontaneous abstractions in limitless space, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) can be cited as an artist whose commitment was to liberate seeing from rigid conventions. Pollock’s nerves were exposed like an electric net in swelling and diminishing flourishes of random paint, applied with the ritual of a ballet. Freedom from the necessity to graphically recreate an object of perception meant liberation from the exigency to compromise. Concessions to realities of nature gave way to innovation and new perceptual experiences—new challenges for vision and imaging. Changing attitudes and mores in Pollock’s time are framed in the following statement. Uncertainty, anxiety and restlessness pervaded movements and schisms within interdisciplinary modern art.

“There was a feeling that the forms of the European tradition were played out, their possibilities exhausted—that verse must get away from rhyme and reason, that music must break the confines of the diatonic scale, that painting must reject the concern with imitating natural appearances that had been the mainspring of Europe since the Renaissance.” – Art Today

A concern for surfaces of things, consequent revelations of their visible characteristics and the role of the poet as an observer was altered irrevocably with the advent of modern verse. It was inevitable that an interest in sensation, perception and relationships to time and movement should occupy poets, spurred on by the innovations of their colleagues in fields of sculpture and visual arts. Words had freed themselves from representational illusion. Poems revealed external and internal aspects of form, situations and emotions simultaneously. A new unity was created in poetry of the 20th century, a plastic unity along with a new perceptual reality. Modern poetry demands more of us than just an act of recognition. It persuasively affects our consciousness at deeper psychological levels inspiring new thoughts and feelings by virtue of its particular characteristics. Hard as diamond, “On Recalling The Plumed Serpent” by Mariano Sanchez is faceted, crystalline.

Dear man

elbowing cadaver

unminted spectre

your eyes

like the first vibrant serpent’s eyes

drew the fine filament of substance

spun

therein spiraling echos: nebulae rings,

breast riding waves

formed by the stone, the atom of truth

dropped in the fathomless entrails of life;

comets also,

and infinite kites,

flirt in your eyes,

rebuke

the dread whore in man.

And yet at times your eyes ripe

as a pair of honest nuns

References to perception and flights of imagination in cultures of the past and in our own with its technological and industrial base often have religious connotations. The word “sacred” is still invoked when speaking of human relationships, origins of the creative muse, and therapy. In native societies, rhythms of planting and harvest, the reparation and manufacture of ritual objects, tools and musical instruments belong to a world of transient things. Native oral and written traditions exhibit concurrent developments of major themes, personal expressions and perspectives throughout the Americas. Fundamental human emotions were revealed in religious poetry, philosophy and humanism, popular songs, bawdy entertainment and theater. Cultures have left us rich chronicles documenting the fragility of life and beauty’s transience. Indigenous tribes and great civilizations shared the view that struggles for existence must be juxtaposed against nature’s awesome power and omnipotence. Overwhelming odds that challenged and segregated communities produced works reflecting wonder, terror, humility and dogged perseverance as the following example shows.

We only come to sleep,

we only come to dream,

each spring of the grass, that is how our making is,

it is not true, it is not true that we came to live on the earth,

it comes and sprouts, it comes and our heart opens corollas,

our body gives out some flowers, it wilts!

– 15th century Aztec

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Two Solitudes

May 26, 2010

Two Solitudes

by Tim Hazell

Goodnight friends, lights of the city!
A bullet between your space and mine.
I return to an immense silence,
Leaving your thronged pavements to the unfaithful
Who emerge, as always, after the sun has set.
Your mountains surround, but only serve to trap
The stagnant and immobile air.
The ardent shadows of your towers conceal poisons.
I would rather search bald hills
For veins of silver.
It has been done before. It can be done again
By wanderers who still cherish the element of surprise.

Paying no attention to where I’m going.
I pilfered your gift for radar…
You loved me once,
Therefore I cannot lose.
I will not be swayed, or end my numbered days hypnotized
By my reflections in your thousand windows,
Chaotic forces, canted buildings,
Back streets, monuments, pendulums.
Grounded and content,
I want to see you from a distance, but not at any price.
Think about it!

What is the difference between
Endless pleasure, seduction, speed,
Virtual reality, and liberated illusion?
Images spring to mind, meld.
The body language of birds and predators,
Our gavotte between tables after hours,
The meagre results of the chase.
One must be delirious to race through
Several lifetimes like that,
Or unaware of lives previous, pulled apart by unstoppable currents.
You and I were linked together, joining the herd
In the industrial quarter under the black rain.

You said, “Welcome to Paradise!”
But men, women are not miracles,
Only half finished bridges between
Mute things of flesh and sex and the angels.
You were misguided but generous in your fashion.
I feel so helpless watching you sink,
But must cut and run before it is too late.
I can´t remember waking up.
I just became aware of all my senses at once,
Nerves stripped bare, worn on the outside
Like an electric net.
I have the strength now to say it’s over.

Good night friends, lights of the city!
I see the armies retreating, disenchanted.
Soon the body will have no heat.
There are already vandals in your alleys.
I must preserve my dreams in colour,
Not black and white.
I became as empty as your plazas in the end.
Your lamps are burning even in the daytime,
Inside the cavities of structures without entrails,
Of confident, arrogant, blind stainless steel and glass.
Your air smells sour and sweet.

Sentinels, gaping forms of muscle and bone,
Parchment and hair are everywhere down,
Recumbent and ablaze,
Samaritans perhaps,
Keepers of a temporary surrogate life of wax
That shines and drips,
Creating dignity at the finish.
Temporary, to be extinguished amongst carnage.
Your powerline arteries writhe like serpents.
Everything will soon be wet and decrepit.
A verdant apocalypse is coming,
Yellow, orange and red.

I gaze into a mirror.
My younger self hovers nearby,
Giving me back the freedom to
Walk on forever.
If we are introduced again,
Keep our secrets intact.
Wear a poker face and expect nothing.
Try to feel nothing at all.

Savour the diamond memories.

A Dish of Fish

May 23, 2010

A Dish of Fish

by Tim Hazell

“Take a fine mullet and thrust it like a torch into the living flames.” – from The Deipnosophistai (Sophists at Dinner) by Athenaeus.

Seas have singular characteristics and their inhabitants play interactive roles. Fish evolved from primitive chordates during the Cambrian explosion, about five hundred forty million years ago. Striking adaptions to the nature of their environment are seen most clearly in organ specialization. Deep waters provide challenges, where adapting to intense pressures, cold and absence of light from the ocean’s surface result in dramatic designs and innovations. The scant illumination that reaches these depths, below a few hundred meters, is predominantly blue. Nevertheless, many fishes use this light to hunt by, navigating towards their targeted prey by following their movements as dark silhouettes cast against residual luminescence.

Fish possess the unique lateral line, an organ of sensations running body length from midway behind the gill slits to the tail. They use this nerve network to “taste” their prey and interpret its movements – or anticipate an attack, from distances of hundreds of meters. Herbivores such as parrot fish glean algae from reefs of coral in ecosystems such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, deriving sustenance from food ‘producers.’ Fens of algae and kelp, found at the base of the food chain, comprise the ocean’s photosynthesizers, dependent on carbon dioxide and light.

Fish are divided into groups according to their oil content and their uses in cookery are specific to classification. White fish are so called because their oil resides in the liver. All are sea dwellers, and Britain’s waters are renowned for their range and quality. English trawlers, fishing factories that gut, clean and deep freeze on board are active as far north as Greenland. Spectacular hauls are made off Newfoundland’s coasts. Flounder, turbot, cod and the coveted Dover sole lend themselves to poaching, baking or grilling whole or as steaks, cutlets and filets. The roe of many of these fish is prized for its delicate flavor.

Oily fish have their high levels of beneficial omega-3 fats distributed throughout the flesh. Some thrive in salt water while others are captured in freshwater lakes, rivers and streams. Signs of a really fresh catch include firm, even textured flesh, clear, full and shiny eyes, bright red gills and a clean smell. Herring are classic members of this group, more widely consumed when cooked fresh, pickled or smoked as kippers, than any other fish. Carp attain a great age, evoking the literature of Taoist sages. They are associated with good fortune and wisdom. These rotund, toothless inhabitants of sluggish rivers, lakes and ponds have small, weak mouths with appendages called barbules. Mirror or king carp, regarded as the finest variety for the table and come from Israel. Stuffed, baked or braised, all require a minimum of three hours of soaking to remove their muddy smell and taste.

Trout and salmon should have bright, silvery scales, red gills and close-textured flesh to be absolutely fresh. Common trout such as rainbow are domestically reared on fish farms and available year round. River and sea trout are superior, with light salmon flavor and pale pink flesh. Baked in foil, grilled or fried, they are legendary among gourmets and aficionados of the cookout. Trout require no cooking when smoked to an aromatic brown. Salmon are revered as messengers of the gods and symbols of prestige among indigenous tribes of North America. Salmon, widely held to be the king of fish, begin their lives in the sea, travel up rivers as adults to spawn and die. Canadian, Norwegian, Alaskan and Japanese salmon are available frozen, and vacuum packed if smoked. The Scotch variety has strips of tender fat between the muscle fibers and is considered the finest for the smokehouse. Small salmon weighing four to six pounds and a separate item for the kitchen are called grilse.

Creole and French influences converge in hearty fare common to many recipes, frequently heirlooms, from America’s old South. Homespun dishes such as fish and shellfish chowders cross rich and satisfying textures from soups and stews. Early centers for industrialization with the subsequent development of towns and cities, such as New England, providing alternatives with a more cosmopolitan flare. Fabulous catches teemed off the benign waters of the Pacific West Coast. Abalone and Pacific salmon were known and coveted since ancient times by native tribes such as the Haida and Tligit of British Columbia and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Black bass, clams and tuna, crab and lobster in quantity provided immigrants with a wild bounty from pristine waters. To close, I’d like to offer a simple recipe for salmon fillet wrapped in foil or parchment paper, if available. Options for this recipe include cod, flounder, red snapper and one of my favorites in Mexico, baby shark.

Salmon Fillet in Parchment Paper

1 1/4 pounds skinless salmon fillet cut into 4 equal pieces

2 hard cooked eggs, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

1 tablespoon fresh dill or fragrant green herb such as parsley or coriander

a good pinch of ground white or black pepper

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon lime juice

Place each piece of fish in the middle of the sheet of paper or foil. Spoon the egg, scallion and herb mixture over the fillets. Fold sheets into tightly closed pouches, place on a baking pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven. Place on individual plates and serve steaming hot from the pouch. Excellent with new potatoes.

Wetlanders

May 23, 2010

Wetlanders

by Tim Hazell

Open your door and listen for my call.

We go to the well, you and I, to draw water from it.

Water for the thirst of the God,

for the thirst of ourselves and our children.

Water for the thirsty pot over the fire

in which we will prepare our food.

We wash our clothes at the river’s edge.

A boy leaves his belongings on a stone

and plunges in to luxuriate in his nakedness

and the water’s caress.

He will bring this ceremony back with him

and carry that exquisite torrent in his head.

The tropical sun is out but it’s raining.

Light hits the droplets and they become dispersed mandalas

reflecting the spectrum, peacock radiant.

Water runs down the streets of our provincial town like rumors.

You can watch from the streaked windows,

daydream, cease to exist.

I daydream as clouds gather and a heavier rain begins.

My mother is asking, “What is that smell?” as she gets my bath ready.

I smell basil, black herbs – the water’s scent of all herbs combined.

The scent will emanate from fields and wildflowers

at river’s edge like watermusic to serenade the eternal summer’s night.

I expect to smell like this forever, like perfumed blood.

Today the sun does not dance, the water does not shimmer,

the green mountain does not smile.

A form made of water rises over the town church, hovers,

is gradually reduced by the sun, vaporized.

The wind picks up, keening in a woman’s voice,

wheedling like a crone.

This happens in front of me.

I see and hear and smell and touch and taste the experience,

flooded on the inside. I churn. My lungs threaten to burst.

I feel intensely alive at this moment, ignited by the natural water,

water that is mine, private, internal,

that no one else shall ever possess.

Today, the monsoon will grace this house,

each sad drop one facet of an insect’s compound lens.

The deluge a dark mirror of myself, my chattel, my neighbors.

The sodden earth receives, tomorrow will flower.

Afterwards I’ll press my ear against the smooth barrel of the cistern

to listen for its speech and know the voice of imprisoned water.

Another day of life, of nostalgia, begins,

infused with the odor of humus. I am unable to sleep,

ignited by the dawn, then pelted by the sky.

Salt flows from my eyes, my eyelids are of stone.

I cannot leave the bed, pass my hands over my body,

which now belongs to you alone.

My basket of memory empties as yours fills.

Your eyes appear on the ceiling of my room,

slowly descend and sink into the floor.

I remember that yours is the glance

that can persuade the clouds

to let out their hearts.

Wind, rain, conjure me up a purified soul!

A soul that shivers and is water essence,

blue, transparent, transcendent.

With this I may entice you back.

Water dissolves, reconciles everything.

The one arbitrator impossible to resist.

I’m sure to be acquitted after this long monsoon night ends.

The rains are persistent, insistent.

You will relent, no argument is strident enough.

Inside these four white walls,

I open the window to let the room breathe.

With the cool blast will come a rush of the imagination.

Turn to me now and say that you want coffee and rain.

I will pour, steam will rise, and we’ll both wait for the sky to open.

Water is still a mystery,

the clearest mystery I know.

When the clouds break, the earth runs,

sweet liquid enters our mouths.

It redoubles its dance on the roof tiles,

wakes the baby in the crib.

I am at the window, watching an old man

with carpenters’ tools and gnarled body

make his arthritic journey across the rivulets,

drenched and unprotected.

The rain helps us to sing.

We are silent now in front of this ritual.

Silent because we are small and rudderless.

We are not the originators of the song.

We have only dipped our hands in the water.