The Art of Transitioning

“Attention. Attention.” mimicked the noisy black-sheened saffron-billed Mynah birds. “Here and now boys; here and now, boys.” These lilting words startled Will Farnaby as he lay shipwrecked, resting among the mossy glades and olive shadows of the forest floor on the forbidden island of Pala. Aldous Huxley described Will’s near-death experience in his novel Island (1962), whose manuscript was salvaged from the ashes of his burning home in California.

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I thought of the Mynahs’ mellifluous words as I contemplated, in solitude, the “here and now” while watching these reviled non-native birds devour plant seeds attached to site-specific sculptures installed by British artist Marco Chiandetti for the Sydney Biennale 2016. His works “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” reminded me of global discussions about displacement, racism, refugees and identity that, perhaps, Will Farnaby conjured as he lay exhausted, wondering if he were dead or alive.

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img_8309.jpgChiandetti’s installations involve onlookers in a ritualistic performance as they circulate, slowly, around a series of aviaries housing these pesky scavengers. I felt sombre looking at the bleakness of the sculptures, such as the artist’s forearm covered in seeds, as they were pecked at and destroyed. The seeds then passed through the birds’ bodies and their remains lay on the ground. My eyes rested on the moist nurturing earth below that was punctuated by embryonic shoots, their tiny green tongues gasping for air and sunlight. This transition to re-birth that I was watching encapsulated the religious beliefs in gods and religious leaders such as Buddha and, in some cultures, the conviction that funeral practices treat the physical death of a person as a temporary interruption before the passage of human souls into an afterlife. In Egypt, birds, such as the phoenix, are believed to fly these souls on their final journey to freedom and eternal life.

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Set in the grounds of the neo-gothic Mortuary Station in Redfern, Stephanie Rosenthal, curator of the Biennale, and also London’s Hayward Gallery, has chosen this Victorian heritage building as the “Embassy of Transition”. This refers to the site’s former funereal use as a train station where bodies were transported to Rookwood Cemetery for burial. For the Biennale Rosenthal chose different historical buildings in Sydney to establish “embassies”, or safe spaces, to think and explore the “intersection between the spiritual and the philosophical” – the ethereal and ephemeral passage between reality and today’s virtual world of technology.

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It is interesting to think Huxley, a devotee of the psychedelic powers of the cactus mescaline might, again, be linked to the Biennale. In The Doors of Perception (1954) he writes that drugs provide a chemical catalyst to “open the mind and free the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures”. Huxley’s beliefs are based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead or Bardo Thodol, a book of instructions for the dying when “somebody is sitting there all the time and telling you what’s what”. This manual teaches the dying to control and direct their level of awareness, leading to liberation over a period of 49 days.

img_8285.jpgIMG_8285Rosenthal chose Taiwanese artist Charwei Tsai to build on the Buddhist themes of impermanence, emptiness, suffering and compassion. These meditative ideas resonate as one walks between giant burning incense coils hanging from the wooden rafters or lying on the cold black and ochre-coloured tiles of the Mortuary Station floor. All senses are alerted to a spiritual stillness, savouring the smell of sandalwood while mesmerized by the white translucent smoke pirouetting to the tempo of the afternoon breeze, ash falling softly on the hard tiles.

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img_8296.jpgTsai follows a practice of writing ancient religious scripts on organic materials such as tofu and mushrooms, her congregation watching their deterioration into decay and degeneration. In Sydney, she uses delicate brushstrokes and indigo ink to inscribe text of the Tibetan Bardo on each coil. As they slowly burned I reflected on the transitional period between life in a precarious natural world and death in a vacuous spiritual world.

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img_8273.jpgThese immersive artworks must take individuals on different paths according to their life experiences. Perhaps Huxley would have been caught in the metaphysical cosmos of his mind and used his fingers to count the 49 days to final liberation? Perhaps Will Faraday just wanted to be with the boys in the “here and now”?

 

 

4. Audrey – Hinkleys on Bay Street

Hinkleys on Bay Street – Friday – Mike Fielder. What have I done? No, hang on, this is all going to be good, she mouthed. She stretched her arms, wrists extended, fingers flared – in some vague sort of sublimation. Lucky no one can see me, she thought.

Audrey had lived alone for a few months, in-between flats, in-between jobs, in-between men- her life was not totally out of control but she didn’t really have hold of it as such – and was quite adept at talking to herself, discussing life issues, answering questions that no-one in the real world would even have bothered listening to. “It’s OK” said Audrey, “It’s OK”.

Audrey crouched on the floor, the phone was still in her hand, which was now quite clammy. She put the phone in her other hand but found that that hand was dripping with sweat, so sweaty that she could smell the salt.

Audrey breathed in. Her breaths were shallow at first,her breasts rising in short rapid movements, falling back rhythmically to their normally perky position. Her mind was spinning – slow down you idiot – control, control, just take control. Audrey let her shoulders fall and took a deep breath – slowly, through saliva-clagged lips, her mouth open and dry as she inhaled. her tongue felt like fungus as it rasped against the roof of her mouth.

Calmness came as she began to relive the previous evening. “All you did was speak to a stranger, who you met briefly when you almost drowned. He came to your rescue, you were in trouble, and he has bothered to ring and find out if you’re OK. You would have done the same thing.”

The horn of a car honked loudly outside Audrey’s window and snapped her back to sanity. She shook her head tossed her tussled her and went into the bathroom to take a shower. She looked in the mirror and said “you’re OK kid – you fell in the mud and now you’re going to wash away your nightmares – Hinkleys here I come.”

Audrey turned on the taps and waited for the water to warm up.

Images courtesy Google

3. Audrey – 0428 560 321 – caller unknown

sun

As the morning sun squeezed itself between the curtains Audrey picked up her phone. She felt grey, very grainy and grey, almost as if she’d been steel-wooled. She took her arm back and then flung it forward. Just as she was about to release her hand and send her phone hurtling towards the bathroom wall it rang again.

0428 560 321 – caller unknown.

“Decline or Answer”?

phone

Audrey looked at the red and green lights flashing on her phone. She felt as if her life was flashing by in a matter of seconds. Distracted by the incessant ring tone of “jingle bells” Audrey jabbed at the phone trying to get it to stop playing. By mistake, she pressed “answer” and not “decline”. About to throw the phone on her pillow, she realised that there was a voice coming from the phone. A male voice. In fact, rather an engaging, soft and sensitive male voice. She took the phone away from her ear and looked at it, half expecting an image of the caller to appear on her screen. Who is this she wondered? The voice was friendly, although not familiar.

“How are you?” the voice said. Suddenly last night came flashing back to her. It’s that man, that person who tried to stop me from, from leaping into the water ….

man on phone

“Fine” said Audrey, realising she didn’t know the caller’s name. Feeling somewhat relieved, but grateful that the caller couldn’t see what she looked like, Audrey continued.

“My name’s Audrey. What’s yours?”

woman on phone

“Mike. Mike Fielder. I just rang to make sure you were OK – you were very disturbed last night, frightened, scared and I really couldn’t get too much sense out of you. But today you sound OK, sort of. And I know this might sound a bit strange, but you trusted me with your number, and on reflection this morning, and after hearing you again – well, just wondering if you’d trust me again – trust me to meet you for coffee? A drink?”

Audrey swallowed, with difficulty, that sort of early morning dry scratchy swallow that doesn’t quite get past the back of your tongue unless you have it with water. She grabbed a glass and swallowed, a swallow that gushed past her tonsils and made her stand up straight.

“A coffee, a drink – why sure, that’s the least I can do to say thank you for last night. What about Friday, say at Hinkley’s Bar? Do you know where it is?”

“Sure, on Bay Street, down the end near Humphrey’s – see you there at 6.30pm?”

Audrey coughed, just a little, and smiled into her phone. “Sounds great – see you then!”

red and green drinks

2. Audrey – the morning after

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Sleep came easily, but spasmodically. Audrey pulled the pillow over her head. Audrey threw the stained pillow on the floor. Audrey looked at her mobile as she lay coiled in a foetal position, under last week’s dirty sheets – 0439 281 349. Who did I give my number to? Falling out of bed and dragging herself along the floor to the cold bathroom tiles, Audrey reached the edge of the grainy grey sink and pulled herself up, slowly, due to the throbbing pain in her forehead.

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It was at this stage of the morning, what time was it, that Audrey had to force herself to open her swollen eyes and look at hereslf in the cracked mirror. “Is that an overgrown walrus?” she thought. What went wrong with last night? As Audrey’s bleary eyes focussed, she was forced to see what others saw – it was not a pretty sight.

walrus

Gripping the sink, and fighting back tears Audrey repeated – who did I give my number to?
Seven seconds later Audrey was startled by her phone ringing – 0428 560 321 – caller unknown

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right brain v left brain?

I have recently taken up sketching classes again and thought I should try and do some of the left brain v right brain exercises to loosen up my creative spirits. It was an interesting exercise which took up several classes. I have included all four sketches, two being drawn with the right hand (dominant) and two with the left hand. I think they are amazingly similar and hard to tell apart. It was much easier than I thought, apart from the occasions when using the left non-dominant hand the pencil went in the opposite direction to what I was thinking and a couple of times I couldn’t move it at all – it was sort of stuck to the page!

Would love some feed back on which two you think are with the right hand and which two with the left, and if anyone has had similar experiences?

One

left brain

Two

right side

Three

left side 1

Four

right side 1

the mask – uncovered – daring to live

mask copy
The Mask I wear.

Hooded eyes, hide

a lifetime. Of terror.

Strenuous, tenuous lines that

shape a face.

Are two holes a nose, or spaces that

inhabit lens to view the world

and seek our souls?

1. Audrey – through glazed eyes

Audrey had had a shit of a week. Lost her wallet, lost her boyfriend, lost her job. And it was only Wednesday. Consoling her losses she headed towards the Bay, took her shoes off and walked absent-mindedly along the pier – and that was when she lost her new Manolo Blahniks. One floated and one sank as passers-by held her back. Drowning would have been the happiest way to end that week. Crying uncontrollably he took pity on her.

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Vulnerable and lost she felt her head rest on his shoulder. The tears smudged her mascara and left black streaks on his linen shirt.

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He lifted her face and softly wiped away the tears with his forefinger. Startled by the tenderness Audrey looked up. He held her stare and she looked away. She started to walk away and then turned.

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She reached out and touched his face. With trepidation he asked for her phone number – 0439 281 349 she answered – let’s talk next week?

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Sleep came easily …

Courtesy of Google images

Hilary Scarf’s legs

H2

It was the noise of the waves pounding on the rocks
that shook Hilary Scarf awake.
In shock she opened her eyes, rubbed them blindly
and threw her head back into the foam.

H3

Where had she been last night? Now she lay
cold, shivering
the sea lapping and slapping her nostrils.
The rocks grazed her naked body,
the salt stinging
blood seeping from the scratches.

H

How long had the waves been savaging her body?
Why was she in the water?
Hilary had no answers,
only questions that racked her brain
and left her lying motionless
energy sapped away by the powerful seas.

H1

Hilary Scarf tried to lift herself
but crashed to the rocks again.
Her muscles felt drained
soft bumps under shrivelled
blotchy blue skin.

H8

Hilary looked down, past her navel
to a place she knew well
a place where her long legs had graced her body.
Shredded remnants remained, flesh succulent in colour
nerve endings excruciatingly bare.

H5

Hilary had no further to fall but she felt the thud
as she slipped away from reality.
Her legs, a legacy held her firm
An ankle she could not feel
embedded in a shallow pool under a large rock
grounded her and saved her from further injury.

H6

Rescuers found her battered body three days later.
Her story remains unsolved.
Images of her legs will haunt me forever.

h9

flesh of the trees

The bark lay stripped in layers.
She lay stripped, bark peeling from her lower legs.
It had been a cruel night.
Bushfires had ripped the skin from her inner thighs
leaving open wounds
left alone to heal by the blowing wind.

B8

Someone found her, later, alone
quivering in the evening breeze.
With re-assuring hands he held her softly
but with a firmness that comforted.

B

Layer by layer he plied back the singed skin.
He laid her on the ground.
She cried gently, simmering and simpering with sounds
that would be etched on his ears forever.
Woeful, painful noises oozed from the tattered,
ragged edges of the wounds.

B1

In the dying minutes of the late winter afternoon sun
her legs turned from the red and yellow raw of day
to the dim haunts of evening grey, gray,
muted sienna, the raw umber of a paint tube
squelching, in soft spurts as she relaxed,
resigned and wondering if she’d see the breaking dawn
pink and shadowy on a winter’s morn.

B6

Sleep did not come easily and like her legs,
was patchy.
Yellow and orange, amber resin, gel-like liquid
seeped down her thighs.
He gathered twigs, protection from the cool breezes
and soft grass, to soothe and cover from the ashes swirling
in the air.
Laden with dirt, the air fell softly on her open sores.

B4

The days and nights merged into weeks
and in time
months. But with that time, so her skin grew strong again.
Ribboned in red and purple her scars formed geometric designs
on her legs. Mainly linear in composition.
But she recovered.

B3

Fragile, new skin formed, nurtured
by the early morning dew. The skin was not elastic, but shiny
glove-like as it covered her calves.
Pointing her feet to the sky she lay quiety
the surrounding trees shading her from the lethal
rays of the sun.

B2

New skin stretched along her legs
encasing toe to groin like a sheaf.
When stretched the skin became sheer
reflecting the blue from the sky
reflecting the green from the bush
reflecting the purple from the mountains.

B7

At peace again.

“Here’s looking at you, Kid”

It was in the small town of Dijon that we met,
A small village pitted with houses
Each pock-marked with windows.
Each house framed by the shadows of the mountains
mountains pink with radiance
shining on blue sapphire spires.

kirchner town

We had met in the summer of 43.
He was tall, bereted
always a cigarette gracing the corner
of lips
at times quivering
at times pouting
but always taut with desire.

man smoking

I also smoked.
Those were the days of dens
where people drank, snickered secret thoughts to strangers
where people drank
where souless lives inhaled
the smoke of others.
Where cameos were snapped and imprinted
on the brows of those they watched.

pechstein lady

It was after one of these nights of fire
where my head beat like a passionate drum
imprisoned by the warmth of absinthe.
Exploding in a cacophany of colour
darts of orange, red, blue, black and aqua
cavorting,
playful in the disintegration between a
dream
and reality.

head exploding

But indeed our paths did cross
again.
It was after the war.
Like children, wicked with desire,
we fled.
I think it was a haystack.
We ran through the forest, laughing
leaves covering our tracks
hands clutching, fingers clawing,
gently, at each other.
We passed others as we ran
naked lovers,
people grabbing at time
time lost in a warp of senseless hurt.
Flesh warm as melted butter on fingers
of freshly toasted bread.

in the part

Alone, at last
Where to look?
What to touch?
Debauched?
Only in the eyes of those who fear
a tender kiss.

faces

Two years of thwarted passion
exhumed.
Bodies entwined, as one
grabbing at needles
moonlight pervading.

heckel