Where the mind goes, there it grows
Clouds roll by sometimes looking like wizards
Upon being asked to contribute writing to such a voluminous publication documenting but a goodly fraction of the body of work brought forth to date, one could spend a lot of time considering the apparent inappropriateness of an ancillary essay. Its pace of change out-runs the ever slower writer, even one with obedient molecules. Also, this sort of volume, a veritable “thud” (an onomatopoeiac term for a huge document, suggesting the sound of it falling to a table), effects some sort of evasion, even a positive displacement of summative language. Luckily there are other kinds. (Summative is such a cringey art school word.) There are, for example, time traps, designed to slow people down, including the writer. Summer is a time of great promise to those who toil, yet a promise that few do more than glance at like a valuable ornament that one ought to be aware of so as to not flail arms or stumble or have too much fun in its vicinity. What screwy logic is this?
The somebody wand
In the face of a crowd, one can ground oneself in the observation of particulars. Take, for example, the work that won the inaugural Artspace Drawing Award, “Art school dream”. On it is a banner declaring in big hollow letters “Middle class art-space school revolt”. “Art school wet dream” used to be a term of derision didn’t it? As it stands, the work appears to be a sort of invocation, a concentrated, spidery field of will, as if each day is brought into line, threats deflected, and plenitude (or at least something) summoned from the ether. In the work there are indeed what seem to be spirituous ghosts rising, just as there seem to be tiny envelopes to send warnings to spiders in advance of waterblasting. “Calorific darling” is also scratched in there, a warning to those watching their figure, essential in any beauty contest.
Doing what comes naturalistically
There is a unsteady “pitching deck” virtuosity in his Rotring pen micro-rendering. (Calling to order this meeting of the tech-drawing section fetishists. Is it the lattice-shaped shelves that fan the flames of desire? I remember stealing a compelling rubber as a child out of that same mysterious love and my mother catching me – all I could think of saying was that I just wanted to see if it would fit in my pocket. Hell was I in trouble, under a mountain of vomited shame, the inverse of how a bird feeds its child with regurgitated food maybe.) It is such a spidery drawing. Light lines, but strong. Drawing like that is like a tent is to architecture’s buildings. The dashed rainbow really got to me. It invites a bat to pound in on its leather wings – in Russia the symbol of an underworld leader – normally a creature of the night.
Spiders are such mystical creatures, like tiny sphinxes. I had a thought the other day when I was lying on the daybed and the cat was lying on my chest – in a flash I had the possible genesis of the sphinx: an Ancient Egyptian was lying on his linen-covered reed-filled mattress, his female cat on his chest, and he too could feel the joining of their circuits, he and his familiar; an auric co-joining. His scene manifested in freaking huge monolithic sculpture in the desert. Years pass. Sand piles up. (According to the Koran, each time someone lies, another grain if sand is added to the desert.) Many people come and visit and say “now, that is a sculpture”. Living testament to the idea that if you stare at an animal long enough, the human inside of it stares back. And that cutting off a nose to spite a face doesn’t change anything, only adding tension and shame in the shame-prone, if that can be counted as change.
Delays, love triangles and codependent miscommunication
There is much scorn in the Silver Arrow tomes, also what might be a mock-Victorian schtick. I look at the couch in many of the Silver Arrow gallery/parlour drawings and it made me think about how it is said that some types of furniture encourage murder. For example, the couch could become, in an upset moment, a marker of psychotherapy, of the violence of families, of therapy itself (therapist=the rapist if we can hack semantics there). The artist told me that the owner of that particular couch died and that Peter McLeavey is just looking after it before it goes back to the family of the deceased. “I painted some brothel furniture in my show in Wellington this year” he offered. I suppose there is a fair amount of soap-operatic waiting for sex in life, and soap operas are little more than televisual eavesdropping sessions. He had already shown me some massage parlour floorplan works which reminded me of the sort of compact housing plans children make before they become aware of society.
All I knew about him before we started to converse, getting used to each other, two fairly prickly but soft passive aggressives (I never liked the way that word is used sneeringly – I am starting to think that passive aggressives are people who get upset but don’t like to inflict violence on others as it has been inflicted on them) was, apart from professional information, was that he had made a CD of the music of The Fall for a mutual friend. Scorn and generosity is not such a surprising admixture in a publication. I liked what he said to me, when I told him I had got through about half of the Silver Arrow: “I hope you looked at the pictures too”. He asked this “To see if you would flinch,” he said. When I asked him why he called it Silver Arrow – it sounded sort of Victorian and anonymous somehow – he said ‘it sounds romantic, like Cupid’s arrow or something’. I think it is also a little vampiric. (One of the good things about painting is if you don’t want there to be a reflection in the glass, you just don’t paint it in.)
He called a show “Largesse” once – in it there were “lots of pictures”. And of Silver Arrow he said he “liked the idea of calling it something like ‘generosity manual’. It’s kind of about that for me.” Good mannerism? Good people know that manners aren’t about using etiquette to make others feel inferior. For example, upon receiving a glowing review in the Listener, the artist wanted to say to the reviewer “Thank you for not humiliating me in public.” There is a lot of vulnerability in such a graphic exercise or admission. I keep looking at the can of worms figure in one large more finished painting. I guess doing anything at all, even nothing, is like opening a can of worms. It’s the sort of work books could probably be written about, if only a writer could keep up (his drawing is more like verbs than nouns). But as in a dream, weights get tied to our feet. And it could be called self-destructive to pay that much attention to another people, only I wouldn’t agree.
Crowds and power
In the collected drawing, lines are thrown to other things experienced, seen, read; spidery lines tickle and cloy the skin and must be wiped from the face as one moves through time and cobwebs strung across vector paths. Similarly, in the world of words, some shift and open spaces rather than close and petrify, like those in a book I fortuitously picked up this week. It is composed of fragments taken from years of journals, the fragmentary structures of one who writes each day into being. In it he wrote: “One sees thoughts stretching their hands out of the water, one believes they are calling for help. A mistake: they live below, intimate and very familiar with one another, just try and pull a single one out alone!” (Elias Canetti, The Human Province)
“The walls are alive”
The ornaments on the artificially distinct media shelves described in the Artspace contest work are not still life, rather they look like they might bite, or burn. The ornaments don’t stand in for wealth not yet liquidated; they resist the stasis often wished for in the art of the busy. Here images burn like fuses, each to his or her own, some horrifically. An affective figure in his recent output, for me, a white kitten sparks and hisses along through time and space. The creature jerks me out of where I thought I was summoning a reminder of a lost white kitten that I did not let stay in our house, at a cruel flatmate’s behest. I turned it out, left the house, and came back to find it in the gutter outside our house stunned dead and cold, its ribcage heart-breakingly bird-like and tiny, my neglect written in letters reaching to the stony skies. I let the partly white cat I have now do absolutely whatever she wants, and champion her whenever need arises.
Not on my life-boat!
The compulsive volume of his work, and the way in which his drawing pen often turns to writing are two aspects that came together yesterday as I read the weekend newspaper. There was a frightening article which wondered if some sort of pharmacological miracle had not taken place in the discovery that a drug, Topiramate, used to treat Tylenol overdoses and cystic fibrosis also seemed to quell addictive urges across a plethora of manifestations – both chemical and behavioral. The journalist chirped along and right across two hideous side effects, in turn, of this drug’s use – drowsiness and a difficulty in calling up words – as they were of no consequence. Not an awful lot of use to people, I thought, who want to use words, or, as a friend added, or who care about anything at all.
“The unintelligible writing is where the part in the argument is unintelligible”
Warnings might be issued to beware all sorts of lobotomy over the Christmas/New Year period. His word use, however, is less about assertions of any sort of conclusive nature, and more about utterances; or perhaps, more disintegratedly, mutterances. They, at first glance, often seem to offer a disclosure, like discarded notes spotted in drifts of leaves on the footpath. These are most often shopping lists or addresses, just as the notes in his works often tail off into unintelligibility. They might be able to be worked out, but it seems just wrong to pay too much attention to them; sort of nosy or something – like how you are not supposed to read someone’s open upside-down appointments book, even if it is in front of you. Here, however, the water of disclosure is muddied, and this sort of suspension doesn’t settle.
Thinking in a space keeps the walls apart
I think artists are right to be suspicious of writers, because when they write something like on a work, they mean it. Aldous Huxley had something to say about this, warning that words can have a petrifying effect on that which they describe. I went to a lecture the other day about Futurist architecture in which gravity and lightness in architecture was a theme. It seemed like a revolution against the heaviness of language as much as other sorts of disastrous crushing arresting weight. These architects sought an increase in vitalist energies, and worshipped verticality, flight and movement as a panacea for all ills. Likewise, the paintings in his last show seemed to seek freedom in opposition to matter. Aspirational structures reach upward, as do architectural follies, ladders from fires, structures made from load-bearing threads, stacks, helium-filled sheep and rabbits… Paradoxically, the lecturer offered, lightness can both be cancelled out by definition, and nourished by philosophy.
Few sanitoria remain
It is for this kind of reason that his work might be better described as drawing than painting – drawing being understood as a practice, like dreaming, that generates ideas. (It is daunting to write about one who has such focus – can he breathe under his own water?) I smiled to hear that he devotedly trained himself to make art in his dreams while he was at art school. I was impressed that he would take the life of his sleep to make work too. I admire people who suicide from what their parents wanted for them(selves) yet I am not prodigious or prolific. I enjoy the sensation of time’s wind in my hair. (I am reading the The Magic Mountain at the moment, set in a Swiss convalescent hospital. Its author, Thomas Mann, might say I am an oriental in my idealization of wasted time.) I do, however, write in my sleep sometimes.
Black was decomposing quickly
I am, I should disclose, writing from the point of view of someone who may have possibly paid too much attention to dreams. I have been writing them down since early 2002, yet I am surprised at how dreams accumulate, like how a slug might grow a strange but lovely shell. I started doing so in a period of convalescence from physical malady, and found out much later that Jung prescribed, for a neurosis cure, that a patient merely write down his or her dreams for a period of six months. I have to say, I did feel a lot better. (I am, however, suspicious of the pathologising of dreams, and stay mindful of the way in which the German word from dream, träume, is surely etymologically linked to trauma in my own language. Something I resist, for example, is the idea that dreams are about anxieties, taking this as just another manifestation of how, in psychoanalysis and in Americanized culture generally, that there is much more emphasis in psychoanalysis on phobias than on philias.)
Walter Benjamin said that it was ill advised to write down dreams before you have bathed and eaten, as if doing so was courting psychological disaster. I think that is pussy-ass talking. What was he scared of? Staying with scorn and dreams, William Burroughs wrote a book of his dreams called My Education in which was a bit that made me think of the painting at hand: “One of the boys says he has ‘lost it’ and it is a long way down. As a test I raise myself three feet off the floor, but none of the kids in the office seem to notice anything, so I take odd into what I now call ‘my element,’ out through the clouds, and in fact sit down on a cloud, which I can do because I have no weight at all. Just floating, lonely as a cloud, and the view is so breathtaking and no fear of falling anymore. I got no body to fall. Just me and my shadow. Strolling down the avenue over New York. There is no hurry… no hurry at all.” (William Burroughs, My Education: a Book of Dreams, 1992)
The other morning I woke up laughing about a haiku I wrote in my dream that went . To be more specific, perhaps to a fault, these seventeen syllables might be more properly described as senryu, a haiku-derived poetic form developed in the Edo period, the same period that spawned ukiyo-e – literally translated “pictures of the floating world,” and arguably a major progenitor of the contemporary materialist-existentialist tradition. Senryu are different in tone and elevation from haiku, they stop short at the particular and deal in distortions and failings, not in the beauty of nature; or so says the Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. The greatest mysteries are, according to a popular science book our household received for Christmas, are those spread out before us. And, even then, their faces can be obscured – for example, camouflage, merely a new surface, was developed by cubists who said they were trying to camouflage the war.
Sleep knits the raveled sleeve of care
Architecture once used to be about challenging the formless, but these desires for order, and these pragmatics need not be carried into other (non-housing) spheres of life. There may be a floating quality to these paintings, but there are also sinking floors. In viewing the drawing competition work I alighted on a watery area at the bottom of the work – the night sea? “Call the water what you will. Lake Nightmare, Bog of Madness, it’s here the sleeping people like and toss together among the props of their worst dreams, one great brotherhood, though each of them, waking thinks himself singular, utterly apart” (Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”). Too lit-crit? Who gives a shit. Under the waterline life forms seethe, as do the inhabitants of the places our dreams come from. But not dreams in the hokey dreams-as-personal-theatre sense; rather in the sense of dreams as a site of vast and mysterious perpetual proliferating production.
And then we all passed out
Organ music in huge empty rooms, bug-out music of all sorts throws sense skyward. Prisms, the Hope diamond, refract light into rainbows which were made inane in the 1970s, symbols of love and peace from cheesy marketing campaigns for jeans that squeezed internal organs and made sitting uncomfortable while proclaiming freedom. Such rainbows often incite Zabriskie Point explosions, atomisations of anything annoyingly insistently concrete. Explosives are not just chemical, they can be as simple as stopping trying to hold everything together. The arbitrary joyous matter depicted is suspended in the air at the tip of a parabola where time stretches and gravity’s power to remember what it is doing is weakened, woolly-headed and content. Knowing what you want is no use up here. I don’t think that it is surprising that many people misspell this artist’s name McCloud. We are all subject to currents, and as a result are often leaving. After all, we all have our own lives to live.