The myth of the wild man stretches back to the ancient tablets inscribed with the tale of Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality. As a barometer of the mores of society the wild man’s characteristics reflect topical fears and aspirations. If society is perceived to be corrupt the wild man symbolises natural wisdom, if society embraces convention the wild man represents anarchy. His character can also be assessed from the landscape he purportedly inhabits, a pastoral setting reveals an ideal to be strived for whereas the dark forest conceals the untamed savage.

Forest of Eden

Susan Eyre Forest of Eden

I wanted to discover a female counterpart to the contemporary wild man (an internet meme) I had placed back in the ancient forest.

Rather than a female on the edge of society I wanted a female at the centre of society.

Wondering who a contemporary goddess might be I was introduced to Bernadette by a mutual friend.

I spent some time with Bernadette, listening to her stories.  She is very proactive person in the local community and has had an impact as a campaigner for the Green Fair, uplifting some dark neglected spaces with vibrant mosaics, and more recently setting up the choir Shakti Sings recognisable in red with flowers in their hair who honour the earth through song and have become a mainstay at Glastonbury encouraging the crowds to keep the site clean. She has also established the Beacon Temple as a place of worship to honour the many goddesses in her own home. She kindly agreed to my taking some photos of her at home which I have used as basis for work focusing on connections between ancient spiritual beliefs and contemporary society. Her spiritual life requires that she gives up stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine as well as any contact with money. One of her missions is to uncover and document the ancient sites of goddess worship that have become hidden within the palimpsest of the city. The goddess Isis cropped up a lot in our conversations and so for one piece I used imagery from the ancient temple to Isis at Philae in Egypt, placing Bernadette within the sphere of the ancients yet maintaining her contemporary domesticity with her carpet and slippers. I was inspired by the exhibition Mirror City at the Hayward Gallery which refers to Jean Cocteau’s Film Orphée and the significance of a mirror as a portal to another world.

Considering Bernadette’s positioning as a portal between this world and the spirit world I screenprinted onto mirrored acrylic.

I am a portal

Susan Eyre I am a portal

In a second piece of work I took inspiration from the storytelling of Xanthe Gresham-Knight who weaves tales of ancient mythology into contemporary scenarios.  I used images conjured from her goddess tales such as the song of the white snake and the ear of corn she gives out at the end of her performances combined with wall paintings from Bernadette’s home to weave together the ancient with the everyday in a rich multi layered screenprint worthy of a goddess.

Her

Susan Eyre Her

At the RCA I was extremely lucky to be selected to have a masterclass with Susan Hiller who coincidently featured in the Mirror City exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. I have appreciated her work for a long time and share many of her interests.  It was an exciting and nerve wracking proposition to present my work to her. I had prepared a 10 minute power point as requested but after attending her lecture the week before felt this wasn’t perhaps the approach she would approve of. She seemed to find both the Powerpoint presentation and her in conversation partner for the lecture irritating. With her depth and breadth of experience she was going to be a difficult woman to impress.

She began by telling me that she finds printmaking to be an unsatisfactory medium to convey ideas. As I stuttered though my presentation I could feel her impatience growing.

I had used a favourite quote from artist Sergio Vega

“the concrete texture of perspiration” [ ] “that intimate battle with humidity – the monumentality of spaces, the exuberance of vegetation with that smell of ripe fruits, the exotic flowers in the never-ending heat, those sunburned colours, and the buzzing of mosquitoes, which, like fat angels of a tropical rococo, rue without mercy in the sky of Eden.”

She stopped me there and asked how the work I have produced so far addressed this problem of conveying such an experience.

I admitted I had not so far resolved this issue but have been thinking about this since. Sergio Vega also struggles with the problem of conveying an atmosphere, for example an experience of the forest rather than a depiction of the forest. The thing about the Tropicalia exported in the rococo style was its cleanness, its reduction to aesthetic – the mosquitoes  were not exported too. In his work Vega aims to show the sweat, the grotesque dictatorships, the poverty. It may not be possible to show all this in one piece of work but in a body of work over time maybe some of these issues can be addressed, even in printmaking. This is my challenge.

It was wonderful to spend a morning with Susan Hiller, she has an amazing mind – acute and resourceful. She did see a glimmer of hope in my etching Paradise HP2 and also in the spectrum print that was a chance discovery along the way.

Susan Eyre

Susan Eyre

Stephanie Rosenthal the curator of Mirror City describes the mirror as an unreal space, a virtual space like the world behind the screen where we spend more and more time. There was a lot of information to take in at this extensive show so the magical simplicity of Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq’s imaginings of objects from other worlds was memorable and his intense geometric black hole did pull you in.

Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq Black Hole III

Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq Black Hole III

Susan Hiller’s audio-visual installation Resounding (Infrared) relayed earthly accounts of possible extra terrestrial sightings mingled with recordings of static still audible from the big bang while the screen quivered and pulsed with coloured light waves.

Susan Hiller Resounding (infrared)

Susan Hiller Resounding (infrared)

The theatrical setting for Tai Shani’s performance pieces was set behind glass creating a sort of time capsule effect.

Tai Shani Dark Continent

Tai Shani Dark Continent

A world we cannot enter only dream of. In Dark Continent she fantasizes a utopian city of women, different characters in history represented by the Neanderthal Hermaphrodite, The Medieval Mystic and The Woman on the Edge of Time, all bearing the same face.

Tai Shani Dark Continent

Tai Shani Dark Continent

A pink fantasy of a genderless society.

Inspired to learn more about medieval mystics I signed up for an RCA reading group with Tai Shani. The text we were looking at was a section from Amy Hollywood, ‘Mysticism, Trauma, and catastrophe in Angela of Foligno’s Book and Bataille’s Atheological Summa’. Bataille identifies with Angela and seeks to experience the ecstasy she purports  to achieve  from a concentrated identification with the suffering of Christ on the cross.

Excerpt from the text …

It is impossible for me to read – at least most books. I don’t have the desire. Too much work tires me. My nerves are shattered. I get drunk a lot. I feel faithful to life if I eat and drink what I want. Life is an enchantment, a feast, a festival: an oppressing, unintelligible dream, adorned nevertheless with a charm that I enjoy. The sentiment of chance demands that I look a difficult fate in the face. It would not be about chance if there were not an incontestable madness. I began to read, standing on a crowded train, Angela of Foligno’ s Book of Visions. I’m copying it out, not knowing how to say how fiercely I burn  – the veil is torn in two, I emerge from the fog in which my impotence flails. (OC V 245; G 11)

Bataille opens his exploration of ecstatic anguish at the moment when World War II begins and claims that the war itself necessitates his text. Bataille finds his own tormented desire the very anguish that compels him to write reflected in Angela’s pages. Angela, the most important of the Christian mystics for Bataille, surpasses him in the pursuit of abjection and ecstasy.  He wants to be like her in her desire for and proximity to death: “I suffer from not myself burning to the point of coming close to death, so close that I inhale it like the breath of a loved being” (Oe V 246; G 12).

The discussion revolves around the idea of the rapture and how this ultimate dissolution of self over to ecstasy might be achieved.

Anselm Keifer had a major exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. I find his work very inspiring, the scale and exuberance of his paintings carved from the substance of the earth with all the pain and trauma of geological and social evolution. The gallery guide tells us he seeks to understand our purpose here on earth, our relationship with the celestial, the spiritual, and the weight of human history. He also has a fascination with the civilization of Mesopotamia and the story of Osiris and Isis.

1412 keifer Osiris and Isis

Anselm Kiefer, Osiris and Isis, 1985-87

At the summit of the pyramid is an extruded old television circuit board emanating golden wires and shards of pottery over the ancient steps to heaven.

I was intrigued by his use of geometry and references to ancient beliefs and mythologies.

Anselm Kiefer, The Rhine (Melancholia) (Der Rhein (Melancholia)), 1982-2013. Collage of woodcut on canvas with acrylic and shellac

Anselm Kiefer, The Rhine (Melancholia) (Der Rhein (Melancholia)), 1982-2013.
Collage of woodcut on canvas with acrylic and shellac

The Rhine (Melancholia) references Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia, an engraving dated from 1514 which appears to lay before us clues to the puzzles of the universe.

1412 Durur Melencolia

Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia

It was encouraging to hear Christiane Baumgartner talk about her work at Alan Cristea Gallery in such a down to earth manner, giving credence to intuition in her feel for colour and composition. She takes photographs of her TV screen and through diligence of process captures the flickering screen in a frozen moment. In her series Totentanz she witnesses the smoky death dance of a plane shot from the sky. Her work holds melancholia within it.

Christiane Baumgartner Totentanz 2013 series of 15 woodcuts on paper

Christiane Baumgartner Totentanz 2013 series of 15 woodcuts on paper

She seemed surprised herself to discover so much of her work references the war. Often her images may appear innocuous without their title which is what ultimately adds the layer of pathos removing it from sentimentality.

Chrisitane Baumgartner Wood near Colditz

Chrisitane Baumgartner Wood near Colditz

It is interesting how subtle shifts in the colour of paper and ink can change the atmosphere of an image. For the softground etching of the Chapel of Rest in Paradise Industrial Estate, Hemel Hempstead  I found a soft grey paper worked well with chine collé added over the windows. The grainy etching aged the building and using a lustre powder on the chine collé  reflecting opalescent when viewed at different angles gave the interior an other worldly aura that felt appropriate.

1412 Paradise HP2

Susan Eyre Paradise HP2

 

I aimed to take a piece of soulless architecture and give it some gravitas worthy of a resting place for souls.

 

 

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