Archive for August, 2011

Hare and Owl

‘The nightingale of poetry, like that bird of wisdom, the owl, is heard only after the sun is set. The day is a time for action, but at twilight feeling and reason come to take account of what has been accomplished.’ L. Trotsky – Literature and Revolution.

During the breaks from the daily routines and practicalities the imagination seems to flourish first in dreams, moreso than through observation or  in conversation. During this break, the Owl played a recurring ‘fly on’ role. The image, idea and form of the owl was everywhere from Bergen to Berlin and then Vis island. I felt happy and contented about this unexpected companion. Then, there is the ‘walk on’ part with the Hare along with a freakish cameo for a cat. In the telling of the – hare dream – I was deemed to be a ‘weirdo’ with a capital W by someone, who even derided me for being Hugh Grant-like, which wasn’t supposed to do much for my self esteem. However, Grant’s emergent role in the News International phone hacking story has, in some righteous way made me feel pretty good and good for Grant.

I will tell the hare dream that occurred around my birthday in June to get things started.  – “Part of last nights dream – two hares were in the bed – with fur like light and shining eyes – I had to check myself to see if I was dreaming. I left the room and it felt like home – when I went back in to see if I was still dreaming one of the hares had become a cat with its mouth on the neck of the other hare and its claws holding on. I said to the cat in silent communication – now you have to let the hare go.” This was a highly vivid dream but I decided not to try to analyse it because this way I can recall the visual imagery and sensation of the time states of the dream, the intensity of luminosity around the animal furs and the intelligence of their eyes. The intense phase of transformations was exciting and not fearful. My silently transmitted request to the cat felt wise and correct, simple and not complicated with desire. Instead of dream interpretations I went to the bookshelves for – The Leaping Hare, by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson. If there is a better book on the Hare, then I don’t know it and I am not referring here to Wonderland or the Looking Glass. Freud says that dreams do not judge but do bring about new forms for things.


The hare’s affinity with moonlight, full moons and moonlit spaces couples humanistic intuition into instinctive behavior. In the period when I worked on public space art commissions I learned to work into the twilight. It became a period of time where everything began to look and feel a little different. Not the extreme dark or the astronomical sky but a phase where the eye can read the space and object within in its environment in such a way that new information and awareness is created about the surface, form, textures and atmosphere around the site of the work. In full blazing light these subtle qualities are just not so apparent. The axes of inward and outward light makes for a contemplative and resonant state of mind to both see and feel what had been done and what is needed to be done through a slow turning panoramic quiet. I still love this period after sunset and its variable duration. My preferred twilight (UK – so it could vary around the globe) would be around October, that invisible month where the air is cooling and the twilight spectrum can hover around warm and cool colours.

In France – entre chien et loup – is a comparative event at dusk or dawn appearing as the turning points for what can become real and imagined. Poachers, gamekeepers and naturalists are consulted in the Evans-Thompson book along with historic and ritualistic references and we learn that the symbolic, transformative magic of the hare exists across the world. Lying low in full daylight and emerging ‘at twilight’ brings the hare into the same zone as the owl for ‘feeling and reason’. But as the dog departs and the wolf enters, so does the hare and the owl.  Trusting the dog to guide us may be more realistic but to allow any of the animals of the night to do so challenges our sense of the real and brings us to a place where trust in a different kind of imagination is possible. Any crossing into the night is like seeing into a new territory and whatever it may bring. This possibility will also bring uncertainty and could be disruptive, slipping into a depiction of danger by introducing us to an idea of fear, in that we can’t see clearly with our eyes so we need to see in another way. This extended capacity of seeing through ‘feeling and reason’ can also be experienced as a suppression of the pleasure of the visible. What is visible by night is markedly different to what can be visible by day. Who or what will guide us is another matter.

In –  Cities of the Plain; The Border Trilogy, C. McCarthy – there is a scene where an owl flies into the windscreen of a truck like a flying crucifix, shattering the screen and their reality. There are a great deal of lit. reviews of McCarthy’s work online so I don’t really want to add to that but the owl episode loomed into my dream states and sleep for a few nights as if I was the owl. The owl in the story wasn’t incidental or just something that was part of the night life of the place and time like the hitting of jackrabbits was. If you have lived in the country and driven at night you will hit an animal of some kind at some point and most probably thousands of moths and flying insects. Where I lived it was deer, foxes, rabbits, hedgehogs, pheasants and badgers. I only ever hit about two or three in all but roadkill was common. Many animals can adapt to the roadside environment and the high speed chase of bright lights coursing along the roads but some won’t make it. To hit a bird like an owl, a night bird of prey,  is a very exceptional circumstance, so it must mean something.

The day before reading this part of  of McCarthy’s story I had seen a bit of news online from the BBC where a woman in Cumbria returned home to find an owl imprint on her bedroom window. It was reported that the RSPB thought it was most likely a young Tawny Owl and – ‘The marks on the window are said to have been left by ‘powder down,’ a substance that helps birds protect growing feathers’. Then it turns out that it’s not so uncommon for birds to leave imprints onto windows but none are reported as cracked or broken. So is it possible for the owl in Cities of the Plain to fracture the truck’s windscreen? I think the writer needs the owl to become crucified into their lives and the screen to shatter. It’s a beautiful and sad moment that will shadow what is to come for Cole and Parnham. But it’s Troy, the older ranch hand who is most troubled.

After Billy, Troy and Elton have been out for a day of perfect horse riding in a landscape that they hold dear and are driving home Billy stops the truck in order to help a group of Mexicans whose truck has a flat tire. Troy is uncomfortable with what could be seen as an act of kindness. ‘Are you done bein a Samaritan?’ First he can’t understand why Billy should stop but later understands that Billy is restoring a past favor, a karmic episode. Troy sees the idea of disruption in the night, the little things that may hold motivation for someone else can also bring unexpected consequences for others. Nothing is scripted coherently for each and everyone of us in any relational sense. What was good for Billy was not so good for Troy as he reacts with a psychic depth to the death of the owl. ‘One of its feet shuddered and drew up into a claw and slowly relaxed again and it moved its head slightly as if to better see them and then it died’. In my reading, Troy has met the eyes of this dying creature and possibly taken up the spirit of the owl into him. Billy, on the other hand, is on a parallel script and hangs the bird in the fencing by the roadside, before driving on with a restricted view through the web-like screen. Troy has been given an image that disturbs his reality, the owl has taken him to another place. ‘It was just a owl’ – ‘I know, It ain’t that’. – ‘You sure you’re ok?’ – ‘Yeah. I’m all right. I just get to thinkin about things is all.’

From that moment on John Grady Cole’s script becomes a passion, leading to death and glory from the knife of the Mexican pimp (and a little of Borges as well). Billy and John become two characters that embody what cannot be resolved in the time available to them in their respective life-spans and so we witness the unresolved, conflicted attitudes of the past, locked into that same time and place. Even though they have transgressed in their personal lives by crossing and re-crossing the border at a time when it was last possible to do so, they don’t seem to have learned enough about what these transgressions indicate and they remain unprepared for what is coming into the world through the home land. Their collective memory is poignant and yet is still going to remain untold and forever washed over through the shifting attention from local troubles to the global wars on resources. The contemporary geopolitical frontiers of the USA are delineated as a past and future and dissected through the emotional fates of the two men bound into the troubled culture of the borders and hinterlands where Mexico is revealed as a place of the night. Across the border where nothing adds up, the uncertainty and force of imagination remains as a necessary danger to men like them, when time is running out and where there is nowhere left to go. Their lives will simply will be lost in the worldly configurations of the necessity of recalling the future stories to account for a wider population in the world that they could each not quite imagine. What we can sense is that the value of limitations, the dignity of life and the need for a care for others remains as a moral and ethical basis for the rules of the road.

On our own individual journeys, listening to the stories of others whom we meet will tell us most of what we need to know. Whether that changes our own script is another story. The theme of running the rule of ones own destiny abides.

Through the remaining days of reading while in Berlin, owls in various guises appear, on a broach, in a keyring and on the sides of a doorway. On Vis island, the beach stones reveal owls and on return home one of the first images I see is on a postcard that CG had brought back from this years Venice Biennale – ‘The Night Watchman From The Knowledge Series’, Nancy Foutts, 2011. Its a taxidermy owl with a satin eye patch. While it is striking in its own way I am not a fan of the taxidermy trend of contemporary art because it suddenly intruded as a condition of style a few years ago. I only felt clear about this in the past year and it was some work or another that brought it home.

In Berlin we visit Hamburger Bahnhof Contemporary Art Museum where Joseph Beuys’ work is in the collection that includes ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’, 1965. The Hare in this work is dead and does not look like a taxidermist hare. He said, “A Hare comprehends more than many human beings with their stubborn rationalism …I told him that he needed only to scan the picture to understand what is really important about it”. In the Pergamon Museum, I found a hare painted into a bowl as beautiful as a Beuys drawing.


A grid of owls

Eagleowl

Owl theft        

British Ecological Society photo prizewinner

Prizewinner - BBC link

to be cont.