Shaft of a Dead Man
John Redhead offers a collection of digitally re-mastered, iconic images from his cult book, …and one for the crow
Reviewed by Toby Dunn for Climb Magazine, as one of nine most groundbreaking books that made British climbing great…
‘The humanity that Redhead uncovers through climbing is a complex mix of a primal hunter and an emotional gatherer, and refreshingly devoid of the faux-hippie musings of many a would-be climbing philosopher. Although some may dismiss it as the rambling of a madman, for those lucky enough to experience the routes that Redhead saw as part of his portfolio of artwork, they are far from whimsical, for often their boldness borders on sickening, and they contain moves which are shockingly hard for one who ostentatiously dismissed any kind of formal training.’
‘Like it or loathe it, it cannot be ignored’ - Paul Twomey
‘this book gives me an erection that threatens to prise me off the rock’ Tim Emmett
‘people will do anything rather than face their own soul…’ Jung
The book, as I now comprehend it, is an attempt to trace a passionate thread through my work as an image-maker and the creative climbing that I engaged in as a process to both anchor and release. It is an avocation of a more romantic, spiritual approach to movement on rock, and of the creativity that liberates that spirituality.
Throwing all these facets together, I hope a certain softness is nurtured, a lightness of touch, in climbing as in all things. The world needs to slow and tone down, and allow thought to penetrate experience…to slow and to feel. Perhaps when the rock climbers understand their language, far away from the domination of bodies and style and fashion, they will have no need to touch rock. Out of understanding and creative use, new language is born.
Margins of the Mind
Many of the ascents in this book were stalked through with a sense of annihilation, and were more ‘hunter gatherer’ than ‘farmer’ in concept. Sport climbing is like farming, in which the ascentionist reaps a profit and attempts to gain an advantage over nature. The product created, however, is not of the world but rather a manifestation of personality and quest for identity…
I see the sports climber efficiently and professionally clip-up his project. Ascending through practiced moves, it is a mimicry, a mimesis, a pretty representation of stalking. I see nothing for him to stalk! His actions are not true…
He gains the lower-off and is a rapture of personality, a rapture at his prowess, a rapture at his gain. I have seen beyond his flaccid rapture - for he lowers off at a point of contact - he lowers to remove an unconscious threat and a reality from entering him, and he must do more and more to bury this terrible unconscious threat. It must not reach him! His ascent and hasty retreat is of the same ‘male’ business of ejaculating into the female - of not lingering in the aftermath. The reality is nature. She abides in the vessel to mirror the capture. She reinforces the limpness. He slithers blindly in the subterranean horror that discards the male as used-up, pathetic and forgotten. So he retreats by lowering off uselessly and thereby instantly wants more, restless in confrontation with nature. He is restless as punishment for wanting more - more than already exists, for he doesn’t even understand that! Oh, the man, the man!
Women should know better than to climb for sport… Women should know better because man does not. She should know better because she is equipped to be constantly reminded of a ‘loop of remembrance’. This sing-song loop herds together the affairs of the male tribe, where truth is lubricated and pulls in his quest for control and exploitation into the structure of the score – into nature’s Belly-Ocean of life. There is no equality! Man is surely a spectator, the mere squirter of snot in this ineffable Belly-Ocean. His erect penis, like the ropes and quick-draws, twitches and twangs to her natural laws as she articulates the needs of the ocean…
She is the rock, or something far beyond it…
Shaft of the Dead Man
In my painting ‘The Huntress’, a shadow is cast over all mankind. The ‘Huntress’ appeared from a collection of 8,000 year old bones found in a cave at Giggleswick in the Yorkshire Dales (this collection was housed in my warehouse studio, which was, prior to being captured as a studio, the Pig Yard Museum, Settle). The bones of a twenty five year old female were found next to the bones of a red deer. A ‘nick’ in her shoulder bone suggests that she was an archer, a huntress, a Diana? A shamanic image - an image of good and evil showing beer-swilling males in a public house. The antlers of a red deer hang next to the bar. The atmosphere is pervaded by ‘her’ presence; the Huntress creates a primaeval presence, countered by modern male profanity and the prevailing misogynist discord which includes the females who propagate it.
Everyman, at heart, a misogynist?
Here we have occult power, of ceremonies that were conducted in painted caves – perhaps initiation and puberty rites. The whole vision is suffused by the deafening roar of the stag, confirming the relationship with the ancient she. The she in the modern setting demands abuse with perfume and pose, and will be taken and performed on with sexual lust. I see the Diana figure standing for the male amidst stone and sky; she is penetrated by the strong male – no subordination, no coquetry and no fingering disrespect. The shadows and shapes portray a good deal of guilt, twitching fingers and sudden stares. This is the weave of calcified man. This is the backdrop against which truly spiritual and instinctive values cannot be set. This is Christian doctrine.
Rafts down the Amazon, matchsticks in urine striving painstakingly for the drain…what has been forgotten.
Demons of Bosch
Visions of Hell or visions of a future? The demons keep flying over and they keep missing me! They flew over The Demons of Bosch… I soon realized that the ‘dark ones’ were again upon me. Their attention is surely summoned by a bad-faith, a greed, perhaps a lie? Nature cannot abide arrogance! Somewhere, someone was cracking their sides at the site of these creatures. Missing me, they were consoled by unclipping my neat little bolt on the crux, and throwing what was left of me to the top of the cliff
Training Tips for Him
If in any doubt about your authentic desire to climb a route, retreat to a safe distance and read a little of Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity. If this confuses you even more, chill out into the biggest beech tree you can find with a copy of Louise Hay’s, You Can Heal Your Life.
If more traditional, physical training is failing to achieve the required results, try masturbation. A basic approach: the inspiration necessary to maintain the erection should follow rhythmically along the line of the route of your desire. Move by move, stroke by stroke, visualize your ascent until the ejaculation sees you pulling out on the finishing holds. Do not allow sex, partners or money to enter the ritual. An advanced approach: back of the helmet, held close to the stomach, is the best technique for quick reversal of gender. Practice until reversal can be realized at will. Thinking that you are female, you should be able to climb three grades harder than you thought you could.
Training tips for Her
If contemplating a serious E7 don’t be duped by the male contenders in Petes Eats Their accounts and gesticulations are all symptoms of mental illness. This randomness of the male’s achievement ties in with his psychological state of mind in which the female can completely dispense with. You can gauge more accurately this vital state of lunacy by only attempting a serious route during your menstrual cycle. Your monthly performance will be stunningly justified.
Depilation is essential. Pudenda definition is crucial for a front page spread. When depressed at longer being able to do the moves it is reassuring to see yourself in the back room of The Heights, as centre of attraction with the darts team.
I mention in the intro to Cloggy of a gnarled, bent Rowan hiding from the jaws of unnecessary hill farming. Hill farming! What is it that fills me with angst? Is it the barbed wire trailing fragments of black plastic, the fallen down walls, the dereliction, the discarded machinery and plastic feed bags, the diesel trains with juggernaut horns, the rubble, the ruts and piles and rot and stink of sheep piss…? Is it the tourists, poets and dreamers et all, who come bountifully in to walk the ‘wild hills’? The landscape is not what brings me here and it is wilder in Liverpool! The landscape seems a postcard for the blind, for those ‘looking on’, for collectors of relics, and other people’s baggage – left by those who have abused the landscape as a toilet for fashionable catharsis. What fills me with angst is the lack of a ‘now’ – that fresh, vital, potent, living communication with the land. What fills me with angst is the lack of future – all is past, flaccid or abusive.
Moving higher on the hill one can tiptoe unexpectedly onto a tenuous thread or drift into an ominous light that connects to a Celtic, Druid, Pagan, archaic potency. This is the ‘laying on of rock’. For those protected by a Gore-Tex shell and shades it is rarely felt. It is a commodity, a hobby, a photograph, a reminder – a past. This is a dull sleep not the sharp claw sprung with intent. The landscape has become a consumer visual, a full-colour pop-up photo book of the wild, like a page three spread, encouraging our eyes to address the ‘poundage’ – pornography in the sense of warping our perception, warping the way we interact with the real thing. I do not need the landscape to affirm that I am not in my Liverpool studio, which does not mean that my studio is not here, or the landscape not within my studio! I return here in much the same way as a child returns in its nightmares to the monsters and predators of the past. When I am here I dream of summoning the spirits to regain a relationship with the land – the potency would be banned by the National Park and would be too real for Anthony Hopkins! Those who quite lose themselves in wonder at the ‘landscape with railway’ before them would do well to feel the images blur with the sudden realization of a mountain lion hurtling in from behind. Climbing sometimes does this. I would prefer the real thing.
Masters Wall (second ascent) slipped by almost unnoticed – the movement soft and gentle. It seems strange that most do ‘battle’ with the mountains to escape complacency or domestic affairs and such like of the modern world. I slip away from my mistress in the mountains from days of idyllic lovemaking. If I stay, I could stay for good. The valley below beckons me for more crazy, human suffering. I cast an eye at the death-like passage that remains…a little leftwards…can there ever be enough love?
…he chases his phallus around toyland in a perpetual neurotic state. Sometimes, in a rare momentary stillness, or, when blown limp from some sexual act attempted or otherwise, or, when done talking alcohol, he will crank his thick cranium unnaturally upwards at the Great-Sky and rage a voice of terror – “Keep back.”
I sketch him.
He hunts. He hunts time. Time hunts him. He is terrified; emerged in banal adolescence. The life he so energetically seeks does not exist. It is really a blissful promise of death. I wish to speed him on his way, but he is my man – the sketch only halts him briefly for a little twitch.
It is a sad age that cannot celebrate such natural cycles. A sad loss from the pre-literate peoples who formed ‘women’s societies’ to deal ceremoniously with the dripping of the wise wound. Hanging out in the sheds with seats of moss was a sanctuary of earthy communication with the pull of the moon. There is a wealth of native folklore that asserts you do not touch a woman who is menstruating. Derived from this is the notion of being dirty, I am sure the non-touching is misplaced sacredness. In our society, such a woman hating taboo isolates and confines the female cycle, furthering the misplacement of knowledge relating to this essence of nature.
All forty photographs from the book are available. A collection of prints can be seen at the John Redhead website
Each print £100
John Redhead 1997/2014