Sojourn in Harm.
I could be black I could be white
They put a hot wire to my head
'cause of the thing I did and said
And made these feelings go away
Model citizen in every way’ – Public Image Ltd.
They put a hot wire to my head
'cause of the thing I did and said
And made these feelings go away
Model citizen in every way’ – Public Image Ltd.
What to do.
The affiliation fiasco of belonging or not to Europe is like a punch and Judy sideshow on the approach to a gladiatorial arena. I guess okay for those selling hot dogs and watermelon, but… Meanwhile, every day the horror of what man does to man and the planet multiplies, escalating horror to a new level. When my five year old stepson saw images of the ocean drowning in plastic, he said, “What, no way, its not me, I haven’t done this, what are they thinking of…” He understands the gravity of what he sees and feels collective guilt. He knows nothing yet of suicide bombers or children starving to death in Yeman. What to do?
So I tend the land, get the composts going, sort out the waste, minimize the water use, grow as much bio food as possible, shop in the local markets that are plastic free, recycle, re-use and mend. My footprint is small, and if I were Mr Average the businesses that employ people and produce commodities and stuff on a non-stop-continual-growth-sell-model, would cease to exist, including the popular ‘green washing’ eco-show. Would the collapse of the economy, mass unemployment and the probable disintegration of retail outlets be a truly bad thing, considering the return of donkey fields and allotments? But I use the car and take flights, my trousers are made in China and every time I turn the radio on I slump helpless into some horror acted out on the world stage, and like a five year old, say it is not of my making. But it is. My small footprint is no solace in the face of this harm.
So I return to the land and the crops, and try to forget the problems of the day. I amuse myself with the thought that there is a strong possibility that a warlord does not grow spinach. I remember saying once that Owain Glyn Dwr, the Welsh fugitive hero, fighting for land, had no time for growing parsnips. And even Popeye had spinach from a can. But whilst surrounded by nature and all things organic in the biosphere, nature has its deal. Each inch of soil is a battleground. Everything is programmed to take advantage, to seek a foothold and survive; from a sapling seeking light and excreting toxins to deter predators, to a snake with a toad in its mouth or the bacteria in your belly. I notice blackfly in the spinach. I observe an ant colony that has moved in and is busy on the leaves. I think that perhaps this is a good thing and they are feeding on the blackfly. But no, this army is no normal predator like the ladybird, who is also present. What is actually happening is that the aphids excrete a waste called honeydew that has a very high sugar content. The ants rub their antennae on the aphid’s bodies to encourage them to release this elixir, which is actually their waste material. Apparently some aphids can only ‘go to the toilet’ by having an ant rub itself on their bodies.Margins of the Marrows; JR's Veg patch.
Surrounded by the clever trickery in nature, which is almost ‘corporate’ in its symbiosis, I can be amused and amazed. But every time an act of terrorism occurs, usually of a religious nature, it is not remotely symbiotic and it is not the voice of the earth that is directing. It is another voice. Such violence against people and the planet leaves me at a loss. So I pause a lot and, more and more, to think about that voice… From feelings of angst and borrowed time and horror at disintegration, to man just getting on with it ‘as if‘ things will just get better like ‘soup of the day’, accepting lies and fictions for a peaceful life, and then on to the engaged artist addressing harm in a poetic sense. So I sit on one of the many pondering stations on the food terraces surrounded by my green ‘stuff’, not only racked by hypocrisy but also by a powerful sense of vitality and awe. I look at the rocks, placed to form the tall terraces, some the size of a small car, as if in a dream. The communal relationship between the land and trees and the soul of man is omnipresent, is inspirational. It is like hanging with giants.
I ponder on my recurring anathemas of belief systems, creed and belonging. I rewind two thousand years to take in the devastating accountability of this ‘creature’, this voice, called belief.
And this is the burnout that the Gnostics, or rather the telestai predicted a long time ago. Their indigenous European culture, rejected the incoming salvationist beliefs. They were perplexed, but tried to engage with these alien concepts that were polluting their psyche: an ‘off planet’ landlord, being God, bringing redeemer ideology wrapped in a victim-perpetrator cult complete with effigies of suffering for sins and narcissistic prophets with tricky cards up their sleeves making miracles…and of course, latterly, crusades and genocide and corporations making a stack of cash. This is not metaphor but murder in the backyard. This was not their tolerant, nature inspired voice and experience of the world. What on earth allowed all that righteous rage in? The Gnostics called this new Judeo-Christian religion a disease. That is a tolerant appraisal from the wisest that Europe has known. So facing the garlic and potatoes I call it a story to literally die for and its interpretations total bullshit that allow radicalization to end the world. Everyone who follows the Abrahamic religions, even the passive colluders with welcoming, gummy smiles, serving Sunday tea and cake, are guilty of all the horror and violence enacted, now and throughout its history, in the name of the story.
Direct, nature oriented experience needs no interpretation or self-diagnosis or weird subjective twists. It is self-controlled. There are two tiny words that capture the essence of our Earth…it is. It is not ‘as if’. The reality is now an ailing planet, as the armed newcomers, centuries ago tore it up, regarded themselves in ‘glory’, persecuted the Mystery schools and those of a nature-inspired mind and made more stuff. The will to violence through creeds of suffering and redemption leads to ever more destruction of the planet, ecocide and, commodification: stuff. Hey ho! Isn’t it about time we recognized the harm and had a serious word with the perpetrators…? The problem is that we are all involved in various degrees. I talk to myself a lot. Do I really need my milk-frother and a nutmeg dispenser for a perfect designer cortado? What to do?
Europa barbarically wiped out its highly intelligent, native culture of tolerance and harmony with the biosphere. This was a genocide against deep thinkers and what is now known as ‘deep ecology’. On a universal scale it pales even the Jewish holocaust. It continues today. The extermination of the Europa Cathari and their ‘book of love’ was also genocide against deep thinkers. It continues today.
We are in a state of chaos between political, religious and racial tension. Bluntly we are in the hands of the haters and believers. They seem to be in control: ‘put a hot-wire in your head’ limiting the range of thought, keeping people almost blissful in shallow waters. The bottom line confirms to me that none of this nonsense and hate that confronts us on the world-stage can happen if the planet is loved. It isn’t I am afraid…it is hated! The hate is due to the effects of false promise that is a belief in something or other, and uncontrollable greed. But wait, this is not strictly true, and this is the rub: it isn’t hate for the planet as such, but devotion to a cause. The causes make the planet invisible so that it’s health is ignored and side stepped for loyalty to a belief system, to a creed and to the need to belong and have. This affair, I am afraid, is all too human. And this is the state of hypnosis. This is the abyss AE is talking about in his dreaming, and I think is part of the ‘democratic process’ we are used to.
‘Mistrust it. Its messengers are prophets of the darkness. As we sink deeper into the Iron Age we are met by the mighty devils of state and empire lurking in the abyss, claiming the soul for their own, moulding it to their image… We need a power in ourselves that can confront these mighty powers’. AE
The belief business is not just a religious tag or a political party or an ethnic intolerance, it is also a corporate mentality and financial strategy that kills and harms for profit. It is also Mr and Mrs Average blindly going about their daily routine. Belief in something is bought cheap every day without awareness. Media headlines, special offers, sport, self-reflective therapies and designer coffee all work to annul the stupor. It is big business. We are all culpable. What to do?
Back to the sideshow: I live in Catalunya, the self-declared new European state, but not quite, already in Europe as the wealthiest province of Spain. I am in Europe and I am European, so the question is not how to vote (as if) but how to act otherwise. Being pushed to qualify a stance, I would like to contemplate advocating non-action in the socio political order. This guy said it a long time ago,
‘a man cannot solve social problems, but he can forsake them’. Lao Tzu
In Homage to Catalunya, George Orwell wrote a cautionary tale that for me draws on the deep insanity of the schizoid human condition. Mr and Mrs Republic versus a military dictatorship. Socialists versus the fascista. Man verses man. Breath versus breath. All very well; but, when institutionalized, the group mindset fails in its thinking; it favours duty and doctrines, and then obedience to hell, as the order from above goes out to harm and destroy.
Is the worst that could happen any bad thing? Surely, both time and death equalize.
Orwell was ‘dug in’ too deep. He was morally and ethically obliged to fight on the side of the socialists, the communists and anarchists against the fascista regime of Franco, ‘the bad guys’. His ideological romance was about the working class and ‘the good guys’; his notion of ‘liberty’ and truth only concluded in fighting a war amongst the institutional political factions of the ‘good guys’, an insider battle of who’s who in the political arena of left, right or wrong.
This will always be a battle lost and the fascists will always be better tooled up. If you oppose a regime you are merely the opposite side of the coin. Oppositions need oppositions, they need you, and a revolution means exactly that, to revolve around this ‘devil ruled hell’, constantly with heads full of conflict and war. This is not the life of the ant and the aphid or the tree aggressively seeking more light or the maggots in a carcass. This is the terrain of Armageddon as depicted in Revelation and it dominates our culture today. The planet can do nothing but seem to suffer. This world paranoia keeps people in a ‘futile’ bubble trying to save themselves from the enemy or protect from this or from that, or to make a few more pennies, getting and spending and supporting the party giving the most. Politics, like religion fails to negotiate with man’s inner being and it ties with nature; it is a busy, dreary, man-made construct, directing and entertaining the world with no vision of the ‘divine’. To be free one must be free of rigid polarization. Fighting wars for whatever cause is not a supple business…it is Auschwitz and Gulag and misery. It is not Earth first. Remember? We need a united Europe. But more importantly, we do not need the ocean warming up.
Each man is in the spectre’s power
Until the arrival of that hour
When his humanity awakes
And casts his spectre into the lake… Blake.
My own ‘Homage to Catalunya’, regardless of its political or economic climate – is to be rooted in the Catalan earth, because this is where I live, and where my creativity runs free of any political or ideological agendas. Beyond the growing ‘independencia’ graffiti, my imagination is my home, and is always a safe haven for ambiguity and metaphor. It is always on the go. As an outsider artist I am totally aware of the spectre and delusion, the almost hallucinatory grip that politics and religion have on man. It is a shadow. This shadow of economics and politics fulfills its role in suppressing nature in man. The shadow is man-made. All are capable of visionary pleasure with every breath of wind or birdcall or raindrop, because nature has no economy or politics to keep its species under control. To live fully and harmoniously at one with nature, nurturing and protecting humanity outside of any institutional system, is the only form of democracy there is, and the planet wins. Nationalism is always a threat.
I spin the globe and randomly pinpoint a place on the planet. The nearest city is Jakarta, in Indonesia. I Google for info and find the sprawling township and its poor farming folk forced to seek work in its spiraling economy, sinking slowly into the sea under fashionable and arty high-rise concrete and ‘stuff’ impossible for me to comprehend. An example of what could never be sustainable and surely the ocean is waiting… A silly game, but the random point surely has a high probability of empires lurking in the abyss?
After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world… T S Elliot
Two migrants asking for money engaged me in my local café the other day. Upon a meeting of tongues, they sat down, and bought me a coffee and lunch from the ‘slummy’ they had made that day! It was brought to our attention that we are all migrants, that is, floating on a mythical migrantship in potentially losing the planet to idiots… Easy for me to say having a home, but the question depends on how you negotiate and rationalise the concept of home. For me, as declared in Colonist’s Out, a home is conjoured through the need of creativity and imagination, manifesting a virtual space of connectedness. Being ‘dug in’ to a negative, literal mindset gave them the impression they needed more than I did.
As regards Europe, the folk that make the politics habituate and create gain in a world of fear, war, plague, famine and pollution. Such visions of doom dominate the world today. It is fuel. We are used to it. It is a script born from long ago when the wise shuddered in dis ‘belief’. It is the group mindset. The collective imagination is fuelled by terrorism, and manifestations of mass-hysteria. This is not, nor ever was, a democratic tale. As regards a vote, what the hell do people know about Europe? Most only want more stuff. This is about choosing how to act.
The Europe ‘vote’ is a foregone conclusion. It is not ‘real’. It is a game, a spectre, with a curse of agendas that conceal more important issues. I think it important to give thought and imagination to more life affirming possibilities and thereby to bypass the insidious takeover, the ownership of our psyche as commercial property belonging to the state or a prophet or a television series. That the earth is alive and intelligent is surely contrary to the apocalyptic pathology of the last few thousand years of weird religious creeds. It is an infestation massaged by the State.
It was because I was motionless that the bird landed so close in the fig tree beside me. Like the white flash of a shooting star, I glimpsed its entry blur upon landing. I remained motionless, but my eyes were upon it. It looked at me, as if focused on something odd or out of place. My brain scrolls down for the measure of its bird knowhow – silver-white-grey, pale tawny crown, size of a plumpy robin, insect eating bill – my eyes recorded something odd and out of place. Birds of a feather? I had never seen anything like it. Perhaps the bird was thinking the same. It was too early for juveniles and visitors and with dark eyes not an albino or leukemic. It lingered and we looked at each other and in five seconds it was off, a silver dart vibration beating through the budding chestnuts. My books offered no clues as to species. It was a mystery bird that became the phantom creature, and from thereon it became a geomantic symbol of the feathered messenger in myth, legend and folklore. But I am also aware that the phantom could be me. Five seconds was enough for the white creature but hardly enough for me.
I return to my Europe and to the external stonewall that I am restoring at the old mas where I live. Some of the stone lower down is of poor quality, some kind of gneiss that is very friable. This is the first stone you find close to the surface of the land. The old lanes gouge through this soft material and some builders dig from the edges and sieve to 6mm to make coarse sand. These easy pickings do not make a stable structure but are mostly used for terracing and as an interior fill between better stone. It may suggest a previous structure or perhaps just poor building practice when money or labour was short.
Red conglomerate sandstone, of various qualities predominates, and again is found close to the surface of the land forming the slabby cliffs in the valley. Tall, leaning slabs of this rock stand aloof from the holm oaks and look like hooded pilgrims’ eager to journey to the many chapels that furnish the land. When eroded, pink quartz pebbles protrude from the stone like gems. This reminds me of climbing at Montserrat, where every move made using a pinched pebble is balanced by a hollow sloper where a pebble used to be. This rock is identical to my own slab found from nearby Bryn Celli Ddu, a Neolithic burial mound on Anglesey. Slithers of this stone are curiously placed, slanting to curve across the wall in what appears to be an arch from a previous vaulted building. Some of this stone disintegrates to the touch, liberating its hold on the pebbles, scattered like marbles in the fissures. The stone more deeply buried in the wall has become like red mud. I love this ‘visceral’ business. It is a reminder of time; you can almost read its secrets, in your face and on your fingers, demanding attention. It affirms how little of your life you own… ways of maintaining it, or patching it… and how indeed it falters and fades.
The lime mortar is friable, dusting to the touch, migrating into my lungs with each raking of its tenuous grip. I expose chunks of solid lime, placed deep inside the ‘rat runs’ where the edible dormouse is heard on an evening scampering with apparent glee after taking a few hazelnuts. It’s a sleepless night when she decides to play marbles in the roof space. We once heard the chilling, croaky cry of what sounded like a baby coming from deep behind a kitchen unit. Apparently this is its incredibly human sounding snore. In a dreamy tangent, Alice and the White Rabbit come to mind…
In a Mad Hatter sketch, he fails to remember what the dormouse said of the stolen tarts, and the dormouse denies nothing being fast asleep. In the lyrics of the Jefferson Airplane song, the dormouse vehemently says, “Feed your head, feed your head.” With creativity, tarts or drugs or what remains undecided? Funny, I don’t associate the dormouse with sleep. I count hazelnuts.
In my builder’s head, fed by the groggy dusts of history, I begin to understand that this building, or part of it is much older than previously thought. Three hundred years was a good initial guess, but sections of this wall are medieval if not prior. The pottery found on-site may prove it. I also understand that these stones were a precious commodity and were reused as structures fell into disrepair or were replaced by other structures as needs dictated. I face many cultural and social accretions by analyzing and restoring this old wall, not only the external make-up with its odd array of different rock, but the inside business holding it together. I am just the latest human being in a long line of humanity holding on to the land for shelter and use.
There are larger, faced volcanic limestone blocks as quoins, the masonry blocks at the corners of the wall, and the same stone is used to step up from the supposed dome, a little like steps. This beautiful creamy-white sedentary rock is pocked with a myriad of holes and honeycombed vents adorned with fossilized leaves, which I think is the holm oak. The locals call this stone ‘tosk’. It is very light and easy to face into any shape. Some sections have worn better than others. Poor quality tosk can disintegrate into little more than soft cheese. Granite, in speckled grey, yellow, pink and a collage of all three colours is spread across the wall like strong statements. A stratered ferrous black and quartz rock appear like sparkling, glam make-up, and totals the collection of stone types used. This stone may have come from the many old gold mines in the area. In between some stones have been placed broken roof pantiles to chock or balance the stone. These are called snecks and are an old technique to avoid using too great a thickness of lime mortar, which would crack. Where the soft rock has latterly disintegrated, the broken tiles have been packed into the gaps as a fix and rendered over. This is not the handiwork of a mason however; it looks shoddy and has a limited life span because of different strengths and densities; is always a sign of trouble. Stone should always replace stone and should be well raked out for a key. This kind of working is not sustainable as the rigid concrete shuffles as the building moves. Primitive, makeshift and ‘needs must’ are the solutions used as occupiers struggle to ‘make good’ in times of poverty and need. C’est la vie doesn’t work for me.
A ‘mas’ is like a small hamlet under one roof. Community living is a working practice, with its own home-produced economy, pre-commodity existence. This makes me aware that the old mas is a living, breathing entity, a home, a factory, a farm holding a wealth of human and animal-kind, a one-roof extended family, the life and death of community soul. Part of its furniture is a sleepy dormouse that must have snored here for over five hundred years. I have to stop my work for a while as I hear the alarm call of a nuthatch, nesting in a hole higher up the wall.
I cannot know what an alarmed nuthatch or a snoring dormouse would mean to Sebastian Bernabast who lived here in the métier, the workers’, bakers’, caretakers’ domain, that is now my studio. I cannot know his relationship with the stone and wood that sheltered him or the land that fed him. I cannot know his ecstasy or fatigue at the end of a laborious day or his response to desire and sensation. I cannot know his moments of quietude or rest or revolt. I cannot know the hidden ‘god’ visiting in his sleep. I cannot know more than what history, fact or fiction, wrote of him and his times. I cannot know for sure…
Around 1840 a famous group of bandits lived and roamed in these hills. They were the Trabucaires, originating from the Spanish Carlista soldiers who became brigands and formed allegiances with their French cousins. Their name refers to the metal-shot rifle that they used. This was a safe house for the Trabucaires and their symbol is etched in the tosk stone that surrounds a tiny window. This window was used to signal with a lantern when the coast was clear of soldiers, police or douanes. The Trabucaires were notorious for kidnapping people of wealth and holding them to ransom for gold. They dealt violently with their human trade and held command in this remote, fecund terrain on the frontier between Spain and France.
I have my Peruvian bowl with fertility beads, a large clay penis and a Buddha in the ancient bread oven that ‘Tia’ must have baked his spelt loafs in, spat in and got dressed by. I paint where he slept, snored and fucked, probably on straw. Linseed oil and turpentine have replaced the wood smoke that must have billowed through the room, judging by the blackened oak roof beams. A digital synthesized Eno has replaced the pastis-analogue breath of song and squeaky brass. The heartbeat of a fugitive’s life lies just under the surface of things. I feel like a hologram in a time machine jukebox.
The smugglers footpaths that snake from the house were the highways of commerce and subterfuge, at one with the blood and adrenaline coursing through veins. The remains of the day are scattered around the remote habitations in various stages of dereliction now claimed by vegetation and fed by the rot and rust and rag within the dense woodland. Everything not needed was thrown out, which was at least bio-degradable, but if plastic had been invented I imagine it would have buried the houses. One particular mas called El Palla, took two years to find and is less than half a kilometer from the house on the Spanish side. Although now physically lost, older locals remember it with mischievous glee as a place to dance and make merry. They remember the music and the brave, fiery-eyed smugglers evading capture. It was never regarded as being in a remote location, but part of the interconnectedness of a working community. This den of iniquity, this seedy bar by all accounts, provided the human animal with the lascivious platform of the day. It is now a burial chamber under beams, planks and tiles holding memory of dancing shoes, joy and freedom. This was a woodland central club keeping rhythm with the green world and the heartbeat of the soil, released from its agricultural past.
Hideaways, caves, lookout points and nooks and crannies of the landscape are joined to the soul of a man’s existence as the rutting and breeding locations are to the life of the wild deer. The energy of the predator as a participant of nature is ancient and part of the land telling its story. As the Golden Eagle scopes for life to be taken, so, as in a notion of freedom, the bandits robbed and killed. The green world is red and just so. There is sanctity here. But of course, there is also criminality here. As the notion of freedom from the restraints and the slavedom of society have been romanticised, so the robber fulfills the balancing role inspiring those who feel suppressed as human animals. For those who were losing the land, the Trabucaires were seen as holding it. As man’s instinct is sanitized by permanent work for the devil’s purse in the townships nearby, and an easier life, the symbolic, macho creature that is the fugitive hero plays out a colourful life as a sell-by date caricature. I associate with the anti establishment ethos but cannot reconcile to the taking of life for cash as opposed to for food.
As tenants in the property where they lived, the fugitive heroes tend not to fix a chimney or a fallen down wall or to grow parsnips. They tend to be on the run or looking to move to a better ‘crib’ with better food and comforts. Of course, there must have been a wider communal collusion among the poor tenant farmers; they must have benefited from the activity like the mutual support of cottage industry…tickling the farmer’s bellies with a little gold in exchange for silence, shelter and food…
But times change, sell by dates arrive and not everyone can be bought. They were shopped and stood trial in Perpignan. A wealthy man had been kidnapped and later found dead with an ear cut off.
Later on, during the second world war, local conscripts for the French army were perplexed as they hadn’t realized they lived in France and didn’t speak French.
Orwell’s communist and anarchist Republicans, torn, tired and starving, arrive in Vichy France via the smugglers paths through no-man’s land, destined for the pre-Nazi camps of hell…
And so, beyond plastic, beyond hate, cruelty and stupidity… I find a stag’s antler after days of barking and roaring heard nearby. Our nine month old puppy dies of a snake bite. A tethered goat is engorged and eaten by a wild boar. The box moth devastates all the box trees.
Soon, the cosmic hologram jukebox will be on a different shuffle.
Perhaps we are fighting nature in addressing what we construe as harm and horror. Is it relevant? As the medieval anchorite Julian of Norwich wrote in Revelations of Divine Love, ‘sin is behovely’… the harm, the horror is the way ‘it is’… and all too human. Perhaps all the harm I feel is actually self-controlled and what I witness is little more than potato blight?
And continuing the wise dame’s thinking – looking upon a dusty hazelnut in the wall… this little thing… it is all that is made… shall not be forgotten… it is loved.
John Redhead, Los Manes, Coustouges. June 2019