I hope you're all doing well! I've been quite busy this week with my own projects but I also helped with a fundraiser event with my printmaking collective. It went very well and some of my donated prints went home with such lovely people! It was a very nice evening.
Another wholesome thing: while the Commissions for Cause was a bust, I had one person follow up after the event in hopes of a commission. I told him that he could wait until the next charity event (so the proceeds could go for a cause), or pay directly to me as the artist, which he ended up deciding without hesitating. I kept the rate as it appeared on the charity event though; I had hoped the lower-priced items would invite more to donate but it did not! So I will adjust the list to directly reflect the materials and labour. This one was fine though, aside from translating the difficult pose it wasn't any trouble. As thanks for being the first to commission at all, I gifted him a complimentary print to choose from. I really enjoyed the experience!
News aside, it's time to dive into another section of my concepts: Narrative. More specifically, the narrative of Hope and Despair.
I was first invigorated to pursue this topic from one of my favourite video games, Shadow of the Colossus. It's been through a few remasters but it's been an influence of mine since its first release in 2005. Fumito Ueda, the creator of the game, tells a story of cruelty through abstraction and minimalism, dubbing his approach as design by subtraction. This approach is a method he developed to ensure that the idea or “feeling” of his concepts are unclouded by overt substance and clear narrative, oddly reminiscent of Romantic sublime qualities. To be more specific, the size of the monsters the player is faced to kill, the picturesque landscape spanning countless leagues, and the instances of overwhelming saturations of light fulfill some of Edmund Burke's guidelines. The narrative one can derive from this game is one of cruelty and senseless sacrifice, as illustrated by this quote: “when you have killed all sixteen colossi, you feel loss rather than triumph”. I feel that the basis of Shadow of the Colossus' narrative lends to the relationship between hope and despair, in which the confrontation of certain consequences results in further sacrifice, but this time in the form of reconciliation.
In literature, Paradise Lost is a great example that explores this narrative. John Milton's epic poem recounts the fall of humanity through a more elaborate retelling of what occurred in the Garden of Eden, starting with Satan's own fall from heaven and ending with Jesus' resurrection. It is through the consumption of fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that original sin is birthed and final death is introduced to the world, the consequence for disobeying God: “Greedily [Eve] engorged without restraint, and knew not eating death” (Milton, Book 9: 791 – 792). When further investigating the significance of the gardens that exist in Christianity, consequences of Adam and Eve's actions are thus noted:
“No longer would Adam and Eve enjoy a flawless environment. Instead, among other things, childbirth pains would intensify and man's labour became toilsome and less efficient as thorns and thistles would infest the ground – the ground to which they would ultimately return in death.”
It is this mistake taking place in Eden that creates a deep despair in which neither Adam nor his ancestors can ever personally repent. However, the poem expresses that this ordeal may have been somewhat fortunate. According to Christian belief, it is in the coming of “the second Adam”, Jesus Christ, that humanity can also experience salvation. Jesus suffers in Gethsemane and dies in Calvary, absolving the sin Adam and Eve committed under Satan's advice. The story of Paradise Lost provides a much more personal conceptualization of Christianity's pursuit of redemption and everlasting life by explaining the birth and conquest of the final death, which relates to my interest in post-mortem beauty and a beautiful death.
Which we'll get to later!!
In my process document, I go into a very quick explanation of what hope and despair contribute to our lives. Experiencing a balance of both in your life contributes to the growth and maintenance of the human soul. A surplus of either entity will result in overconfidence and complacency (hope) or debilitating anxiety (despair). Nobody chooses to experience tragedy, nor do they enjoy it, but it's important not to live life fearing it or treading delicately through life to avoid it, because it's inevitable. It's going to find you at any point and in any form, and what you can choose to do is be open to it and its presence. Address it as what it is and come to an understanding.
I feel the most prevalent despair that we share as a sentient species is the fear or dread of death.
Romanticist artist Francisco Goya, in the later years of his life, composed the Black Paintings. These murals displayed horrific scenes on the walls of his living room, dining room, hallways... I believe these to be results of Goya coming to terms with his fear of death and mental state. Frescos such as The Drowning Dog and Saturn allowed Goya to release all tension accumulated during his lifetime. He was able to explore themes of sorrow, pathos and panic with complete freedom. I argue that this form of expression is a way of confronting despair and crafting hope for self-care. Experiencing close encounters with death, he bought a property away from the city and chose to express himself in ways that no patron would have the mind to request. These paintings were meant for his own private viewing, in which he expelled these morbid scenes from his mind and onto his walls. Upon given a form, despair and death seemed much more manageable.
Other instances can be a bit more subtle in terms of addressing death. Vanitas still-life acted simultaneously as a comment on Dutch citizens' vanity for their material possessions and as a prompt that mortality is temporary. Memento mori, the reminder of death. The presence of certain iconography, like skulls, timepieces, or cracked walnuts imply something or someone that no longer exists elsewhere exists in the painting. The commissioning of such pieces connotes a belief that paintings immortalize the presence of whomever the vanitas is referring to. Artists often inserted small self-portraits of themselves for this reason, given that any of the objects have a reflective surface. I believe that this idea helped artists and patrons alike with handling the idea of death, reminding them that their worldly possessions will not serve them in the afterlife. The idea that there is an afterlife at all strips death of its finality, making it more easy to accept.
But we don't know what lies in the realm of death. A garden, a kingdom, or pure darkness. We can believe what we've been taught or believe the accounts of those revived when they flatline. Or call it all lies. We believe what makes us feel better about it because we know it's inevitable. The key, I feel, is to not be consumed with a fear for it, neither be so careless or apathetic to its existence. You know, a balance of hope of despair.
Coming full circle, baby!
Personally I try to take a more positive outlook on death. I focus in on the idea life goes on even when our life doesn't. I am in love with the idea that once I'm gone, some new form of life or spirit flourishes in my remains. There is something so dang gorgeous about post-apocalyptic scenery, where nature reclaims the industrial landscape. Life and death, hope and despair, are not simply cycles to me, but coils. It's gonna be different, but the same, every time.
Things got a bit grim, but we'll get over it. This one has a few paragraphs from my research essay two years ago, which provided a basis for my process document and my 2019 thesis works, Anthrocopia and Self-Vanitas. Next week I'll dive into how all of this relates to the contemporary sphere and to my practice.
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