Sunday, December 14, 2014

Living inside and outside of the box.......

In Gaston Bachelard's 'The Poetics of Space - the classic look at how we experience intimate places,' there is a chapter on 'drawers, chests and wardrobes'.  He makes a connection between the house and the box as a secret refuge for our imagination. 

Sometimes, a lovingly fashioned casket has interior perspectives that change constantly as a result of daydreams. We open it and discover that it is a dwelling-place, that a house is hidden in it. 

An anthology devoted to small boxes, such as chests and caskets, would constitute an important chapter in psychology. These complex pieces that a craftsman creates are very evident witnesses of the need for secrecy, of an intuitive sense of hiding places. 

The poet lives a daydream that is awake, but above all, his daydream remains in the world, facing worldly things. It gathers the universe together around and in an object.

Some months ago I bought, repaired, cleaned and restored an early 19th century Persian Khatamkari table chest which was damaged but still relatively solid and complete. Its micro-mosaic inlay clearly recalled in miniature the complex geometric tiled patterns in the floors and walls of Islamic architecture.

The relative scale, from the minute almost microscopic detail in the box held between the hand and eye and the intricate delicacy of light, colour and pattern experienced by the whole body in architectural dimensions clearly relates to space but also to time and the infinite effort and patience required to make this work.....

'The Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, Agra. India,  from December 2013

In the introduction to his book 'Islamic Patterns, An Analytical and Cosmological Approach', Keith Critchlow's writes,

The nature of origins or the creation point of a subject is grounded in mystery. The nature of a point- the simple, self-evident origin of geometry -is one such mystery: is it possible that a point 'has no dimension', except that it be a metaphysical point, and how can it occupy 'place' if space has not yet been created from its unfolding ? Clearly there has to be a precise differentiation between physical and metaphysical, between idea and expression, yet both are embraced by one reality. 

It is difficult to say whether the box was more 'beautiful' before rather than after 'restoration'. The effects of time through decay and loss suffered by objects are often compelling beautiful when they are not disguised, revealing the reality of nature, or nature of reality in a direct and startling way.  

Cleaning and polishing surfaces to bring out the innate qualities of material and craftsmanship is a challenging  and ultimately deeply rewarding experience. 

This English laburnum oyster veneered chest from around 1700 took me around two weeks of hard work a few summers ago to carefully clean and consolidate the entire surface, which was in pretty good condition to begin with despite it's appearance, an unpleasant treacly colour with layers of dark opaque, cracked and flaky old shellac varnish. After cleaning it meticulously inch by inch I polished it with a home made recipe which included carnauba and beeswax.  The bright, translucent lustrous figure of the wood captures and reflects light in the depth of its surface. For me all the summers of the English Civil War and Restoration are trapped and preserved in the amber glow of the decorative tree rings or 'oysters' that form the overall surface pattern, a technique learnt from Dutch craftsmen.

The inlaid stringing pattern of interlocking spiralling and concentric circles on the top of the chest recalls the design on this Cosmati pavement which I photographed in the Duomo in Amalfi a couple of summers ago. 

Cosmati pavement St. Anthony's Cathedral, Amalfi, Italy.

In 'Patterns of Thought, The Hidden Meaning of the Great Pavement of Westminter Abbey', Richard Foster analyses this famous Cosmati pavement which follows the same pattern of spirals and circles saying in the final chapter , 'Into the Labyrinth', 
The three main elements of the design represent the three stages of both birth and the death of the universe. Like the three fold division of the inscription, these three design elements also signify three levels of time: the mundane scale of human activity, the astronomical scale of the world ages, and the timeless scale of eternity.

'Here is the perfectly rounded sphere which reveals the eternal pattern of the universe.'
Final phrase of the text from the inscription.  
James Turrell creates architectural spaces, boxes with windows that frame the changing relationships of colour and light perceived by the viewer between interior and exterior space 'on the cusp of change' through the passage of time.  These structures act like the aperture of a camera in a sense to focus our experience into a more intense meditative awareness of consciousness in the present moment in which open and closed, tangible and intangible, form and formlessness, finite and infinite are experienced as dissolving into each other through a symbiosis of nature and art. 

We could experience the changing conditions of light and dark, wet and dry, warm and cold living in a house/box with the same heightened awareness of inside and outside through the window framed view of space.  This is the changing view through the restored box room window of the house in Bruges. 

In this interview on youtube link below 'James Turrell: "Second Meeting" "Exclusive " Art2,  he explains his understanding in what seem like Buddhist terms. 

This world that we have around us is not a world that we perceive but more a world that we create and make - now this seems a bit of a surprise because we really feel and we are very much attached to the fact that we are receiving these perceptions as opposed to creating them - but we do create the reality in which we live. 

This corresponds to the first words of the Dhammapada in Chapter 1, Contrary Ways. 

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. 

If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. 

If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow. 

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