Hello, and Welcome to This Mystery.
Please be aware that depending on who you are and what you are prone to see and/or believe, exposing oneself to This Mystery may disturb, delight, or befuddle.
You may find that this work has a totally null impact on one’s attention and experience – a thud that is less the effect of a ton of bricks, and more a quickly closing door.
Different mysteries appeal to different people.
The effects of This Mystery may be immediate, delayed, short-lived or life-changing.
Awareness of and consideration of This Mystery may be both beautiful and unsettling.
Now that I have offered fair warning, I will bid those who have already drifted in their attentions or set their jaw against my voice a very fine farewell.
May you happen upon many blessings and much prosperity in your path.
For those of you who would like to stay, at least for a bit, I will offer an additional forewarning in regard to the sheer mass of This Mystery.
This work – in it’s totality – is an albatross of writing, image, and other media conveyances trailing back to 2009. I was 33 when I began this project. Now, I am 45. Age doesn’t mean much to me and time is a slippery line full blurred spaces, sharp-edged compressions. Sometimes I feel very old and other times I forget that I have aged at all, standing on the front porch here during this supposed time and noticing that the air seems to hold the same light and soft warmth of a certain afternoon, age fifteen, sitting on a warm dock with my feet hung over the waters of the St. Mary’s River, all the ancient brackish smells merging with a scent called sunflowers and the cleanness of her young self and the river flowing out to the Atlantic as wide-open as all the possibilities in the whole wide world. Sometimes I am surprised when I review the facts and details of the past few decades, how many lives I have lived and let die, the people and places I have been. It seems impossible that one small life could hold so much, especially given that over the past 12 years, she hasn’t been very many places – though has still traveled much further and been far more free than most people could imagine.
name that state, young child
would this be a warrior,
an angel, or both?
Twelve years is a long time to spend time with a semi-open ended creative project. Anybody who has worked on something for over a decade will tell you that the project changes and the process changes. It takes on a life of its own, outside of your will and intent.
You, the artist, also change. The project changes you, changes how you see the world and – at least in my experience – how you see yourself and how you are seen.
The curiosity that is the primary driver of this work has been with me for as long as I can remember, though the questions that lend it form have shifted with time – the slow unfurling and sudden blooms of events and process, learning and synthesizing new understandings of the what and how and why of some small answer connecting to the larger scopes of my questions into the forms that life takes.
[The image above is made from layering numerous duplications of one of the photos featured above. There are several faces that showed up in the layers, but this face in particular – these faces of young princes, young queens, the accusation of the innocents – they stare me down and tell me a mournful secret.]
My only intent as an artist is to set aside my intent to the greatest extent possible, as I recognize my intent to be fraught with vestigial trappings of conventions and sensibility that are less my own than that of the cultures that I am adrift in, media – as it were – that I am in relation with, suspended in and evolving with.
Media can be so many things. It is a means – always – of expression and creation, a churning sea of possibility in the small line of blue paint, the blur of channels changing, a petri dish empire emerging on blood agar.
I am less interested in what my fairly flawed and foolish mind might want to express and create than I am in what is expressed and created by chance. I can’t remove myself from the process entirely, as I am the witness, the watcher, the perceived, the collaborator, the facilitator, my mechanism of sight and the movements of my hands, my body and my existence being the mechanism of chance, the object, the subject.
Over the years, I have found that as soon as I begin to try to make something happen, to create some image or form, if I find myself thinking, even briefly: ‘Oh, this would look really cool and maybe it would be a thing that would impress…’ whatever art was rising in me tends to shrivel back.
When my ego and will become the driver of the process, my hand becomes clumsy, my eye uncertain. Joy the leaves and art becomes something more akin to wage-work.
I am fine with wage-work of some sorts, the sorts I am able to do as a person who is differently-abled, but that is not what art is to me.
Art is not that sort of work – the tedium and impossible rabbit hole of neurotic considerations of other people’s perceptions or possible interpretations of what I am supposed to doing, being, making in order to be desirable, consumable, worthy of what I am being paid for, paid to do.
There are many activities which she – by necessity – prioritizes over work on this project, but she has winnowed away almost everything that detracts from her singular focus in this exploration of form and experience, which – to the extent that she is able to ‘know’ anything – she knows is her work to do within this slipstream of seasons that has stretched on for so long.
Sacrifices have been made both voluntarily and by the force exerted by simple lack of other options, impossible situations, irreconcilable differences. She has forgone relationships and ended friendships, truncated potential career trajectories, set aside hobbies, and turned from pleasant recreational activities that are likely to deplete and/or distract from the energies that she needs to do this work that she does – this that she calls art because that is what it is.
She is explaining again. Trying to make the point that this work, this project, this art, this mystery of what she sees and why, is the most crucial thing that she must do in her lifetime, it is the thing that – like it or not – that is hers to do, the thing that if she does not at least try – in some real way, not these careful stepping ½ in-½ out gestures of disorganized effort she has been making – she knows with a leaden sort of crumpling sadness that she will not only ‘regret’ it, but that she will suffer. Her soul will suffer.
She doesn’t need to make that point anymore.
She has recently discovered that the pictures and shapes made when she layers one photo over itself again and again, are the same shapes that she has been watching emerge in clouds and in the branches of trees and the edges of rain-washed sand for the past decade, watching and wondering about. If she layers photos of different clouds, the same shapes arise. No matter how no matter how the layers stack, eventually the same sort of shapes seem to arise – the same shapes she has been watching and documenting since 2010. The layers make triangles and eyes, faces like ghosts.
Elon Musk recently tweeted that ‘physics formulas are the rendering rules.’ Although it’s true that I have raging pareidolia and apophenia, there are basic forces at work in shaping our physical world and there are many examples of ways that the rules of physics dictate form (see D’Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form). Would we be so dismissive of shapes in the clouds if they showed us the world unseen, revealed to us the ways that gods were once seen and possibly – maybe by some people – felt.
She walks around the house in a pleasantly round suspended state of precipice, aware that regardless of the outcomes or whether anyone other than herself ever considers this work, she knows that she has happened upon something very interesting – at least to her. She can’t wait to find out what happens next, what she might discover.
It doesn’t surprise her that she has been avoidant of moving this project forward, posting and refining and sharing. There is a part of her that wants to stay here suspended at the protracted precipice that has become the landscape of her life, always right at the edge of moving forward, slipping back. She doesn’t know what it would be like, to make real what she is now capable – if she works hard, stays grounded – of making real.
She considers the possibility that perhaps she has come across something of interest in the matter of universal forms and rudimentary patterns in nature, sacred symbol/icon/figure/character/letter, the origins of human myth and maybe a phenomenon that in some places at some times in some contexts may have been considered to be holy/supernatural/numinous/God/gods/ancestors/Earth in some sort of story or another, a phenomenon or set of phenomena that perhaps are holy/supernatural/numinous/God/gods/ancestors/Earth conveying through a means slightly beyond immediate experience in the 21st century Western consciousness – a sort of sense we’ve long forgotten we have, a way of seeing that spurs in us a simple human calibration with the larger workings that are ever-present, ever-working, ever-knowing.
It is possible that this work may create hope for people – even if the clouds-layers-sacred-forms thing turns out to be explainable in a way that warrants the clouds-layers-sacred-forms thing to be dismissable, even laughable.
Even if I don’t ‘prove God with pictures of clouds’ – (*laugh*) – this work may still be interesting and perhaps hope-producing for at least a couple of people, ’cause of the mental health, creative resilience, transformative spiritual emergency, spiritually-engaged activism, experimental new media and creative nonfiction aspects of what this is, which – as it turns out – is a story, like sooooooo many other stories.