Nine years before the planes hit theWorldTradeTowers, I painted a prophetic image while spending two months in solitude. I didn’t realize it was prophetic until two days after the event happened. The painting hung in my living room and as I walked by it after 9/11 the painting reached out and literally shook me.
The odd feelings THEN that troubled me as the image spilled onto paper ripped open the significance NOW.
My paintings have always been another way – a more gestalt way – of expressing what I know to be true. Back in 1992, I was purposely painting the downfall of the American way, our profit motivated culture which greedily consumes whatever it wants with the best of intentions. I knew then, still know now, that way is a cultural fossil and needs re-storying.
So I purposely painted the power of love, forgiveness and intertribal-interdependency in the sweat lodge to rebirth modern humanity’s folly.
To portray that folly I chose the symbology of nuclear bomb testing in the Nevada desert, an environmental disaster for all life including our own and one on which I had done considerable study. I thought I’d show the potential of a bomb exploding near my old hometown of Philadelphia, a haven for highly paid lawyers.
What became uncomfortable for me as I painted was that I couldn’t paint just one high rise building. The reality of Philadelphia at the time – at least in my memory since I had moved away in 1980 – was that only one really tall building stood in downtown. But I HAD to paint two and they were IDENTICAL. And even more interesting to me was that I had to paint them sort of melting, folding over on themselves.
My rational mind kept telling me that a nuclear bomb would have splintered them, vaporized them but the buildings insisted on folding over. It wasn’t until I saw those videos replayed again and again of the twin towers crumpling that I felt the reality of what I had painted.
That kind of epiphany is uncomfortable. My ego didn’t know how to handle the possibility that I could see the future, so I diminished the significance and therefore my voice in the world. I wonder how many of us still are doing that – diminishing our “knowing” of where we are headed on this planet.
I find support and wisdom in rereading Eairth’s Imagination by Per Espen Stoknes.
He writes: The images that arise from such meetings of Eairth and body is what we call psyche. It might be a mystery, a type of magic, how all this spontaneously comes about but not mystical in the sense of other-worldly or hidden in other dimensions. Even though air itself is invisible, it is highly palpable: just move your hand quickly through it and feel the flow around your fingers. It is always already here and now.”
We need to recognize. . . “the agency of the ‘ordinary’ Air at a concrete and immanent level. The Greek root of psyche and spirit both go back to breath – our most intimate participation in the air. Once our culture forgot about the air as a living entity, we needed to interiorize psyche not to lose her altogether. This interiorization left the Air itself bereft of any agency, intelligence and autonomy. The human mind always moving around in the brilliant Air, dependent on the air for every second of well functioning, still forgot the primacy of the Air to all Being, to all perception and knowledge.
The Eairth then is also the home to and the place for all images. Ever single image we work with in expressive arts is made available only as a gift through the highly impressionable, receptive and endlessly generous medium of the air. Without it we could neither breathe, speak, act nor draw. It is the forgotten grace of our being.”
It is that grace that saves me from hubris.
And perhaps from terrorism, too.
I’ll return to the tee pee tomorrow.