Becoming: meditations on light
Maria Eduarda Duarte - In these long days, it seems to me that we look more at the sky. Most of the time we walk and look ahead, sometimes we look at the ground. We grow up telling us to be careful, to see where we are walking, why do you think that we look so little above?
Joana Patrão - Maybe it is all a question of time and openness. In our daily life, we look ahead while walking, we are following a purpose, we have somewhere we want to get to (and sometimes as quickly as possible). We are told to look below to prevent us from falling and we keep doing that when we are afraid, when we don’t know the place we are stepping in. Looking above is for dreamers. There is no practical reason for doing it, yet, it is a beautiful thing to do. It is an act of wonder and curiosity, something we are tempted to do as a child, but as we grow up we get shaped to not waste time with that reverie.
I can tell you about four experiences that made me look again to the sky:
- Walking on the beach, filming the sea, and noticing the variety of colours, tones, and light intensities. The sea as the mirror of the sky where it all changes at an impressive pace.
- In a remote island in the Baltic Sea, Utö, I participated in A Deep Listening Session, a performative session led by the artist (performance-maker/researcher) Saara Hannula. The proposal was to walk in the direction of the sun, to the sea, becoming progressively silent, aware of the surroundings. Walking was all about the experience of discovering, to awaken the senses: to the sound of the rocks or to the silent clouds in the sky. Each one defined their own pace, their own path, their own vision. I have a vivid memory of the sky and the sea and the synesthetic feeling: merging with water, listening to the music of light touching the waves.
- Goethe's poetry on clouds, following Luke Howard's classification of different clouds, I found out shapes that I never acknowledged. Seeing images of John Constable's paintings. We know the sky is not only blue, but how many times do we notice the oranges, violets, the multiple cloud shapes and densities? The ever-changing sky, the poetry of everyday.
- Stargazing, looking at the sky at night, to the light coming from dead stars. We lost the habit of looking to the sky wondering about meaning. Sometimes I find myself wondering how it would have been to look at the sky without scientific knowledge. The mysteries of it, the unreachable source of sun and rain, essential for life. Looking at the sky might also be about connecting with different times and imagining different experiences of the world.
And, in the end, looking up might not be that different from looking at the ground. What we need is to preserve the ability of awe and admiration. Of enchantment.
MED - This video made me think of old films, a transposition of time, as in a second, a similar time to breath in and out, something could change, gain strength, contrast, or even burn.
JP - It is curious that you bring up the idea of breath, a very cyclical everyday life act, bringing in the outside, releasing the inside, “offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves in the next..." (Abram, 2010, p.58).
If we look for the etymology of soul [alma] in Latin we find the word anima, that meant both air and breath. Also, spirit and respiration have a common root, in Latin spiritus meant both breath and wind. We can find that correspondence in multiple languages, evoking breath as the very substance of the mystery of life (cf. Abram, 1997, p.237). The invisible substance that is everywhere and participates in every being. I like that idea very much, and I think somehow in the video there is that pace of breath (also the pace of the wind that touches the leaves, or the fire that moves the leaves).
This video is also about the idea of accessing something hidden, the hidden essential energy or the seed of destruction inside every being.
The tree in the video is a white poplar, known for its double-faced leaves, white and green, used as a representation of duality in many cultures. It is often used as a tree of passage, a funerary tree. This tree represents another duality: water-fire. We often find it near the rivers because of the humidity it demands and the poplar can relive after a fire, due to the ability to sprout from the root. Life and death, water and fire.
MED - Perseverance and continuity. I would like to hear your thoughts about the capacity to look to places that have suffered heavy losses with time, do you think that it is possible to see them the same way as previous to that phenomena.
JP - In some way, I tried to address those ideas in this video. I was quite impressed to learn about the perseverance and capacity of continuity of the white poplars. They have the ability to clone themselves, reproducing from the roots, which they extend shallowly in the ground in search of water, in multiple directions. They might be labelled as an invasive species in certain circumstances for the ability to reproduce quickly, but they are also quite susceptible to winds and storms. Conceptually, I like that ambiguity, the duality between resilience and destruction.
Anyway, I think it is impossible to look at a burnt forest as the same place it was before. We can wonder if ontologically it is still the same, but the life and the feeling of being in it certainly changes. We might translate that into a sublime feeling, the mix of awe and fascination in face of danger and devastation, but also the feeling of being too insignificant, the respect for that place or phenomena.
And if it is true that after destruction there might be new life, regeneration, the scars of the destructive event remain. Even when the signs of life appear, a fragile hope, we cannot dissociate it from the lives that were lost. It is a new place with a new story. Our role is to reimagine how that might be, envisioning ways to prevent massive destruction.
Abram, D. (1997). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and language in a more-than-human world, New York: Vintage Books.