Wednesday, 3 September 2008

A Murder of Crows

Black was the without eye

Black the within tongue
Black was the heart
Black the liver, black the lungs
Unable to suck in light
Black the blood in its loud tunnel
Black the bowels packed in furnace
Black too the muscles
Striving to pull out into the light
Black the nerves, black the brain
With its tombed visions
Black also the soul, the huge stammer
Of the cry that, swelling, could not
Pronounce its sun.

Hughes, T. Two Legends, Crow - From the Life and Songs of the Crow,
1972, Faber and Faber, London

* Please remember to click on the image to see an enlarged version. Thank you.

I have been considering for some time, the identity, tilt/rush and ambient effects on the Concourse space, of the Wellington Railway Station evening commuter crowds, (the morning for me is quite different - loud with light and a focus on the new day; less furtive, less drear, less dark and less orange [the evening lights cast an orange glow in the station] - the fixation upon destination realized in a step with somehow, a more wholesome timbre and mood, affecting the spaces with a correspondingly rounder echo).

That linear stream of dark humanity launching through the station doors into the Concourse, between 5pm and 6pm on a working day feels at its height, as if it should last all night; at times, massive, endless, inexorable, echoing. Mostly dark. Bent on moving through those spaces. Bent in thought. Bent under baggage. Bent on not noticing the surrounding environs unless it has to, or unless something impinges or intervenes in its traverse.

A Murder of Crows

I was fortunate enough while still at school, to have listened in awe while Britain`s then Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, read some of his works to us. He was passionate, driven, so much so that his hands shook as though with the palsy; he spoke huskily and drank, I remember, from a glass of water while he recited works from 'Crow'.

Hughes has said that the poems of 'Crow':
...were usually something of a shock to write.
Mostly they wrote themselves quite rapidly ...
and several of them that seem quite ordinary
now arrived with a sense of having done
something ... tabu

'Crow' was a ravenous dark blot, a mischief-maker,
something of a trickster
figure, full of ironic, sardonic and sometimes
foul humour. Crow for Hughes,
was a figure who appeared to be
beyond God`s ability to manage; The epitome
of the sacriligeous,
the unspeakably awful - everything.

Sometimes, God gave up:
God went on sleeping
Crow went on laughing

Hughes, T. A Childish Prank, Crow

Yet the poem above, one of two works which makes up 'Two Legends', speaks to me of the Duende too.

'Crow' was 'Crow'. He could be nothing else. He was stuck. Yet part of that description which defines him is made up of that passion rising, lifting in a surge to find an exit from his being - a noble passion from the core of even such as 'Crow', notorious, bad to the bone; tension in existence constantly created and itself, creating that surge of '... the cry ...' surfacing in the act of arrival, although tragically still falling short, Crow mischievous, spiteful - his personna dominated by black, breathing black, surrounded by black and dark plotting. Perhaps 'Crow' is the Duende ...

'Scratch an Englishman find, not a Lion - but a Crow', said Hughes and this sentiment goes back in England, it would seem, to 1475. "A Morther of Crowys" was used to describe a flock of crows at that time, which evolved into 'A Murder of Crows', describing the behaviour of large groups of crows apparently putting to death one of their number in a cold-blooded, methodical kind of way. Ornithologists tell us that this does not actually happen, that crows are scavengers, not killers, but the phrase stuck. Contrast this with the phrases, 'An Exaltation of Larks' and 'A Chandelier of Hummingbirds'. Hughes` 'Crow' would be delighted at the distinction.
The video clip immediately below is concerned with my investigations
into how the crowd that I am constructing from cutouts and screens
is articulating in the space with regard to rhythm and flow through
the space, the density of the effect with varying degrees of
transparency, the varied scale of the individual screens/cutouts and
the character of the crowd itself. The clip begins with my initial
formation of screens which, over the past two weeks has morphed and
evolved (as my experience with making cutouts has developed) and
become more focussed upon the 'crow' element - the darker, more
ambiguous aspects of the atmosphere I am examining. I wanted a
sense of the crowd looming over the avatars in the space, but I am
also interested in the unexpectedness of encountering a range of
scale in the figures.

My current focus in the Second Life Station is concerned with the crowd identity - that 'crow' factor in the Station, where I have been working with transparent cutouts of people taken from my photos and video footage. I am exploring aspects of this dark personna while endeavouring not to make the reference too literal or overt. I have made the cutouts and screens transparent on one side so when you are standing in the Concourse looking back to the entrance, the space appears relatively empty. I have done this because a) the real Concourse space is, at intervals, very empty with a hollow echo, b) it provides visual relief from a feeling of congestion in the space when looking in the opposite direction and c) I want avatars when they visit, not to feel too overwhelmed by the crowd mass.

I will be including video clips of my investigation in the SL Station into this idea, as it develops. For me, between the dark reality expressed by Ted Hughes`'Crow' and the flock as 'a murder' I am attaching significance in feeling to that dark, flapping body of intent coming through the Station doors. Shaped like an entity all its own, forbidding in tone, the crowd surges past us, mostly uncaring, mostly shy of stopping, mostly cold-hearted it would appear, (people just really being people, innocently on a mission to get through the drafty spaces and home to the hearth yet for us, driven by ideas of pathos, uncaring are they all - that wondering/judging murder of crow(d)s). The crowd as an organism though, is pragmatic, separated from us by its own rhythm; other worlds, other intentions, other deadlines, creating a river-context into which we can dip, comment upon, subtly intervene with but never bring to a halt. The crowd and our back-eddy at the edge, is Bergson and Massumi`s 'becoming' made visible.

The video clip I have posted below is the first of my work carried out in July at the Station. I wanted to work with/introduce more tension into the conversations we as dancers were having. The results were slightly shocking for myself and Fiona as dancers, where we imbued the duet with considerably more feeling toward another than had hitherto been brought into the dance. The 'conversation' was on the edge of traumatic, which was, I feel, just what I wanted and what was needed. Certainly, we attracted attention from the commuters, some of whom were openly curious (90% still appeared to want none of it - although without asking, you never actually know and indeed, the work is not dependent upon affirmation from the crowd - it is enough to know that there is happening, a range of perceptions of what we are doing) about what was taking place. I have left this footage largely untouched other than to introduce the 'Pleasantville' effect again, to introduce a more sombre atmosphere into the work, but more importantly, to suggest that our perception as protagonists is altered and slightly different from that 'norm' being experienced by the crowd. To extend this idea, I added three blurred moments of crowd-rush in normal colour, to enhance this feeling of separation. So the crowd here is 'normal' yet removed, innocent yet unwitting of the dramas we are playing out and of course, equally so with regard to any other essays in emotion being carried out around them. I will be adding more duet works shortly, where tension was also investigated, seeking to express levels of poignancy.

At this point I would like to offer my very grateful appreciation to my wife, Fiona, for being such a supportive dance partner through the period of my Masters study thus far. Also a huge thank you to our co-dancer, Sylvie Haisman, based in Wellington. Without Sylvie, my work would not have been possible in the forms in which it has been expressed to date. The video clip below of myself and Fiona, together with the clips which will follow of my July 08 work, were made in collaboration with the improvisation flautist, Edouard Heilbronn. He joined us for the duration of the work over the three days of dance and filming. I am indebted to him for his expertise and patience, energy and empathy for my concepts and his tolerance while creating his own improv sound score in response to our movement, in what was a cold and drafty Station.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel