I am slowly developing a sort of trance-like practice in my drawings that I call nihilalia. While glossolalia is a cathartic release that vocalises the sacred, giving language to the spirit, nihilalia projects deafening silences that instead swallow and annihilate utterance and language to make room for the fragile, hidden and quiet sacred. Nihilalia for me also correlates to the way we are speechless to the world of nature, no matter how tenderly and beautifully detailed a physical function has become through evolution or how horrifyingly a natural process such as a hurricane can devastate human lives, communities and cycles of life. Nihilalia can also be an ominous reminder of our place as we are just tiny grains in the eyes of the totality of existence, the observable universe and what lies beyond that.
I like the idea of familiars, and the conscious poetically occult acuity of their presences in the city where you have had to recreate nature – can you comment on this?
The San Francisco bay opens to the Pacific Ocean and its replenishing, salty scent is carried throughout the city by wind and fog, even as one passes through the grimiest side streets. I think my realms took a more ephemeral, expansive and less recognisable shape from the ocean’s influence. The overpowering movement of the water and its ability to sustain delicate creatures share many attributes with my thought processes and thus the drawings. Strange creatures like the crucial oceanic food source, plankton help to expand the vision of my realm in touch with a sort of world-source. I suppose the animal-familiar becomes a familiar-environment too. In a way I see the oceans as a visceral yet celestial blanket that connects my experience with the occurrences in that body of water. Once wrapped in this blanket, it allows me to fluidly dream and meditate about different environments, envisioning the consuming of fauna and flora, experience, growth, evolution and extinction. Giving certainty to them dissolves and destroys their subtle, hidden constitutions, just like waking from a heavily involved dream. I hope you will indulge my drifting ruminations on oceanic phenomena and my imagined realms to suggest constellations of forms and processes in the drawings:
In varying degrees, human communities coexist with, contribute to, harvest from and desecrate the ocean and its bounty. Even with technological advances, we cannot physically survive in that mysterious environment. In a way it is our closest forbidden and unknown realm. Some of the most ancient species of fish and invertebrates live in the deepest, harshest regions of the ocean and on strange occasions they swim upwards and closer to the shallows, skirting our realm. As they do this, their bodies become extremely frail, they even lose their original resplendent colours and they ultimately cannot survive.
There is an exquisitely delicate yet dangerous deep-sea invertebrate that exemplifies this called the praya dubia or giant siphonophore. They look like a gossamer and glistening serpent with a hanging veil of jewelled bells and thick feathers with stinging cells that can inflict paralysis or death. Longer than blue whales, and with thread-like tendrils as weapons, this is quite an eerie creature to fathom. Yet they are so delicate and sensitive to pressure change and certain stimuli that when praya dubia reach the water’s surface or bright light is shone upon them, they often shatter, like silk, into shreds.
According to the book of Genesis, the firmament was the solid sky of the heavens created to separate the waters above the earth (the clouds) from the waters below. As Giordano Bruno and other explorers of the sciences demonstrated, this limited ‘firmament’ does not exist. Instead he concluded, as Taoists, animists and shamans have done in different ways, that divinity is a quality latent in all living things, making it truly infinite. I believe in multiple realms and that the heavens must be something far more complex and vital than a dense vault-like layer above us. If the biblical firmament must expand outward from the earth, it would have to include the stars, the observable and non-observable universe far beyond us. In the sixty-metre-long bas-relief depicting Yama’s judgement of the dead located at the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, the depiction of Hell survived in deeply carved, painful detail, but Heaven was sublimely deteriorated by centuries of natural damage. Even nature shows us signs that the firmament is unfathomable and unfinished. In my imagined bestiary and mutable realm, the oceans are the firmament reflected, and thus marine life is the delicate shadows and rippled reflections of celestial beings. When they are brought towards us in the earthy realm, like the praya dubia, they perish. I believe this environment records the scars of the chthonic and the past and reflects the future as well. There are studies suggesting that the shell-dissolving of planktonic sea butterflies shows us the first signs of increase in ocean acidification. Jellyfish, the top predator of primordial times, are increasing in their blooms. We find sunken artefacts, and ships of war, trade and exploration from the near and distant pasts. The scars show evidence of the world’s movements and changes through tectonics. Our planet is truly a place that blossoms and bleeds different worlds from its wounds. I am fascinated and transfixed by this living blood that comes to us from all different ages at once.