Speculate to accumulate

by Helen Barker

In response to the recent Reading Loop, as mentioned in my previous post, you can find some interesting notes on our discussion here. [With thanks to Amanda Crawley-Jackson for these notes.] In particular I like the quote from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space which investigates ‘the miniature’. To quote again:

‘In looking at a miniature, unflagging attention is required to integrate all the detail. . . .Psychologists — and more especially philosophers — pay little attention to the play of miniature frequently introduced into fairy tales. In the eyes of the psychologist, the writer is merely amusing himself when he creates houses that can be set on a pea. But this is a basic absurdity that places the tale on a level with the merest fantasy. And fantasy precludes the writer from entering, really, into the domain of the fantastic. Indeed he himself, when he develops his facile inventions, often quite ponderously, would appear not to believe in a psychological reality that corresponds to these miniature features. He lacks that little particle of dream which could be handed on from writer to reader. To make others believe, we must believe ourselves.’ (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space)                                         

As I sit at my desk and ponder the compositions of my practice, I am accompanied by Umberto Eco’s book The Infinity of Lists. It is in the pages of this book that I have sought refuge recently. I’ve been speculating about lists.  Pinned on my wall is a list –

geese//birds//doors//walls//bricks//boxes//deck of cards//bricks//boxes//owls//flowers//buckets//houses//boats// washing – lines//binoculars//oranges//leaves//stairs//ladders

One thing these images all have in common is their plurality. They are images I am currently working with/working into a composition. I draw them out small over and over again, they become patterns, they become miniature versions of themselves on the page. They require that “unflagging attention” of which Gaston Bachelard speaks, in order to be seen. These images swarm about my desk and form fleets and armies unaccountable in number. Their rhythm and their rhyme suggest an infinity of continuation, and the frame of the page advises that what we see within it is not all, but merely an example of a totality whose number is incalculable. Umberto Eco opens his book with a marvelous example of the miniature in mass – the shield of Achilles. Divided into five zones the shield has so many scenes that “unless we presume infinitesimally minute goldsmithery, it is difficult to imagine the object in all its wealth of detail.”

Next to the list pinned to my wall is a phrase – “Can’t see the wood for the trees.” I reflect upon this as I consider the amount of detail that the visual can sometimes thrust forth. In language a list is successive, one word must be encountered after the other. But with an image we might toy with a simultaneous encounter – a pile of things amassed before our eyes, one indistinguishable from the next. The “etcetera” of art. I am, and always have been, attracted to things in multiple, things that can be repeated, copied, collected – I am called to arms by the formation of a history through the accumulation of images. False or true, I crave the ‘many’.

Alongside images, other things that can be collected are words. Words can be repeated, copied, multiplied.

THE multiplied by 2 = THEM.

ME multiplied by 3 = WE.

But how might this be expressed in form? In writing I can attempt the impossible by lack of committment to the visible. We can all imagine here. But what of an image we are asked to see? Mikalojus Ciurlionis employs the tactic of animisation (a popular principle of symbolism in which natural forms are painted so as to be reminiscent of human or animal forms) in his paintings to create linear rhythm from the principal means of “line as expression”.  He creates flexible, waving forms and overlaps layers to extend space. His paintings are named by number and he comes back again and again to the circular structure of narrative – communicating a plot through symbolic links between separate motifs. Perhaps the list of images I have pinned to my wall is a cast of characters – and I might find a way to list them within an abstract structure which visually employs their status as linear symbols, joining them together in narrative form. Multiplying them to create histories, stories, collections, etcetera…….