Böcklin’s Dream

In the dark sea of the desert, there was an island. As we sailed by in our car, I snapped this shot. The sight matched an image inscribed in me decades ago when I saw Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel in Berlin.

Böcklin’s Toteninsel 1880 (image from Wikipedia by way of Kunstmuseum Basel)

How strange to be driving in the Southwest decades later and suddenly think of someone else’s dream. And to feel the tone of that dream image materialized to such a scale that it stretched entirely around our car. For a brief absurd moment, it felt as if I were suspended in that dream visiting a cemetery of shadows from the window of our moving coffin.

stone face

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus is one of those books, my favorite kind, that has worked on my consciousness for years after reading it. When revisiting certain passages, it strikes me that I had been thinking along these lines to the point that now the words sing to me more than ever.

The gist of the book’s message is to live the most (not the best) by focusing attention on the experience of existence while acknowledging the absurdity of our condition (that we yearn for meaning in a random existence, so we “color the void” with our images).

“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me.  A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end.  That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate.  He is stronger than his rock.” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (p. 121)

When I’m feeling the tragic fate of existence, it is this private victory that I keep in mind.

Wait…

On one of my regular walks, a sense of waiting overcame me. Earlier I had been thinking about how a photograph is really a suspension of a present moment. So I went for my normal walk through the neighborhood and took snapshots with my cell phone of whatever ordinary stuff seemed to involve my attention. Somehow interlinked in the desire for a walk was this feeling of waiting reflected in the ordinary things around me. And by the end of the walk, I felt as if a walk is very much about moving through a world waiting all around. Even I, though moving, was waiting to walk to the cafe and then waiting to get back home. Waiting for ordinary signs of waiting to stick out at me. And even though other people were engaged in activities, I saw them more like moving bodies waiting for something else to happen.

Wait Eucalyptus tree.

Wait wide open space.

Wait debris on steps.

Wait empty chair in the shade.

Wait balloon on grass near a dandelion.

Wait seed pods to drop.

Wait long shadows.

Wait horse tethered to a tree.

Wait coffee.

Wait pigeons perch.

Wait red truck at red light.

Wait shadow of stop light.

Wait paint on brick wall.

Wait gentrification.

Wait bagel with gentrification.

Wait wall for next rebellious poster.

Wait empty store.

Wait sticker on a bench on a tattoo parlor.

Wait windows clean.

Wait gold.

Wait unload truck.

Wait street cross.

Wait hair cut.

Wait old Pontiac locked up behind a fence.

Wait mail outside motel.

polygon analog

Nature draws with fissures and cracks. On this desert canvas, she illustrates the complexity of her fractal design. She brings to my mind cracking into a hard boiled egg on an egg cup, or the terra cotta pottery I’ve accidentally dropped and the pieces I’ve had to collect, or the time I heard her drawing on an icy lake underfoot. She is always drawing everywhere and at once for everyone. Could we imagine an existence without such illustrations?

Clearly, Earth is not her only canvas. Where else must she be drawing right now on Earth analogues out there? What other intelligent creatures on other planets are marveling at her polygonal work right now and wondering about if other creatures like us are not doing the same?

an inevitable whisper

While on a photographic quest for an amazing epic scene, the small moment in the tiniest corner of the woods can speak as loudly, if one knows how to listen beyond one’s intent.

On the way to a waterfall, a stream whispers under a tree. Fallen leaves quietly look for a place to release their tannins. Moss gently lingers across the heavy wet bark.

This soft entropic scene slowly drifts me along its slide back into material. And the scene whispers to me that death is an illusion, or an imaginary ego point in a process that is concerned with the larger return of existence.

I release any bitterness about being a part of what this scene whispers into my ear. The inevitable has softly spoken in this small round corner of the woods and I gently accept it.

miniature tree

We see miniature trees everyday off in the distance. Such a common site gets easily dismissed. But a photograph can cross back over that threshold and aside from any tilt-shifting emphasize this feeling of the miniature.

I think this taps into feelings I have for what is smaller than me. And the tendency to see small things as cute. Protective feelings arise over these baby trees. It’s the deep satisfaction that can come from caring for an aquarium or crafting a train diorama.

Whenever we peer into a microcosm, the observations run simultaneously with the realization that we just might be in a microcosm to a perspective beyond our awareness. Perhaps this is at the base of the religious belief in a higher power. I often wonder about beliefs as side effects or reactions to such phenomenological occurrences as an optical effect.

Would we take better care of things if we saw them as miniature? Maybe it’s time to walk around looking backwards through binoculars at things that are difficult to have compassion for, in order to help out.

Next time a conflict arises, should I just miniaturize the source and care for it instead of miniaturizing myself into an unnecessary struggle? Just like a Buddhist monk might miniaturize desire itself in order to miniaturize suffering?

Or maybe in the future, AI will read our emotional responses and adjust them to a calmer state for better decision-making by employing this feeling of the miniature, while controlling our evaluations so that the decisions made are best for its purposes. The same kind of therapeutic brainwashing seen in cults only turned into an algorithm, for our own benefit of course.

Shadow Pareidolia

What do you see in these shadow figures? I see the Egyptian queen Nefertiti! It has this heavy mythical weight for me even though its just a silhouette of rock formations somewhere in Utah.

Pareidolia happens when I see something like a face in a cloud that actually doesn’t exist. In this sense, when pareidolia occurs, I am seeing my own mind displayed before me.

In this vein, I make other art I post on Instagram (@oneroundcorner) that employs a random process of multiple exposures and mirroring to produce pareidolia effects like the one below. Zoom in and look at the absurd figures that appear. I’m constantly surprised by how mythical and spiritual they feel while being randomly made.