The spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards. This movement is the movement of experience. It may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.
Sometimes one wonders what it means to breathe rather than to utter a sound, to blow air rather than blow music. The difference between air and sound and breath.
Sometimes, the hardest part of creating art, is the complicated movement of experience. That is my experience moving through the movement of a piece. Each day I walk through a certain space. History is silent while I walk, but my memories creep up in stages. It feels some days that I am walking for longer or shorter. The landscape each day is different, is different each moment. Each evening the sunset blows me away, differently, quietly, briefly. The sunset is beautiful because it is ephemeral. The impossibility of capturing the sunset in a work of art: the colors, the changing colors, the light, the clouds, the shadows, the residue of death and of life, the hope, the density, the lightness, the brevity of the moment, the fixedness, the impulses, the attachment, the compulsion, time changing direction.
The excerpts by Kandinsky in this article resonate with me the way it feels that in a certain quality of light different questions are asked between the particles of dust that float upwards and downwards. Here is a description of what I’ve been feeling like lately:
The solitary visionaries are despised or regarded as abnormal and eccentric. Those who are not wrapped in lethargy and who feel vague longings for spiritual life and knowledge and progress, cry in harsh chorus, without any to comfort them. The night of the spirit falls more and more darkly. Deeper becomes the misery of these blind and terrified guides, and their followers, tormented and unnerved by fear and doubt, prefer to this gradual darkening the final sudden leap into the blackness.
At such a time art ministers to lower needs, and is used for material ends. She seeks her substance in hard realities because she knows of nothing nobler… The artist in such times has no need to say much, but only to be notorious for some small originality and consequently lauded by a small group of patrons and connoisseurs (which incidentally is also a very profitable business for him)…
But despite all this confusion, this chaos, this wild hunt for notoriety, the spiritual triangle, slowly but surely, with irresistible strength, moves onwards and upwards.
At times an extremely minimal space, that is a space split from the whole, a corner with a candle, a piece of sky with a particular cloud, a sad memory under the overpass, or simply one’s face in the bathroom mirror, dreams emerge that reveal something completely different about a particular fact or event. The proximity to this fact or event within this space exacerbates a sort of communion. It becomes very, very dark. The thickness of the air, the silence. Hardly anything is bearable. It becomes light again though, as if darkness does not exist momentarily, so that you miss the darkness oh so much, so that things appear so differently now, having seen them in completely darkness and then in complete illumination.
Will Alexander and I often talk about how sometimes we feel like we are the only two left in the world who feel a particular way. I couldn’t describe what it is we feel and think because there in the need for description is where the spiritual wall exists. But he often says something similar to this:
The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended. And for this reason it is necessary for the artist to know the starting point for the exercise of his spirit.
I used to wait until I was free or had time before embarking on any day trip as a sort of reward. Now I wait until I am most overwhelmed, stressed, busy, lack of time at its peak. Because it is then that I need a change of air the most.
I visit the Salton Sea for the second time this year, and this time, I am lingering with the question of how to write a space.
How does one write a space?
How does one enter a space so fully, or ask the reader to enter the text as to experience the experience of a space? The movement of a space? All of the consequences, beautiful and horrible, of being in a space?
To write the Salton Sea there are an infinite number of factors to consider.
The colors. As if in an Impressionist painting. As if having died and come back to life again. As if in a daze and unable to fully open one’s eyes. As if the colors are so diluted they run together but simultaneously so vibrantly dull, so hideously pastel, so beautifully in-between states. Pinks, blues, browns, yellows, whites, greens. The saturation of the blue-blue water with the dulled pink-pink sky.
The textures. The crackling of the fish bones below one’s shoes. It’s a natural compulsion to want to walk in them forever. It’s a natural compulsion to want to lie in them. To feel the textures of the bones against your skin. The strange smoothness of the water. The jagged spines of the rocks. The correlation of texture to skin to sky to water to heat to skin to time.
The air. The quality of it. The immortal and instant deathly feel of breathing, as if swallowing the forms of the fish, the ruins, the purpose of it all. You have no choice but to breathe as the space as no choice but to exist.
The heat. The Salton Sea and its surrounding areas, there’s something about being here in the summer. The density of the dry heat that rubs you everywhere, that makes your eyes water, that adds to the affliction of a place that only knows generosity through death, that only knows love through eternal passion, that only knows life through extinction, that only knows love through color. You drink water like you drink to live. The heat does that to you. You think you see things in the dirt, in the shadows. This too is the heat, that you want to escape, yet have the urge to linger in a little while longer.
The sky. The sky looks different wherever you are. This too is the quality of light, which is absolutely distinct from the light in Los Angeles, for example. The inscrutable light moves through the space like a subsiding threshold of swiftness and color. An impossible task might be to map the movement of light through a space. One sees everything in a different light.
Writing a space is about feeling. It’s about the intersection of one’s intention and patience and existence with another’s colorblindness and absence and languid imagination. It’s about trying and failing. It’s about, then, life and death. Writing a space is about failure. This probably isn’t what you meant.
There is the sense of serenity but also the exposure of one’s purpose. The space knows why even before you do.
There are the ghosts. That is, each and every memory has followed you here, and therefore, all of your dead. You linger in a spot for longer than the moment, and as you feel the heat and the air and you smell the salty death on your tongue, the sweat pouring down your face, you feel a ghost whispering behind your ear.
In a way, all spaces are haunted.
In a way, all spaces are about memory.
To sit in a space and feel and think and reflect and remember.
To see what is imagined different.
Really, to see.
Writing a space is also about honesty. Last night watching the latest episode of Penny Dreadful, there is a conversation between Ethan Chandler and Dorian Gray. Ethan Chandler remarks on seeing some very old Native-American paintings of animals. When asked why he liked them, he responds, “They’re primitive. No. They’re honest.” They then discuss whether it is possible for modern art to be honest, and Dorian Gray says that at least in music, it is. Because music is ephemeral. Music is phantasm.
There is a question of honesty and wholeness when writing a space. The poetics of a space already dictate the poetics of a poem, a piece of writing, but sometimes we want to willingly ignore what the space has already written. There are less choices than it seems. Moving pieces of thread and dust through the air. The movement of water. A single step forward. The memory. I remember.