Creaking doors and crooked floors. That’s my house. I’ve been spring-cleaning my bedroom and when I took down some of the velvet hanging on my walls, I found cracks big enough for Goya’s Nightmare to easily slip through. No wonder I’ve been dreaming of severed heads! I’m serious – there has been a series of beheadings in my dreamworld of late. In one of them I had to kill a very old vampire friend by beheading her but all I had was a plastic toy sword. And if I didn’t succeed (swiftly, one would presume!) she would have the right to devour me. Challenging. Then I start re-reading a book on the tram yesterday, and within the first few pages a little boy opens his front door to a man without a head (“Only Forward” by Michael Marshall Smith b.t.w.). I’d totally forgotten this part of the book, but there it was… my grisly theme of the moment. You know how things just start synchronizing between the worlds of art and life and dreaming? It happens to me all the time. I will be watching a film, and there will almost invariably be a moment in which a symbol appears that connects directly to what’s been happening in my life – and from this I may deduce a message, if I so desire…(which I invariably do).
For instance, last week I had a dream where I was surrounded by dogs. They seemed to be everywhere, yapping at my feet, big black woolly ones (I liked) and annoying little jumping ones (I didn’t like). Anyway, I rarely dream of dogs, and I wasn’t sure what it meant… until I went to see “Tightrope Dancer” at ACMI the following night. The film opens in the valley in Il Porto, Positano, where Vali Myers lived in the ’70′s, with her packs of dogs… There they all were, her beloved dogs. There she was, magnificent with her spirit moustache and fire hair, sweeping up dog poo every morning, doing her art every night by gaslight. I loved watching her, even at the age of 72 she was magnificently beautiful and wild, defying the stereotypes that define and lock in so many women, daring to tattoo her own face, dancing in the streets, letting the light shine through every divine imperfection, every crack a masterpiece.
The dogs suddenly made sense to me: they represent the both our wild, instinctual self and also the everyday, earthly plane that needs to be looked after. Dog shit is the stuff we have to just deal with and sweep out, wash away, every day. These tasks are simple, necessary aspects to living a whole life. No matter how highbrow our art may be, it doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with the shit. For me, the shit is about the little resentments we build up each day, the fears we haven’t faced, the things we have needed to say but haven’t got around to – again. Feeding the animals, watering the plants, catching the fish, getting your tax return sorted… you get the idea. It’s also those everyday, humble tasks that are vital to the wellbeing of those around us, as well as ourselves. Walk the dogs. Cook the big pot of broth. Light the gas lamps and bring out the Newtons ink. I loved seeing Vali in her beautiful home under that warm light, with all the reds and greens and lush clutter around her, telling her dogs to fuck off while showing her incredibly detailed, fine work. There was no attempt to hide anything, to create an image – it was just her, talking about poo and paint as it’s all from the earth and goes back to the earth. It has nothing to do with perfection, order or control – but is more, let’s just say, “organic” (sorry, i feel very uncomfortable using that word in regards to anything anymore, but it was the only one which seemed to fit…).
This way of living, of perceiving the world, could be the closest thing I come to having a philosophy on life. “Blessed be the cracked, for they let in the light”, Faery Anne used to say. I love the mystery and idiosyncrasy of individuals, as I love the unique shapes and curves of finely made furniture or architecture. I loved Vali’s creative, colorful, crowded home. I would prefer my old, cracked walls any day over newly plastered pre-fab clean white sterility. Spiders can crawl through. I am an ardent admirer of the imaginative, the figurative and the one who can truly listen without interrupting. Is there anything more boring than the literal minded pragmatic? Oh, bring on the crack that splits it all apart and allows it all to return to dust, then to clay so it can all be created again in the life cycle.
In a set structure there is little room for movement. If we are set in our way of thinking, our behaviour will become rigid and predictable. Ironically, the fear which underlies the conservatism and safety-first mentality of our society, is that which will be it’s undoing in the end. My house is not safe, it is slowly, most surely, sinking. Some of the floors are so crooked now that you could close your eyes and imagine you were on a pirate ship way out at sea. The desk I sit at right now has gaps in it wide enough to pass a bible through, but I don’t care, because it was made for me with love and parts of it were from an old theatre. My home is full of history, stories and character, and that’s what is so beautiful about it, just like Vali’s home in Italy. Clean lines and minimalist spaces are beautiful – in the desert. But I have never been into one of these spaces and warmed to it. I’m not saying I never will, I just never have. If everything is hidden away, neatly compartmentalized behind streamlined doors (that don’t even have handles), then god knows what’s going on inside the heads of the occupants. It’s just sterile and uniform. Bring on the diversity, I like seeing the cracks and idiosyncracies. Even as flowers grow old and die, there is a beauty in falling petals and curling leaves.
I guess ultimately, it is about death. Vali was never afraid of dying, she saw it as a completely natural process, and even when she was diagnosed with cancer and six months to live, she called her friends and said, “We had a great time, didn’t we!” I’m sure her soul skyrocketed in a blaze of colour as she took her last breath. What beautiful courage, and joy til the end. Anyway, I just hope the house holds together a few more years and doesn’t collapse and kill us all one windy night. If I tell our Greek landlord, he comes around with a silicon gun and the result looks like alien nests of gooey yellow nestled in the walls. Bewdiful. (It took me hours to peel it all off again). So I’m working with the inherent, Gothic beauty of cracks and creaks, weaving my web of opulent decay as the plaster slowly falls away.