Not silence but many voices

Sculpture by Girolamo Ciulla

I've posted the following passages before, but they seem well worth a re-visit this week....

From "Art Objects" by Jeanette Winterson:

"I had better come clean now and say that I do not believe that art (all art) and beauty are ever separate, nor do I believe that either art or beauty are optional in a sane society. That puts me on the side of what Harold Bloom calls 'the ecstasy of the privileged moment. Art, all art, as insight, as transformation, as joy. Unlike Harold Bloom, I really believe that human beings can be taught to love what they do not love already and that the privileged moment exists for all of us, if we let it."

Sculpture by Girolamo Ciulla

"We know that the universe is infinite, expanding and strangely complete, that it lacks nothing we need, but in spite of that knowledge, the tragic paradigm of human life is lack, loss, finality, a primitive doomsaying that has not been repealed by technology or medical science. The arts stand in the way of this doomsaying. Art objects. The nouns become an active force not a collector's item. Art objects.

"The cave wall paintings at Lascaux, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the huge truth of a Picasso, the quieter truth of Vanessa Bell, are part of the art that objects to the lie against life, against the spirit, that is pointless and mean. The message colored through time is not lack, but abundance. Not silence but many voices. Art, all art, is the communication cord that cannot be snapped by indifference or disaster. Against the daily death it does not die."

Kouros by Girolamo Ciulla

Sculptures by Girolamo Ciulla

"Naked I came into the world, but brush strokes cover me, language raises me, music rhythms me. Art is my rod and my staff, my resting place and shield, and not mine only, for art leaves nobody out. Even those from whom art has been stolen away by tyranny, by poverty, begin to make it again. If the arts did not exist, at every moment, someone would begin to create them, in song, out of dust and mud, and although the artifacts might be destroyed, the energy that creates them is not destroyed. If, in the comfortable West, we have chosen to treat such energies with scepticism and contempt, then so much the worse for us."

The Philosopher by Girolamo Ciulla

"Art is not a little bit of evolution that late-twentieth-century city dwellers can safely do without. Strictly, art does not belong to our evolutionary pattern at all. It has no biological necessity. Time taken up with it was time lost to hunting, gathering, mating, exploring, building, surviving, thriving. Odd then, that when routine physical threats to ourselves and our kind are no longer a reality, we say we have no time for art.

"If we say that art, all art is no longer relevant to our lives, then we might at least risk the question 'What has happened to our lives?' "

A good question indeed.

Sculptures by Girolamo Ciulla

Demeter by Girolamo Ciulla

Sculpture by Girolamo Ciulla

The art today is mythic imagery in marble by Sicilian scuptor Girolamo Ciulla. Born and raised in Caltanisetta, western Sicily, he's now based in Pietrasanta, northern Tuscany, which has been an important center for sculptors working in marble for many centuries.

Sicily, a sun-baked island off Italy's southern coast, has its own language, culture, and ancient tradition of myth, folklore, and fairy tales. This heritage informs every aspect of Ciulla's work, says art historian Beatrice Buscaroli, representing "a continuity with a world that reaches us from the cradle of Mediterranean civilization...to which he adds the magic of the Etruscan land of Pietrasanta."

Figure with Ram's Head & Cele with Crocodile by Girolamo Ciulla

Ciulla's sculptures, as Buscaroli describes them, are "made of thousand-year-old certainties, of fruit, of sunlight, of wheat and stone, rain and wind. Of generous and vindictive gods, of women and warriors, billy goats and tortoises, of donkeys and fish.... Ciulla's sculpture is a sculpture that lasts, still anchored today to a thousand-year-old wilfullness dedicated to simplicity and beauty, a sculpture that sparks feelings of lightness and familiarity, faith in faces, in animals, in fruits and objects, because they belong to  everyday life, and at the same time, to a parallel world, evocative and reassuring, and worthy of being remembered."

Sculptures by Girolamo Ciulla

Girolamo Ciulla in his studioThe four passages of text by Jeanette Winterson above are from "Art Objects," published in her essay collection of the same name (Jonathan Cape, 1995). The quote by Beatrice Buscaroli is from "Girolamo Cuilla: Being, Lasting" in Girolamo Ciculla (Albermarle Gallery, London, 2007); the photograph of the artist in his studio is from the same publication. All rights to the text and imagery above reserved by the authors and artist.


The magic within

Transience by Chie Yoshii

Ben Okri has this to say about poetry; and I think it applies to those of us working in Mythic Arts too, in various mediums and forms -- particularly now, during troubled times, when the world seems so fractured, the future uncertain, and art seems so small a voice raised against the chorus of anger that is everywhere:

"The world in which the poet lives," Okri writes, "does not necessarily yield up the poetic. In the hands of the poet, the world is resistant. It is only with the searching and the moulding that the unyielding world becomes transformed in a new medium of song and metaphor.

"It is not surprising therefore that poets seem to be set against the world. The poet needs to be up at night when the world sleeps; needs to be up at dawn, before the world wakes; needs to dwell in odd corners, where Tao is said to reside; needs to exist in dark places, where spiders forge their webs in silence; near the gutters, where the undersides of our dreams fester. Poets need to live where others don't care to look, and they need to do this because if they don't they can't sing to us of all the secret and public domains of our lives."

Dragon by Chie Yoshii

Whisper by Chie Yoshii

"The acknowledged legislators of the world take the world as given. They dislike mysteries, because mysteries cannot be coded, or legislated, and wonder cannot be made into law. And so these legislators police the accepted frontiers of things. Politicians, heads of state, kings, religious leaders, the rich and powerful -- they all fancy themselves the masters of this earthly kingdom. They speak to us of facts, policies, statistics, programs, abstract and severe moralities. But the dreams of the people are beyond them, and would trouble them. The harder realities of the people would alarm them. It is they who have curbed the poets' vision of reality. It is they who invoke the infamous 'poetic license' whenever they do not want to face the inescapable tragedy contained in, for example, Okibo's words, ' I have lived the oracle dry on the cradle of a new generation.' It is they who demand that poetry be partisan, that it take sides, usually their side; that it rises on the backs of causes and issues, their causes, their issues, whoever they may be.

Saṃsāra by Chie Yoshii

Sleep by Chi Yoshii

"Our lives have become narrow enough. Our dreams strain to widen them, to bring our waking consciousness the awareness of greater discoveries that lie just beyond the limits of our sight. We must not force our poets to limit the world any further. That is a crime against life itself. If a poet begins to speak only of narrow things, of things we can effortlessly digest and recognize, of things that do not disturb, frighten, stir, or annoy us, or make us restless for more, make us cry for greater justice, make us want to set sail and explore inklings murdered in our youths, if the poet sings only of our restricted angels and in restricted terms and in restricted language, then what hope is there for any of us in this world?"

Emancipation by Chie Yoshii

Okri also offers this note of hope:

"The antagonists of poetry cannot win," he insists. "The world seems resistant but carries within it for ever the desire to be transformed into something higher. The world may seem unyielding but, like invisible forces in the air, it merely waits imagination and will to unloosen the magic within itself."

Liberation by Chie Yoshii

Dionysis by Chie Yoshii

The magical art today, which plays with allusions to Renaissance painting and classical myth, is by Chie Yoshii, who was born and raised in Kochi, Japan. She moved to the US in 2000 to earn a BFA at Massachusetts College of Art, then studied with portraitist Adrian Gottlieb for six years. Now she lives and works in Los Angeles, and her paintings are exhibited worldwide.

Her work, Yoshii says, "is inspired by the relationship between human psychology and mythical archetypes. The enduring themes are woven into surrealities filled with symbols and visual narratives. The enigmatic images embody contradicting elements such as novelty and nostalgia, innocence and sensuality, and strength and fragility, mirroring the complexity of our psyche."

The Guardian by Chie YoshiiThe passages above by Ben Okri are from his essay collection A Way of Being Free (Phoenix, 1998). All rights to the text and imagery above reserved by the author and artist.


Off to see the sheep

Sheep

 No post today because we're off to Chagford Show, our village's annual agricultural fair, to look at sheep, cows, tractors and vegetables; watch horse trials and dog contests; and consume locally grown, baked, brewed or bottled things in the company of our rural neighbors. (These pictures are from last year's post on Chagford Show. To see more them, go here.)

On Friday, I'll be preparing for the "Power of Story" talk on Saturday night. I'll be back to Myth & Moor on Monday.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

The passing traffic at Chagford Show

Tilly & Howard at the old tractor dispay


Happy 150th Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

Beatrix Potter with pet mouse, 1885

Illustrated letter by Beatrix Potter, 1895

Illustrations by Beatrix Potter

Illustrated letter by Beatrix Potter, 1892

Rabbit drawing by Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter with pet rabbit, 1981

Rabbit drawings by Beatrix Potter

I'm so grateful to Beatrix Potter, whose work has deeply influenced my own over all these years...and continues to delight children all around the world, generation after generation.

Rising above the severe social constraints of her very Victorian childhood, she became an internationally celebrated writer and artist, a ground-breaking naturalist, a respected Lake District sheep farmer, and a founding member of Britain's National Trust. She is one of my primary heroes.

For more information about this remarkable woman's life, I recommend Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear. The Tale of Beatrix Potter by Margaret Lane is also good, and At Home With Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer is delightful.

Happy 150th birthday, dear lady.

Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm

 "I remember I used to half believe and wholly play with fairies when I was a child. What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood, tempered and balanced by knowledge and common-sense." - Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Illustrations by Beatrix Potter

Illustrated letter by Beatrix Potter, 1898

Beatrix Potter and Kep at Hill Top Farm, circa 1920s

Beatrix Potter's drawing of her sheep dog KepThe image descriptions are in the picture captions.


Coffee, cows, the writing craft, and the larger reality

Tilly under the oak

To end a week reflecting on social/environmental/political concerns in the making of art and the writing of fantasy, I'd like to turn to the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, who has been walking this ground for many years, and building masterworks upon it.

From "A Few Words to a Young Writer":

"Socrates said, 'The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.' He wasn't talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

"A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper."

Cows under the oak

From Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story:

"To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make something well can take your whole life."

Bovine neighbors

From her National Book Award acceptance speech, November 2014:

''Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom -- poets, visionaries -- realists of a larger reality.''

Coffee break among the cows

Go here for a podcast in which Ursula discusses language, writing, and the new, updated edition of Steering the Craft.

Water and hound

Coffee and wildflowers by the stream Pictures above: Morning coffee beside the stream (before the rain began), with Tilly on one side of our favorite oak and bovine neighbors on the other.


The art of hope

Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

I'm still immersed in Conversations with Barry Lopez by William E. Tydeman, allowing myself only a few pages during my coffee break in the woods each day, drawing the book out and taking the time to really think about what I'm reading. Today, I'm struck by following passage on hope -- for "hope" and "goodness," it seems to me, are too often portrayed as banal, Pollyanna-ish qualities, when in fact it takes great courage and clarity of mind to reject despair, reach for the light and make something beautiful and whole out of lives and times so dark and fractured.

Flora McLachlanThe passage begins with Lopez noting his desire to explore the relationship between emotion and landscape in the context of nature writing (a publishing label, I should acknowledge, that he personally dislikes) -- and the single emotion that he's most interested in exploring this way is hope. I find that interest significant for Lopez can hardly be accused of naivity, having spent a lifetime on the frontlines of activism for social justice and our ailing planet, and having faced true evil in his early years.* Those who thoroughly understand despair have my attention when they speak of hope.

"I think you can evoke aspects of the land in prose in a way that makes people hopeful about their lives, " he says. "I think you can also describe landscapes that are not just physically but metaphysically dreary, and that those descriptions can make a readers lose a sense of hope about the subtle possibilities of their own lives. For me -- and maybe there is some mode of critical thinking about this -- the creation of story is a social act. It's driven by individual vision, of course, but in the end I think story is social, and part of what makes it social is this impact it can have on the psyche of the reader.

"My sense is that story developed in parrallel with the capacity to remember in Homo sapiens. I don't mean 'Where did we cache the food last spring?' but memory operating at a more esoteric level, recalling, say, the circumstances that induced loving behavior. Story, it seems to me, begins as a mnemonic device. It carries memory outside the brain and employs it in a social context. So you could say a person hears a story and feels better; a person hears the story and remembers who they are, or who they want to become, or what it is that they mean. I think story is rooted in the same little piece of historical ground out of which the capacity to remember and the penchant to forget come."

Flora McLachlan

The First Leaves by Flora McLachlan

After reading these words, I flip back to the book's introduction by William Tydeman and find this passage I'd marked last week:

"Most times when Lopez speaks of hope, I am reminded of the simple-minded approach so many critics and intellectuals take toward place-based writing and its expression of hope. Lopez and I agree with an analysis made by Christopher Lasch, who conveys a nuanced view of the multilayered meaning of hope. He argues that 'Hope asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.' Hope does not require a belief in progress or prevent us from expecting the worst but, rather, hope 'trusts life without denying its tragic character. Progressive optimism, often confused with hope, is based on a denial of the natural limits of human power and freedom -- a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best. It is not an affective anecdote to despair.' Those who challenge the status quo and support the popular uprising  for social justice 'require hope, a tragic understanding of life, the disposition to see things through.' Hope is what we need."

It is indeed.

Flora McLachlan

Thistledown by Flora McLachlan

The art today is by Flora McLachlan, a printmaker born in Sussex and now based in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. "My pictures are records of things seen and imagined by twilight or moonglow," she writes. "I take inspiration from my studies of English literature, myth and legend. I try to express a sense of the enchantment I feel is embedded in our ancient landscape. I try to imagine the secret face of the land, when the light fades and the creatures come out to roam. I’m feeling for a lost or hidden magic, a glimpse through trees of the white hart.

"My preferred technique is etching. I love its atmosphere, the deep mysterious blacks and the glowing whites. During the long etching process, my original idea changes, and grows, with the working of the metal. The act of creation continues with the printing of the image; many of my etchings are underprinted with a painterly mono-collagraph plate, and most are complex and demand a concentrated and meditative approach to the inking and printing."

To see more of McLachlan's beautiful work visit the artist's website; and Foxnest, her Etsy shop.

Crossing the Water by Flora McLachlan

The White Hart by Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

* I recommend Lopez' s  beautifully-crafted & wrenching autobiographical essay "Sliver of Sky,"  published in Harper's in 2013, with a trigger warning for abuse issues.

The passages quoted above are from Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination by William E. Tydeman (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). All rights to the words & images in this post reserved by the authors & artist. A related post from February: Alison Hawthorne Deming on art, culture, and radical hope.


Hedgies

Hedgehog photograph by Alamy

It's Hedgehog Awareness Week, sponsored by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. I adore hedgehogs, so here is some of my favorite pieces of hedgehog art. (The artists are identified in the picture captions; run your cursor over the images to see them.)

Hedgehog art

"Artistotle says that hedgehogs can foretell a change of wind," writes mythologist J.C. Cooper, "and accordingly 'shift the outlook of their earth-holes.' Pliny and Aelian go further, maintaining that hedgehogs have two holes, North and South, and block one or the other as the wind changes. Other beliefs were that the animal  uses its spines to take the shock if it falls from a height, also that it collects grapes on its spines by rolling on them, then takes them home for winter storage. Plutarch says he had seen this done, the creature 'looking like a bunch of grapes shuffling along the ground, so thickly covered was the animal with its booty.' The Beastiaries used this belief to illustrate 'finding the True Vine of Christ,' though the act of stealing the grapes was 'the Devil robbing men of their souls' -- in general in Christianity the hedgehog depicted the Evil One and evil-doing.

"In early times the hedgehog was generally a symbol of the Great Mother, but in particular it was the symbol of the Sumerian Ishtar. Irish lore associated the hedgehog with witches who could take its form to suck cows dry. In China it also had a sinister reputation as one of the Five Animals [along with Fox, Weasel, Snake, and Rat, sacred but not to be trifled with]."

Hedgehog art by Rima Staines

Hedgehogs play a more postive role in the fairy tale tradition, where they appear as Animal Guides, Animal Brides/Bridegrooms, and revenants of wise and gentle nature.

Hedgehog art

Hedgehog art

In Slavic tales in particular, notes Margaryta Golovchenko, hedgehogs are the keepers of knowledge and order and embodiments of magical power:

"The Slovenian duhovin, for instance, is a version of the bewitched child, possessing special abilities and qualities, and appearing with the body of an animal such as a snake, hedgehog, or raven.  And, in the Soviet animated film Ezhik v tumane /Hedgehog in the Fog (1975), Hedgehog is the bridge between the conscious and the dream world, evoking sympathy from the audience as they watch him lost in a thick mist, chasing after the mirage of a white horse in the clouds.

Hedgehog art

Hedgehog art

"Perhaps the infrequency of hedgehogs in other cultural stories speaks to a unique characteristic of Slavic culture -- the stereotypically cold exterior of the Slavic people gives way to a wise and kind nature. Initially, the hedgehog’s kind personality might seem difficult to find under his intimidating façade. For the persistent reader who takes the time to discover more about him in Slavic tales, however, the hedgehog serves as a reminder that wisdom, kindness, and courage come in various forms."

Hedgehog art

An illustration from Foxwood Tales by Brian Paterson

Hedgehog art

Hedgehog art

Hedgehog art

Hedgehog art

The J.C. Cooper quote is from Symbolic & Mythological Animals (HarperCollins, 1992). The Margaryta Golovchenko quote is from an essay published by Tiny Donkey/The Fairy Tale Review (March, 2016). All rights reserved by the authors & artists.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Dartmoor lambs

It's a quiet, misty morning here on Dartmoor, too chilly to sit outdoors for long, but there are lambs in the fields, ponies on the Commons and primroses all along the winding path up to my studio...so it must be spring, and the warmer days we've been longing for will surely come soon.

Primroses along the path

This week's music starts with The Furrow Collective, a group of four fine folk musicians who are also well known for their solo work: Emily Portman (from Glastonbury), Lucy Farrell (from Maidstone), Alasdair Roberts and Rachel Newton (both from Glasgow).

Video above: "I'd Rather Be Tending my Sheep," a West Country folksong from the collective's first album, At Our Next Meeting (2014). This one is for Delia Sherman (and all you other knitters out there), and for Cynthia Rose on her sheep farm in Wiltshire.

Below: "Many's the Nights Rest," a lovely informal performance filmed just last month. The song can be found on The Furrow Collective's new EP, Wild Hog in the Woods.

"‘I stumbled across ‘Many’s the Night’s Rest’ in a journal of the Folk-Song Society from 1905," says Portman, "and was struck by the resolute tone of the chorus ‘Many’s the night’s rest you’ve robbed me of, but you never shall do it again’. It’s Roud No. 293 – a version of ‘Bonny Boy’ and Lucy Broadwood collected it in 1901 from a Henry Hills in Sussex. I imagine this song representing a woman finally washing her hands of her cheating boyfriend and moving on, though you could draw other, darker conclusions depending on your temperament."

Dartmoor sheep

Above: "Green Gravel," a deliciously dark children's song recorded by Fay Hield, who is both a folk singer and lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the University of Sheffield. It comes from her latest album, Old Adam (2015), which I highly recommend -- along with Hield's excellent Full English project, and her 2014 TED Talk, "Why Aren't We All Folk Singers?"

"Green Gravel" is associated with children's games in Britain and North America; this particular version comes from Alice Bertha Gomme's The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland. "The song has links to burial ceremonies," Alex Gallacher explains, "with green gravel representing the newly turned grave; though there is no suggestion this rhyme was performed at burials, more that children took the ideas of life, love and death into their own sphere."

To end with, a beautiful, almost hypnotic rendition of "The Grey Selchie" (Child Ballad No. 113)  by Maz O'Connor, from Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. This new video, released a few weeks ago, was filmed for The Blue Room Sessions in the Netherlands. O'Connor has recorded three lovely albums of original and traditional tunes, the latest of which is The Longing Kind (2016).

Dartmoor sheep

The first two photographs above were taken by my friend Helen Mason. The third one is mine. A related post:
The Folklore of Sheep. Previous Monday Tunes by Fay Hield can be found here. By Maz O'Connor, here.
By Emily Portman, here. By Rachel Newton, the last two videos here.


From the archives: The Broader Conversation

Cows in the lane

On a witchy and misty Dartmoor day, winding through the narrow lanes near Hound Tor, Wendy Froud and I are stopped by three cows. "The Three Fates," Wendy says as she breaks the car. The cows approach with deliberate steps, as if with a message they mean to deliver. They are big, gentle, remarkably graceful; too large for the fairy cattle of Devon folklore but holding their own bovine enchantment. In the moments of silence that pass between us, the moor, perhaps all the world, stands still....

Cows in the lane, 2

Then they turn as one towards Manaton, leaving as purposefully as they'd come. We hold the silence until they are gone. Goodbye, lovely ladies, goodbye.

"All things have the capacity for speech," writes David Abram (in Becoming Animal), "all beings have the ability to communicate something of themselves to other beings. Indeed, what is perception if not the experience of this gregarious, communicative power of things, wherein even obstensibly 'inert' objects radiate out of themselves, conveying their shapes, hues, and rhythms to other beings and to us, influencing and informing our breathing bodies though we stand far apart from those things? Not just animals and plants, then, but tumbling waterfalls and dry riverbeds...

Cows in the lane, 4

"... gusts of wind, compost piles and cumulus clouds, freshly painted houses (as well as houses abandoned and sometimes haunted), rusting automobiles, feathers, granite cliffs and grains of sand, tax forms, dormant volcanoes, bays and bayous made wretched by pollutants, snowdrifts, shed antlers, diamonds, and daikon radishes, all are expressive, sometimes eloquent and hence participant in the mystery of language. Our own chatter erupts in response to the abundant articulations of the world: human speech is simply our part of a much broader conversation.

Cows in the lane, 3

"It follows that the myriad things are also listening, or attending, to various signs and gestures around them. Indeed, when we are at ease in our animal flesh, we will sometimes feel we are being listened to, or sensed, by the earthly surroundings. And so we take deeper care with our speaking, mindful that our sounds may carry more than a merely human meaning and resonance. This care -- this full-bodied alertness -- is the ancient, ancestral source of all word magic. It is the practice of attention to the uncanny power that lives in our spoken phrases to touch and sometimes transform the tenor of the world's unfolding."

Cows in the lane, 5The passage by David Abram is from Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (Pantheon, 2010); the poem in the picture captions is from The Writer's Almanac (Oct. 7, 2005); all rights reserved by the authors. This post first appeared on Myth & Moor in 2012.


Relationship and reciprocity

The Fox's Curiosity by Ellen Jewett

Fox With Crows by Ellen Jewett

"When did human beings forget their cousins the creatures?" asks Priscilla Stuckey in Kissed by a Fox, which I found myself re-reading recently. "When did we fail to remember that the web of life is a delicate one, requiring attention and care?

"Some point to the rise of agriculture ten thousand years ago. Ecologist Paul Shepard suggests that domesticating plants and animals led us to turn 'from finding to making,' from taking our chances with nature to manipulating nature. Others say that when people gathered into cities and built urban centers we became increasingly separated from the natural world. Environmental historian J. Donald Hughes writes that the urban revolution meant 'the great divorce of culture and Ellen Jewettnature' wherever it took place on the planet. Still others say that literacy trained people away from intimate connections with the more-than-human world. Philosopher Eric Havelock observed that when people no longer had to 'story' their experiences, as they do in oral societies, telling tales of characters and relationships, they shifted to considering others as things rather than persons. Cultural ecologist David Abram emphasizes that relying on the printed word changes our ways of perceiving: instead of listening to breezes, watching clouds, or feeling our way along animal tracks -- all practices to cultivate intimacy -- we allow our senses to dim, except for one particular way of using our eyes.

"While there is truth in all these analyses, I want to point to something at once simpler and more sweeping. I think we forget our cousins the creatures when we forget each other. When we retreat from caring for the human community, we lose regard for the more-than-human one as well. And the opposite is just as true: when we fall out of relationship with the natural world, we lose interest in helping one another thrive.

"For this is the bottom line of survival: it depends on our relationships with others. Though the land-community survived for millions of years without humans, we cannot survive without the land community. We are dependent for our day-to-day survival, our very existence, on billions of nonhuman others. And we are dependent in equally complex ways on one another."

We are indeed.

The Curiosity of Lurices by Ellen Jewett

Corvids by Ellen Jewett

"Caught up in a mass of abstractions," writes David Abram, "our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth -- our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human."

Hungry Enough to Devoir the World by Ellen Jewett

Shadow Foxes by Ellen Jewett

The White Stag by Ellen Jewett

The art today is by Canadian sculptor Ellen Jewett. Born in Ontario and "raised among newts and snails," she studied Anthropology and Fine Art at McMaster University, and now creates surrealistic, biophilic works in clay from her studio on Vancouver Island.

"Plants and animals have always been the surface on which humans have etched the foundations of culture, sustenance, and identity," she says. "For myself, natural forms are a continual source of fascination and deep aesthetic pleasure. At first glance my work explores the more modern prosaic concept of nature: a source of serene nostalgia balanced with the more visceral experience of 'wildness' as remarkably alien and indifferent. Upon closer inspection of each 'creature' the viewer may discover a frieze on which themes as familiar as domestication and as abrasive as domination fall into sharp relief.  These qualities are not only present in the final work but are fleshed out in the process of building. Each sculpture is constructed using an additive technique, layered from inside to out by an accumulation of innumerable tiny components. Many of these components are microcosmic representations of plants, animals and objects.  Some are beautiful, some are grotesque and some are fantastical. The singularity of each sculpture is the sum total of its small narrative structures.

"Over time I find my sculptures are evolving to be of greater emotional presence by using less physical substance: I subtract more and more to increase the negative space. The element of weight, which has always seemed so fundamentally tied to the medium of sculpture, is stripped away and the laws of gravity are no longer in full effect. In reading the stories contained in each piece we are forced to acknowledge their emotional gravity cloaked as it is in the light, the feminine, the fragile, and the unknowable."

Strange and Gentle by Ellen Jewett

The Compexity of Our Task is at Hand by Ellen JewettThe passage by Priscilla Stuckey is from Kissed by a Fox & Other Stories of Friendship in Nature (Counterpoint, 2012); the passage by David Abram is from The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception & Language in a More-Than-Human World (Vintage, 1997). Both are highly recommended. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.