Spiritual states

Walking down to the town in the sunshine, with the wind, vegetation, clouds, birds, I am not in any sort of spiritual “state”, but I am aware of my surroundings far more than I would be most of the time indoors. Previously, feeling this awareness or presence has felt like a spiritual state. A mere leaf could produce in me a sense of wonder. It felt completely different from ordinary life, and felt like something I wanted to cultivate.

It is worth cultivating, I have cultivated it and if it feels more routine and less exalted that is because it is a quotidian skill not a rare blessing for me. Now I am merely pleased not overwhelmed with delight, like the person who after walking across a desert carrying strictly rationed water returns to Britain where water flows abundantly from taps- and remembers drinking less than she might want. It is a state it is good to be in, in the Quaker meeting, but as a means to the end of sensing leadings within rather than an end in itself. And still I can recognise that it felt spiritual, simply for itself, close to the feeling of being aware of this wondrous universe and my part in it. It’s not quite feeling one with the universe, but is close.

I met Angela, who felt the need to explain her coat and thick fleece in the sun. There is a slight sheen of moisture on her forehead. She explained that she did not know it was this warm. She likes being outside, she said.

I noted that the sense of joyous awareness applies just as much to the shape of that roan pipe or the colour of the asphalt on the roads as it does to a roadside flower. The joy is in my awareness not what I am aware of. It’s not that everything is beautiful, but that really looking at something is a joyful experience. I remember feeling bored on the train if I could not read. Now, I can sit with equanimity noticing what is around me or in a reverie, and wonder if this is me increasing in wisdom, or merely changing desires and responses as I age.

The reverie, though. Sometimes I think through something for the first time, and more often I think something I have thought before. The sense of awareness of surroundings is less important in the civilised world. As I sit with my computer in the dark, I know exactly what is behind me- printer, hi-fi, wi-fi, piano, chaise longue- I do not need my senses alive to perceive changes. Outside, so much more is going on. There could be a balance between awareness of outside and cogitating on problems; we ruminate because we do not need so much to be aware of sensation.

I walked from Tate Modern to the Royal Festival Hall to meet H for dinner. The tide is high, and I loved the sound of the water slapping against the wood and stone of the banks, the steps, the piers. I looked over the rolling swell and loved the light brokenly reflected from its fractured, constantly changing surface. There is a busker. Here, the delight is in the things perceived as well as the heightened perception. I have found art galleries have been able to put me into my state of heightened perception, presence, awareness, whatever, and it takes less and less effort. In Awareness, I have wanted that “state” to persist when I am involved in a task, but my concentration on our conversation, with some attention left for the food, is close enough. As I speak I cogitate, but listen to her rather than plotting what I might say.

The concert at the Royal Festival Hall was Bach arr. Schönberg, Hindemith, Parsifal put into a symphonic suite by Stokowski, and the Four Last Songs. I found the singer’s voice ravishing, and the third song moved me to helpless tears. H puts her arm around me to console me. I am “in a state”, and my state pleases me.

This whole recording is worth listening to, and at 15.15 it introduces Lauren Marks, who after an aneurysm lost her internal monologue. She was simply aware of her surroundings, not chattering to herself about anything.

Appearances

Can we perform psychological experiments on you? Oh, OK. After the exhibition of Elton John’s Modern photographs collection, I am wandering down through The Switch House past their seventh floor where the space for participative experiences is open, so I wander in and am given tasks to do. I like the idea of helping, of doing something interesting, of balancing myself against a task.

I look at pictures made of black patches on a white background. Some are moderately clear, some unintelligible, some become clear after they are named. The male and female lions, their noses touching, seemed to be random spots until the caption told me what they were. Some still appear to be random spots after the caption is revealed. How certain are you that you see the outline of the thing pictured?

Are these samples real or artificial hair? Two samples are straight, two waved, two heat-treated into tiny tight curls. I look at them, feel them, close my eyes to concentrate on the feeling, feel them with my lips for a more sensitive feel, scrutinise the ends, and still get two out of three wrong. How did I make the decision? he asks. I tell him I am pleased, as I wear wigs.

With four others I consider pictures to decide whether they are valued at more or less than £3000. The most expensive, we thought was a worthless daub. How certain are you, of your own judgment, and of the consensus? Not certain at all.

Last, I look at portraits by Lucien Freud, and am asked how much they move me. I move the indicator left and right with cursor keys. I only see the picture for a fraction of a second, and the indicator disappears quickly after. My heart rate is monitored, the woman says to see whether I am a heart or head person, how my heart rate shows arousal contrasting with my conscious assessment. “Is that too tight for you?” she asks as she straps it to my thumb. “Please make sure you can keep it still, as it responds to movement.” I rest it, relaxed, palm upwards, on the table. It was not too tight, and I felt an after-image of it in my thumb for hours afterwards.

My conscious assessment has to be so rapid it is pretty instinctive, but I notice that these portraits are young or old, and I am concerned how I might appear. Am I more moved by young women, and is that facile of me? I do not want to be facile. I decide to claim to be moved by some men, and some older people, then worry that as some of the portraits are repeated I am inconsistent…

After, the attractive young woman- post-doc age, I feel, rather than undergraduate- explains that some of the pictures were timed to appear as my heart beat, and some between beats. Do I respond to how my body is in the moment of seeing, or more cerebrally? “You are unusual“- she twinkles, this is a good thing- in being in between, sometimes moved by the heartbeat, sometimes not. We discuss the self-selecting sample. Usually she works with undergraduates, who spend longer performing tasks, and get paid. Here, the volunteers are in an art gallery.

Why should I care how I appear? They have a note of my age and gender, and have video’d the proceedings, but it’s a few years yet before AI and data-storage is good enough to make it worthwhile to identify me, analyse the data and add it to a file on me. I hope. H, who put me up, was horrified. Her mother had always been concerned about appearances, and she found this repressed her true self, which she liberated as soon as she could with the ardour of a rebel. I tend to feel I am unduly self-conscious about how I appear. I will not see these people again. How I appear has a great effect on how I am treated, even though decent people are accepting not judgmental of appearance.

To a great extent, it is how I appear to myself- though that is a way to judge how I appear to others, I could also notice their reactions more. If I wanted to game the system, I failed, as sometimes I responded to my beating heart- not controlling my appearance I might be even more self-conscious about it.

Appearance is such an all-consuming thing- voice, dress, movement, body-language, wig; and who I am, how I am with others, eye contact, touching, attention… in the moment, having been confused and not getting my desired sense of performing well and above average, and being inspected in a way I did not fully understand, I was self-conscious.

Fair use of low-res picture, to illustrate the article’s subject.

Parliament

 To Parliament, for the mass lobby for EU citizens. Most of us there were not British, and spoke up for their own rights. I went to communicate my desire for co-operation in Europe, and treating people decently. After, there was a demonstration against Mr Trump, to coincide with the Debate on our demand to rescind the State visit invitation. 

Parliament is impressive. 

I claim Cromwell for Remainers. He fought for the people against the Moneyed Elites. 

More on this later. I don’t like writing on my phone. 

Allies III

Oh, those poor LGBT! They have such a hard time, you know.

Well, we do, I suppose. I am left handed, and things are often designed for right-handed use. People assume Straightness, even I do, and many feel uncomfortable with queers. Yet, basically, Brexit that. Let us enjoy our triumphs, not dwell on difficulties.

This has been an arty week. I saw Francis Bacon on Tuesday and was irritated by the phrase “anxiety and hopelessness”, and then on Friday I saw the Bhupen Khakhar exhibition, whose paintings are beautiful, and loathed the patronising git who wrote on the wall, When Khakhar developed cataracts in the early 1990s he adopted a looser, blurry style of brushwork which allowed him to depict suggestive scenes of same-sex encounters. Well, gay lovemaking remains a crime in India, yet Khakhar’s oeuvre expresses his sexuality from the beginning. Here is “Man Leaving” from 1970. It looks like a wedding, no?

bhupen-khakhar-man-leaving

Possibly those who hate queers would not consider that possibility, so think the title “Going abroad” indicated a parting; but perhaps they would be hyper-sensitised to suggestions of gayness, so be wound up by it.

Here the many colours on the apron suggest oil paints, and how could that hose be anything but a penis?

bhupen-khakhar-the-window-cleaner

It’s just funny. I love the smile on his face.

And finally Yayati from 1987, from a myth in which a young man gave his youthful vigour to his father, but the father wandered the world and found no need for youth. I love the colour, and the fire of the wings.

bhupen-khakhar-yayati

I sit before this, entranced. I also loved “At the end of the day iron ingots came out”, where Khakhar depicts himself on the lavatory during his cancer, and the ingots look like a continuation of his depicted bowel. It is agonising. It hangs behind a picture of him having an enema, and the result in me is a powerful sympathy and love of his humanity. I feel some of his pain. It is raw, honest, truthful, which is what I strive for here.

And there is no apology for sexuality. He may be exploring just how much he can portray, but the portrayal is clear. Surely the curator can see that! Surely the curator needs sympathy with the artist! What?

I wanted a post-card of it, so asked a delightfully camp young man at the shop. There is to be an LGBT artists’ exhibition next year, their first. I look forward to that. He loves the window cleaner too, and the beauty of the colours. That green is so cool and restful. I agree it is such a joyous exhibition. And yes. That is definitely a penis.

I want his sexuality to be seen as completely normal, and that means allowing people to see it or not, as they can, in his paintings. “Ooh, look, that’s a gay bit” is not supportive, really, it maintains us as the exotic other. If someone is expressing derision or disrespect for the quality of gayness please do correct them, but don’t-

oh, I don’t know. Work it out for yourself. What would you want?

That’s it. Don’t look after us. We don’t need looking after generally, just defending occasionally. It’s like benevolent sexism- you mean well, but you hold us down.

Switch House

From the roof of the Turbine Hall, accessed from the members’ room, here is The Switch House. The sun did all I could wish in that moment.

the-switch-house-from-the-roof-of-the-boiler-house

An art snob complained that because the viewing gallery is free, the lifts are clogged with people going up for the view who do not bother with the art. I hope that some of them might descend by the stairs, and be fascinated by the exhibits. I have been up there: if it is a less sophisticated pleasure than the content of the galleries, it is still a real one.

the-switch-house-viewing-platform-watchers-watched

Magical London

I haven’t gone a swing in years. I never really mastered it. I needed pushed, and did not know how to work it up by myself other than by kicking the ground. I had not until today realised what good exercise it is, kicking forward and leaning back. I almost but not quite got to look over the top bar.

Strange days in London. I came down on Monday  to see Art. Walking through the church yard at the East end of St Paul’s I look at the trees and am centred. I am here. A woman in a black dress sits looking round herself looking cynical, yet interested and engaged. A woman in a wedding dress poses amid lights and long-lensed cameras.

I want a book, to swot for Francis Bacon tomorrow, and the Turbine Hall bookseller sends me to the Switch House. I cross the hall to The Tanks, and am overwhelmed- these great columns, the curving staircase, the bare, smooth, naturally-coloured concrete change my way of  being in them. They could be oppressive but are liberating: I walk taller. Here are video installations in a dark room with cushions scattered on the floor. The first has confused running and shouting like a demonstration gone wrong. Another room has huge works, possibly musical instruments.

the-tankswoman-reacting-to-the-tanks

In the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition I see a woman in a pink top hat with Steampunk goggles, pink tights, multicoloured top and electric wheelchair. I tell her how beautifully she is dressed, and she compliments me. We get chatting. Efrat, from Israel, has to dash off to get a train to Lancaster for a conference, but fbfnds me. So we stare at our phones for a bit.

Then a brief time with Bhupen Khakar, gay Indian painter reminiscent of the brightness of Henri Rousseau. In the story of Yayati the winged one and the old man embrace tenderly, their erections straining towards each other. It’s beautiful.

I go to the Members’ room for tea,  feeling a bit mind-blown. I chat to the staff member on the door who loves Bhupen Khakar. From there, I see this art work:

man-on-cubeman-on-cube-2 man-on-cube-with-bag

I am dreading going into Bank tube station at 6pm. Indeed, I was pressed against the other people in the Central line coach. But before then, going into Cheapside, I have a thought which becomes a haiku:

In every moment
there is a right way to be.
I choose it. Always.

This is a radical rejection of my habit of judging and second-guessing how I respond, which does no-one any good.

On Tuesday I went to Liverpool with H to the Francis Bacon exhibition, and on Wednesday morning walked with her along Regent’s Canal to work. I am at a loose end in the plaza between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations with an hour before my train. Behind me is a geodesic dome in which the European Lung Foundation is giving free lung tests. In front of me is a tall structure like a bird cage, with a swing in it. A security guard has a go on the swing, while his colleague videos him, and I watch how he kicks forward powerfully to work the swing up. He leaps off, laughing. I am second-guessing what I should have said to Sîan this morning, and how the various options might make me appear. These spiritual growth lessons never just take. They all need practice.

I go for my free lung test but am suspicious. I have to exhale into a machine, and do so as it bleeps, trying to get it to bleep one- last- time… I am suspicious, even though they have not asked for my name or email address. I am “normal”: I want to hear more. I want to be normal for a 30 year old man. I interrogate Kersten who is in charge, and outside recruiting, what happens to the data. It is not scientific, she says, because there is no proper sample selection. They are testing in various parts of London, and could record variations. They are offering a FEV test because most people do not have one until they are concerned and ask their doctor.

I sit, and finish off the book Accidental Saints. A woman holds her tiny child on her lap as she swings gently, another pushes her older daughter. A young man swings, all the while taking selfies. So I go to swing. I have been watching, tempted, all this time. I love it, it is exhilarating. After, Kersten asks me how I enjoyed it, and we get chatting. (I am looking round, in case her job requires her; someone else hands out the questionnaires.) It is beautiful. It is a lovely connection. I tell her my haiku, and she says “Of course”. And we second-guess and judge. I tell her there was a young man swinging, but when I say he was taking selfies she comes out with the standard judgment of screen-obsession. Where are you from? I tell her of the beauties of Swanston, including the extension on Bewiched and she imagines the building would be spoiled, though she is delighted when I tell her how lovely it is.

It is a beautiful connection, and she is a lovely positive person, and we are still judging and second-guessing. The adjectives I have for the concrete in the tanks imply ugliness or incompleteness, yet they are as they are intended to be and are beautiful.

Mona Hatoum

I have rarely seen a work of art that could kill me. Rather than a knee-high wire, there is a proper barrier, of wire taut across the room at intervals of a few inches, up to about eight feet. I imagine alarms will go off if anyone tries to put an arm through, as bodies draped over it would not look good.

The noise of it echoes through the gallery as far as the entrance. It is a deep electric hum, sometimes off, sometimes very loud, sometimes with hints of harmonics.

It is a living space. There is a table with kitchen tools such as a mincer; a smaller dining table with chairs around it; a bed, a pink cot with a chamber-pot underneath- not a potty to sit on, an old bowl with vertical edges- and a large cage for a pet, perhaps a gerbil. All of it is wired up. Bulbs placed at various places glow, then go out. There is nothing soft: no mattress on the bed or cot, hard chairs, no cushion. It is a living space, that is deadly; not a place of loving friendship and enjoyment, but of threat.

Before, there is a cheese-grater blown up to slightly above head height- a symbol of a barrier that could hurt, rather than one which could, actually- and some burned toilet paper, framed. This beside paper called Skin, hair, nails and urine and on which one can see nails and hair, oh that bit’s skin, that stain might be urine. The works are small, and I go up close, to be confronted with the idea of me, studying someone’s excretions.

This is us, physical, vulnerable.

There is a cube, about 5’6″, covered in magnets then iron filings which form sinuous tubes around it. It is beautiful. There is a video projected onto the floor inside a cylinder with two doors: the camera was inserted into the body. When I came with H, it was the mouth and stomach glistening, I saw the uvula, but today it is the anus and perhaps the vagina, identified by perineal hair. The noise was heartbeat, with the electric hum in the background.

Then there are bunks, five high, again no mattresses, nothing to climb on, the edges of the metal would cut into your foot.

And then there is the video of Mona Hatoum walking through Brixton, barefoot, DM boots tied to her ankles by their laces. Sometimes the video is of her shins and calves, sometimes of all of her, walking slowly, one pace to a second, looking down. She is big boned, not a catwalk model but beautiful, solid and squishy, animal human.

And then the cube impenetrable. It is 3m cubed, of vertical hanging black barbed wire about 10cm apart. The wire is black, the barbs sharp, and it shimmers as you walk round it, as you can see horizontally or diagonally through it. Beautiful, and another work that would hurt if not kill. Us and the world. There is no barrier, but a guard in here all the time.

Mona Hatoum impermeable

The Switch House

To the new part of Tate Modern.

Switch house members room 2

The members’ room is spacious and high-ceilinged, yet it feels claustrophobic. It is strange. Perhaps it is how small the windows are, or the thick concrete beams, but I feel enclosed.

Switch house members room

It is built onto the back of the Turbine Hall, whose wall is of course vertical- yet looking up at it, because of the angle of the new building, looks as if it is leaning over me.

There is now a bridge across the top of the Turbine Hall.

turbine hall ai wei wei

There is a viewing platform on the tenth floor. Please respect the privacy of our neighbours, say the signs. Perhaps those are exhibited for sale: they don’t look lived in.

The Two Towers

I love having this public space for art, and the large new works use it- there is one of Louise Bourgeois’ Maman spiders.

Georgia O’Keefe

-It’s a vagina.
-Of course it’s a vagina!

Georgia OKeeffe, grey lines with black blue and yellow

The exhibition is packed, and I go to the pictures which catch my eye and are less crowded. Those could be the heels of two hands, but are more likely arses, cheek to cheek, with a sort of epic sunrise thing going on above them. In other paintings in this room, the lines are more abstract. I love the way the colour washes and merges.

Afterwards, I read, the artist was irritated that critics saw sexual images in her flower paintings- but so do I. Having seen the bodies in Grey Lines, I see bottoms in the petals of Jimson Weed. H says, reasonably, that flowers are genitalia, but this is a painting of a flower. Now, I am hopeless: that building in a desert makes me think of vaginas! The doors and windows are dark holes; and it has wee sticky-up knobby things!

I need to spend more time in this exhibition. I went round quickly, wanting to taste it after spending more time on Mona Hatoum. Don’t characterise her by other things- she painted an animal skull floating above a mountain, but did not want compared to Surrealists, even though before I knew of her I might have guessed Dalí painted that. She is herself.

I made you take time to look…and you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower- and I don’t.

I do, actually. I make associations with her Jimson weed, which is a few cm across, which indeed I might not really really look at, but for her-

Jimson Weed

and it is something of me that I see. And as well, there is- a distinctively female response? Possibly. I could just be saying that- female artist, picture made me think of a vagina, that’s one they’re selling postcard reproductions of- and I like to think I am groping towards understanding, though perhaps I should not use words.

It’s really crowded. People like this. I do. I find it heady- smell of flowers association, perhaps- or thoughts of sex. I will let her be alien, aloof; I will not imagine I have pinned her down or classified her. This attitude permits me to find more in the paintings, which I may be finding in myself.

St Pancras

St Pancras, castle in the air

From the other side of the British Library, St Pancras station floats like a castle in the air. Paolozzi’s Blake’s Newton has better things to think on, staring at his compasses on the ground.

Paolozzi Blake Isaac Newton

William Blake, Isaac Newton

This is the first time I have taken a photograph on my phone and blogged it from the wordpress app. I confess I edited it a bit on the lap-top. At least I am now in the current decade…