Escaping the city and Dark Light

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I escaped city living through a temporary house swop, a friend who had built her dream home away 3 hours outside of cape town needed to return to the city for work and medical treatment, I wanted out of city life. It was a wonderfully mutually beneficial arrangement that lasted for two and a half years before we managed to extricate ourselves from each other’s houses. It enabled me to without major financial commitment establish a life away from a city dependence.

I have not looked back and seven years later, I still live a rural life. My reason for leaving the city were many but the driving force was that I was changing careers from a documentary filmmaker back to my first love, art. I studied fine art formally at university but found that other interests and adventures pulled me in directions I had never anticipated. Studying art is both a blessing and a curse. It enables you to situate yourself within an art history context expanding your visual and cultural references and for this I am grateful. But it also stifles spontaneity and for me it severed my trust with my instinctual creativity because, so I was taught, there was a “”right and wrong” way of going about things according to lecturers biases. It took me five years of an chaotic, anarchist, experimental life in Berlin to undo my formal art education. And by that time I was more interested in filmmaking.

Filmmaking led to photography and that was a big reason why I left the city. I began an intense series of transformative self portraits using a photographic technique called “light painting”. The technique enabled me to transcend the solid flesh of my body and capture elemental energy forms. In all the portraits I am completely naked. Clothing felt too restrictive and identifying. I became immersed in discovering ancient, inner, mythological archetypes which were re-interpreted through my 21st century perspective. In order to access these much deeper layers, I needed intense focus, a lot of wild space, and quiet, exploration I found impossible in the pressure, noise and congestion of the city.

The mythological self portrait series I termed ‘Dark Light’ for I felt I was making the unknown visible, through (my own) embodied form in a way that could be captured on camera. It was immensely liberating as I felt I was finally freeing myself from a voyeuristic male gaze I had inadvertently internalised my whole life and was. It turned out to be a full time three year project, discovering and presenting myself through my own eyes.

During this time, I was taking long walks through exquisite fynbos which I was fortunate enough to be living in the midst of. It felt very organic that I transferred the same light painting technique and intense vision into exploring flowers. In fact one Dark Light sub series is the mergence of my female form with various proteas. So began my fascination with flowers, plants, expanding to insects and animals.

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Escaping the city and Dark Light

It was a dark and windy night when I heard a strong, insistent tapping against the window. Sounds like it could be the beginning of a horror movie. But where I live, its only precious beautiful creatures that disturb me and in fact they don’t disturb me at all, even the biggest hairiest spiders and the most venomous snakes. Creature nature is not cruel or vindictive, just self protective.

I went to investigate the window tapping and found an enormous furry pink orange bodied moth desperately wanting to enter into the light of the kitchen but the clear glass was the invisible obstacle. It was hitting the window with such force and its attempts were increasing and becoming more and more frantic, it even became a bit frightening, I had to remind myself I was looking out from the safe inside. When the moth remained still for a brief moment, I could see that its wings were completely ravaged, they were hanging off in tatters. It was like someone had taken a knife to a kite and gashed it up into uneven strips. The kite would be able to fly for a bit but the crash was inevitable. This moth was hitting the window with such vehement, violent life force, death could only be hovering nearby.

I considered for a moment opening the window and letting the battered moth in. But then i remembered from past experience that one has a kamikaze missile the size and force of a small bird inside one’s house. It is unsettling, and disturbing. I turned off the kitchen light to give the moth some rest in preparation for its journey into the spirit world. I made a mental note though, to go and find the moth in the daytime, I doubted it would stray far from the window, the night was too icy and windy.

The following day I remembered to search for the moth and found it clinging to the wall beneath the window, with its shredded wings. What a body it had, furry pinkish orange with dark yellow feelers. It had big black purple balls of eyes, that seemed to unflinchingly look into me ogling its form and wishing for it imminent demise.

A small perfectionist part of me was disappointed that such a fine specimen had ruined its own exquisite wings (the confusion of artificial light being the other culprit) . The bigger, deeper part of me knew the moth was perfect. The ravages of time and life having torn its wings ragged. A potent, if mournful symbol.

I forgot about the moth and it didn’t flap at the window again. The following day on my way to my vegetable garden, I saw the moth on its back on the grass. I picked it up hoping that the panther cat wasn’t responsible for this death, in particular because he damages the form in the process. The moth appeared perfectly intact. It was such a gift. Usually i only find the moths after a few days and by then dust, hairs and spiderwebs are stuck to their bodies and feelers like velcro and they can only be removed virtually in photoshop.

I immediately set about organising the moth into a pose in order to create a good photograph. I arrange the legs, the feelers, the wings by pinning them in position on cardboard. I never pierce the form with the pins, as one can see the holes in the close up photography. I managed to get the moths legs closer to its chest and get the feelers to lie flat. One of its lower legs had already gone into rigor mortis and was almost impossible to change its angle. Moths are also very hard to work with because the more you touch them the more they loose their beautiful metallic, glowing dust on their wings and the hairs of their body.

I was about to put the pinned down moth in the fridge, when i accidentally brushed the extremity of its abdomen with a pin and its abdomen moved. It had two flap like appendages at the bottom of its body and these two flaps opened when touched and then slowly relaxed back together again when left alone. A creeping sense of horror overcame me. Had i pinned down an alive moth? I touched other parts of the moth, the legs, the feelers, the wings, it didn’t stir. But every time i touched the lower abdomen, it creepily responded.

I put the moth in the fridge, hoping that the cold would bring about its final passing. I have heard dying from cold makes one pass peacefully by falling asleep and never waking up again.

It became my daily routine to see if the moth abdomen had stopped moving when i touched it. Each day it contracted to the touch, without any other part of the moth having moved. It was pinned down but in a way that it could have moved a leg a wing a feeler if it wanted to.

Finally after five days, i touched the moth abdomen and it felt hard and crunchy to the pin touch and there was no movement.

What an extended death, perhaps made all the more torturous by me. I tried to google about how long it takes for a moth to die. Why would its abdomen continue to move like that? I thought perhaps it might have been female and that the abdomen would move to expel eggs even after body death. But no such eggs emerged. This remains a mystery to me. One of the many mysteries I encounter on a daily basis in my interaction with insects animals and plants.

The moth holds deep symbolic significance for me personally. It feels like a mythological representation of the soul for the insistent way it persists on going to the light, even if self destructs and immolates on the flame or heat of the light. Is not release from the body a prerequisite for completely merging with the light? And what a bodily life a moth has, born as a juicy terrestrial worm only to dissolve itself into a magnificent winged creature of the air.

Here I have been playing with different compositions.

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