An artist friend of mine spent Christmas in Bangkok. They wrote to me saying:
“I could not get over the tension and apocalyptic nature of the street experience I have been sensing in Asia. I started to break down the elements I was reacting to and analyzing my strong reaction to the over stimulating environment as an artist. The textures, layers, sounds, lighting and press of people as a type of tapestry and humanistic hive.”
“The contrast of your beautiful, balanced and peaceful images of nature posted on Facebook longingly reminds me of my own desire for beautiful natural environments and the peace and harmony that comes with these things.”
‘Humanistic Hives’ is an inspired interpretation of city living. The feel of the Hive intensifies with the increase in numbers of people inhabiting the cityscape, and cities like Bangkok have grown rapidly and somewhat chaotically emphasizing this Hive life. It is not something that is peculiar to the Asian cities, either. When I was younger London was roughly half the population it is now. Walking its streets as a teenager I marveled at the city, and I lived in the city for 32 years but with ever decreasing enjoyment as the Hive grew buzzier and busier, its oppressive swarms pushing me out of the central areas I loved into suburbs initially but now to the end of the line…
The increase in tourism means there is no respite from masses of people on an infrastructure designed in the 1880’s and now barely able to cope after decades of masterly neglect by politicians and planners alike. The city has no heartbeat simply a cacophonous rush of life through its arteries. London is big enough to almost create its own weather, no real winter because the masonry acts as a great storage heater. Transport systems largely unchanged for 150 years move people within the city but fail to move them easily between cities or the surrounding countryside.
Life in the city is apocalyptic because it is dependent on the rush of humanity through its streets. There is no compromise position for most people, you are either in the swarm or out of it. Only the rich ‘Queen Bees’ can exist both within and independently of its streets, insulated by their own personal drone armies. The city needs the constant injection of youth and brains sucked in from the rest of the country, and it spits out its elderly. In England we spit them out to places we mockingly call ‘God’s Waiting Rooms’, often seaside towns where pace is slow and weather reigns supreme. Here Hive members, drones and the odd dying queen, quickly become forgotten and decay.
Weather reigns supreme. The city protects its drones, giving them an environment that its propaganda persuades is the best, most exciting, most involving. But this propaganda achieves its end by detaching many from the heartbeat of our planet. The reluctance to recognize global warming is city based amongst people for whom dialing back their consumption would mean removing the pleasure in the Hive lives, for they are truly detached from our planet, only their Hive being their environmental concern. Plant more trees? No, it increases hay fever with their pollen. Cut carbon emissions? No, because the worst emitters are urban transport systems, which the Hive relies on. Reduce pollution? Yes – but only by taxing anyone from outside the Hive with access charges.
The Hive has no horizon, walls of buildings or transport blocking any views, night sky obliterated by street light glare. The Hive has no weather to speak of beyond a narrow range, and if by some mischance it gets ‘real’ weather its systems collapse and the Hive goes in to panic mode.
Outside the Hive a different reality exists. This reality reaches far back through time, so even the Hive drones have it within their DNA. Outside has a different time clock. Here the pulse within is matched by a pulse Outside. Seasons and changing light patterns are reflected in behavioural modifications proven by evolution. The magic of nature’s rebirth in spring with growth of new vegetation, animals and birds getting into their mating rituals enhance the sense of time and the pulse of life that Outside brings.
This pulse of life has formed the basis of old religions and philosophies, from Druids through Norse Gods, from Greek Legend to Native American rituals, from tribal ritual in Africa to folk songs in Peru. Many of these philosophies and rituals formed the basis of the sixties alternative cultures having survived centuries of persecution under the encouragement of the priests of what Bernard Cornwell refers to as ‘the nailed god’.
A current vogue for ‘mindfulness’ brings contemplation back into focus but it has always been a part of artistic activity. Art has always been a bridge between the unconscious and the conscious, between man and mystery, between eternal sensual truths of the pulse life and the more frenetic thrusting of the Hive.
In my art I look to both, through recognition of the parallels between nature and art (as in the D’Arcy Wentworth book Growth and Form) and art and society (the use of the grid, control mechanisms, systems etc.). When you talk of my “contrast of … beautiful, balanced and peaceful images of nature” you see me tapping into the rhythms of the earth. Gregory’s book ‘Eye and Brain’ explores the physical and mental process of seeing.
The violence of a storm is more apocalyptic than a Hive. The sound of tree branches clattering and squeaking in the wind is a powerful symphony/. The crash of waves can be loud enough to silence any chatter, whilst artists like the mystic William Blake talk of –
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Our urban artistic elites plagiarise and imitate in a perpetual circle of mutual onanism. As the Beatles had it, it is ‘Within you and Without you’
We were talking about the space between us all
And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late, when they pass away
We were talking about the love we all could share
When we find it, to try our best to hold it there with our love
With our love, we could save the world, if they only knew
Try to realise it’s all within yourself
No one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you
We were talking about the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world and lose their soul
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?
When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you