The Eternal Return

The Eternal Return by Brian Swann

In fall I stomp, bomb and spray them with worse than
agent-orange. They fall as black rain on soup and sinner
alike. And still they come. The locals say, Just sweep ’em up.
I do, again and again, and by first snow they’re gone.
In spring I find fly nurseries in riddled cowpats and think,
well, maybe this year they’ve gone somewhere else, and
I forget them. Until fall when they seep in again through
cracks and they’re everywhere, crawling up windows to
the sun, clustering as satanic clots in corners. Then they fall,
hit the floor singing high-pitched death-songs, dog-soldiers
staked to the spot, spinning on their backs, break-dancing,
flailing legs of thread, flapping mica wings, coming apart.
So I sweep them up, toss them out into the cold where
they will sleep their sleep, dream the same dream all winter
till in spring it comes true again, and the wake, born of dung
to no end save that which made them, serious as the sun into which
they vanish, to return, reconstituted, unresolved.

Swann, B. 2018, “The Eternal Return”, Salmagundi, , no. 199, pp. 68-68,227.

Ruminating on roundness again, a consequence of working with the wheel and the circular nature of wheel thrown vessels, I find myself interested in Nietzsche’s theory of the eternal return. Intended as a thought provoking experiment instead of an explanation of the universe, eternal return is the theory that life is endlessly repeating. Existence repeating itself in an infinite cycle through reincarnation is nothing new, cyclical time has been present in many religions from the ancient Egyptians to Buddhism and Hinduism. The idea of cyclical time is something we are not so familiar with in the west because of the rise of Christianity.
Nietzsche’s eternal return differs from reincarnation in that no soul is involved and instead of a new, better or worse life, we experience the exact same one over and over again. The weight that comes with this thought is heavy. On one side, we have the endless, pointless and absurd repeated suffering of existence. On the other, we find a joyful truth, a motivation to live the best life we can so that we will want nothing to be different next time around. He called this joy amor fati, literally, loving one’s fate. I find this a more appealing philosophy to life than the contemporary often reckless and selfish attitude of YOLO.
Nietzsche’s Eternal Return contrasts with the Christian attitude that this life is seen as inferior to the next one, a linear progression from one state to another. In the American Drama series ‘True Detective’ Cole’s character describes time as a flat circle, a closed system on which our lives are played out like films over and over again. Many films have played with the idea of time repeating itself – Groundhog Day, The Truman Show and more recently Happy Death Day and one of my favourites, The Frame. The Frame tells the story of two characters, each watching the other’s life through a TV show in parallel separate universes, and eventually each trying to save the other’s life.
The Big Bounce Theory of the universe postulates that matter and energy is a cycle of contraction and expansion. It’s perhaps not the most popular theory of the universe but it’s interesting to think of this in relation to the things I make. In an Eternal Return I would have made them an infinite amount of times before and will make them over and over forever. In that case there would be repeated, identical vessel forms superimposed on top of one another. What would this look like?

 

 

 

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Research and Development L6: Statement of Intent

Value, Functionality and Invisible Gardens

During my time in Sweden, being away from home led me to work with the themes of place and placelessness. I also found myself building on concepts about memory and space from the Port Eynon field module I did months before in which we worked with ideas of mythical and imaginary landscapes. For our ‘room and space’ module I worked in particular with the idea of ‘non-place’ as defined by French anthropologist ‘Marc Auge and became particularly interested in the spaces of transience in cities. Following tags such as ‘non-place’ and ‘imaginary cities’ on Instagram I stumbled across artist Sapphire Goss’s Eternity City project for Milton Keynes. The project developed over the summer of 2018 and culminated in September with a series of film installations projected onto the city’s architecture, showing plants from the ‘edgelands’ of the city as they decayed.

Inspired by this project and the work of ceramic artists using natural materials sourced from the landscape (in particular Adam Buick and Matthew Blakely) I want to work with the urban surroundings in Cardiff. I am interested in the city’s natural gardens such as roadside verges and overgrown areas of weeds beside parks and along the Taff trail. These spaces are deemed ugly and overgrown but through an in depth technical exploration of these overlooked, undesirable plants, I hope to emphasise the potential beauty in the overlooked. Having a father who is a botanist means I have grown up hearing about invasive species such as rhododendron and Japanese knotweed at the dinner table but also about the necessity for protecting rare species under SSSIs. Studying English literature at college I became familiar with the nature vs man opposition in literature (Andrew Marvell’s ‘The Mower Against Gardens’ pops to mind as does John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids and the musical Little Shop of Horrors.) I intend to root my work over the next three months in this ecological urban context.

While the overriding context of the work may be broad and drawing from many different sources, I intend to approach this project practically as a product designer. My focus for the next few months will be throwing a collection of functional tableware and improving my skills on the wheel through disciplined practice. My aim is to create a series of products with similar design characteristics in form and unified by the glazes sourced from these urban edgelands. I intend to have a mixture of traditional and non-traditional pots in this group of products. Traditional functional objects such as those discussed in Bernard Leach’s ‘A Potter’s Book’ and Michael Cardew’s ‘Pioneer Pottery’ will feature (such as storage jars and mugs) but I am also interested in making series of thrown utensils which are not so common. Ceramic cocktail shakers, butter, casserole dishes and other pots which are made up of more than one part are of particular interest to me. Since these items all have moving parts they continue with my interest in the first year of participatory ceramics and are objects which need to be touched and moved to be understood.

I hope by the end of these three months to have a large body of work with series of near-identical products and to have developed a range of around four stoneware reduction glazes which will then be used to decorate the body of work. I hope the work questions relationships between humans and our urban and natural landscapes. I like the idea of juxtaposing desirable, neat, functional objects with these city spaces we consider worthless, messy and unfunctional.

Press Moulding

Last week I tried to make my own press mould for the first time, not very successfully. My plan is to create press moulds from composite thrown forms so I can build them together into large sculptures. I find it easier to hand build on a large scale with grogged clay, but it’s painful and not very effective to throw with heavily grogged clay, so I will create press moulds of the thrown objects instead. These forms will be for my final individual project . I’ve narrowed the brief down to explore the imagery of in Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, Ch. Thin Cities 3, especially the idea of a network of pipes as underground veins…

“Whether Armilla is like this because it is unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some enchantment or only a whim, I do not know. The fact remains that it has no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a city except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows. “

I began by bisque firing a form I’d constructed from thrown sections then made a two piece plaster mould of this. The ceramic got stuck in the plaster when I tried to release it, either because I hadn’t used enough soft soap or because I hadn’t placed the middle line in the exact centre.

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Since for press moulding it doesn’t matter that the plaster is completely sealed together (unlike slip casting), I used glue to stick the broken plaster pieces together.

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This afternoon I’ve been making press moulded shapes ready to start sticking them together tomorrow to build large lattice structures.

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Alongside these I’ve been throwing functional ware for the anagama firing we’ll do at Naas in a couple of weeks. These 500g bowls are a little on the heavy side, I’m still a little afraid I’ll turn off too much clay and end up with a hole. I’m been experimenting with the angle and depth of the footrings to see what looks best…

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Port Eynon, The Gower

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Port Eynon Bay

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360 degree panorama drawing from one spot

As part of L5 Field I spent three nights staying at a youth hostel at Port Eynon bay on the Gower where we spent our days on the beach and surrounding coastal footpaths documenting our response to the landscape and environment. The cold, windy weather made it uncomfortable to draw much of the time, and like in the Neath Valley, it was a battle against the rain. I worked almost exclusively in black and white the whole time I was there, which relates to my current subject work. I wanted to focus on form, texture and contrast rather than get distracted by colour. Until the last morning our days spent there were grey and overcast but despite being colourless there was lots of inspiration to be found, in the crushed shells on the beach, the rockpools, the rhythm of the tide and the ever changing skyscape.
A change of environment was what I felt I needed. Although I love city life, having grown up in the countryside, I feel far more at home alone on an isolated cliff edge! There was certainly a feeling of the sublime, of wonder at the immensity of space and time in relation to our puny existence. I thought of Tennyson’s ‘Break, Break, Break‘ and how the waves carry on despite everything. Nature is indifferent to our everyday struggles. It just puts everything into perspective for a little while, a break in the routine.

I’ve started to think a bit about routines – our daily ones such as the walk to university, as well as others like checking our phones and mundane ones like putting on a washing load once a week. Repetition can cause things to become dull and predictable but the trick to be good at anything is to practice it routinely. We can become stuck in routines like patterns of thinking and become trapped by them but equally the structure of a routine can make us feel comforted. I keep thinking of the series of plates by Juliana Rempel on which a single new line or block of colour is added along the sequence, slowing down the decorating process to highlight each individual decision process. I also think of our wacky Field project last year where we thought of the way people enter the university and how the experience could be made more exciting if we hopscotched in, or skipped, or rode a spacehopper.  I take pretty much the same route in every morning because it’s direct and saves time. But what if my emphasis was switched from time to space and I took a different route each morning and explored all the roads I’ve never been down?

Initial Research – St Fagans

Last Tuesday we made a trip to St Fagans National Museum of History just outside Cardiff – an open air museum which contains buildings from different historical eras from all over Wales. We were asked to identify the five things below as a starting point for making.

  1. Functional artefact that intrigues you: Tiny windows

Surprisingly for me, the artefacts that I found most captivating were the buildings’ tiny windows. Lots of the houses at St Fagans where built at a time when glass was expensive or even when windows were uncovered and protected only by cloth or animal hide. As a result most are tiny squares that you have to make a conscious effort to interact with, looking in or out of. To us today, used to big windows that let in lots of light, the tiny windows appear almost prison-like.

I began thinking of how windows are interesting metaphors and remember discussing how in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights they are an important symbol of the division between nature and society, the threshold between the outside and inside world. Looking out of a window you can only see so far, you have a narrow viewpoint. Thinking about today’s ‘Collections’ presentation and how some of the images I chose were linked by the theme of ‘journeys’ ( a journey through life, travel, a walk…) it strikes me that in films looking out of windows often prefigures a long, soul searching journey, or at least the decision that something needs to change.
While researching windows in popular culture I then came across this short but fascinating article called ‘The importance of staring out the window’ which says

The point of staring out of a window isparadoxically, not to find out what is going on outside. It is, rather, an exercise in discovering the contents of our own minds’.

The article goes on to suggest that in a better society people would not have to feel guilty for daydreaming while staring out of windows, it would be seen as time well spent and reminded me of words from a poem called Leisure by WH Davies:
‘What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.’

As a result of this train of through, I want to consider ways people could interact with objects I make by looking inside them through openings or ‘windows’ of sorts. I want to explore the spaces inside objects. 

Playing around making tall forms on the wheel last week one of my pots got twisted and resulted in a beautiful swirling form inside the vessel. I love the throwing lines that are visible, they have a rhythm to them like a pulse or heartbeat. Could this interior form reference blood vessels, or the concentric rings of a tree trunk? Thinking about the power of repetition relating to collections, what if I had lots of forms similar to this, growing together?

2. Decorative artefact that complements its environment: Hanging objects

Not exactly decorative objects, but the way kitchen utensils were displayed by being hung, especially in the castle’s kitchen interested me. Although they’re useful artefacts they almost become a form of decoration. The rhythm of the vertical lines put me in mind of soundwave graphics as well as the first piece of work I ever saw by Anne Gibbs – a collection of hanging slip-cast forms.

3. Restful space: The Castle gardens

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I came to the castle gardens toward the end of our day, looking for somewhere peaceful to sit down for a break. Thinking about working in this kind of environment I thought back to throwing at La Perdrix in France and how I enjoyed the peacefulness of working outside in nature. I decided if I was asked to create an outdoor sculpture to be situated at St Fagans it would be growing out of the lake like the lily pads.

4. Disturbing space: Bedroom at Abernodwydd Farmhouse

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Carved into the headboard of the large sturdy four-poster bed was the word ‘death’ and a stick man holding what looks like a bow and arrow. It made me think of how much history the bed had, generations of families must have been born and died in the very same one. This farmhouse and the other ‘long-house’ Cilewent Farmhouse were dark, smoky and claustrophobic spaces even in the brightness of mid-day and would have only been lit by dim rushlights.

5. A building with an interesting human narrative: Prefab house ‘Tin palace’

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Image: www.peoplescollection.wales

This aluminium bungalow is an example of the prefab houses that appeared after the second world war to house people who had lost their homes in the bombings. With so many refugee crises in the world today, the housing crisis and people losing their homes due to rising water levels, it felt relevant to today’s world. These bungalows were manufactured by factories that produced aircraft during the war. Rather madly, a factory which, during the war created war machines to destroy homes, in peace time became a factory to rebuilt homes.

Poetry in peculiar places

Three hours at Bristol airport and I’ve discovered how MGMT come up with their song lyrics…

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Coniferous spaghetti
Object of admiration
Balanced obsequiously
Yearning for addition.

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Space spoke on winter illness and the energy.
Spice Girls in a never-ending information source
Sing Alpine-style commercials,
Barking in a high-pitched tone
Generated in the mind spirits.

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The Solar Pessimist

It’s nearly 9pm at a darkened industrial estate on the outskirts of Roath, Cardiff. Past Maccies, fluorescent lights gleam clinically off stainless steel and spotless white ceramic in the bathstore. Further along strings of green and white balloons bob in the chill evening breeze. Down a black driveway we find what we’re here for.

The bar at Spit and Sawdust, Cardiff’s indoor skate park that also doubles up as a trendy art space, is packed with dapper guys in modish glasses. There are lots of beards. Pushing through a curtain of red PVC, myself and some mates find ourselves entering the skate park itself. This large, open warehouse space with its ramps and rails, half pipes and boxes, has for a while become the setting for John Lawrence’s sound and light installation ‘The Solar Pessimist’. The surreal poster for the exhibition has been confronting me every lift journey at uni for the past week. On it a Tron-like landscape similar to the one Noel Fielding’s fantasy man inhabits is superimposed with upturned eyes, maybe a nod to Dali’s Chien Andalou.

‘Have you ever experienced loss?’ booms the recorded male voice. ‘You know …real loss. Real Data Loss. Nothing can prepare you…all those photos…all that footage’. I think of having my phone stolen my first week at university. The voice is loud but sometimes indistinct, muffled by the layered electronic sounds. I can feel the vibrations shooting up my legs from the plywood slide I’m sitting on. Overhead a circle of lights spin and pivot like pro skaters, cascading purple light in time to the disembodied soliloquy then building up gradually to a manic flashing display, an epileptic fit inducing an avalanche of sound. The voice crescendos in fury like an angry God pouring his wrath from the sky.

Ditching my San Miguel on the ground as i climb up a slope to get a different view, i feel like a cheeky teenager. Empty bottles litter the arena and cliques of fine art students huddle together at intervals like rival gangs. The darkness adds to the feeling of acting the rebellious teen, hanging out after dark. I like the freedom to play here – to climb and slide, lie down or balance across different structures like a child on a giant climbing frame. It’s fun but I also feel self conscious and exposed, watched as I am watching everyone else to see how they interact with this environment designed to be explored with skateboards, none of which can be found. By walking into this space I have immediately become part of the artwork.

Filming and photography are encouraged. At the far end of the room a man pushes a camera round and round on a circular dolly. My friend and I try to trick it, switching places every time it makes another rotation before we realise that like the lights above, this camera is also turned, one minute facing the colour dancing on the shiny, slippy floor, the next facing the parallel lines on the ceiling. As the sound and voice move to their climax we go to lie on a wooden box in the centre of the room directly beneath the circle of lights. As I stare up at them, the flashing burns patterns of circles into my retina so the room carries traces of moments before in electric blue smudges and I wonder like David Bowie ’bout sound and vision.

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‘…the sky…right now…it’s looking …ominous…wouldn’t you say?…’ John Lawrence’s The Solar Pessimist
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‘Oh we…the wilfully watched.’ John Lawrence