Monday, 11 February 2013

The Golden Book Of Knowledge

Over the past few years, I've worked creatively with a number of dream paradigms ("the software theory" of Dr. Chris Evans, James Hillman's dream as nekyia, dreams as alchemical revelations, and even Jim Shaw's exploration of dreams as pop cultural collages). What was most revealing about all these investigations is that the dream begins to apprehend its systematic landscape, gradually within each paradigm, the dream talks with the jargon and rubric of its chosen arena. It is buzzword and image compliant, like a scientist or a corporation; and it is even ahead of the dreamer, challenging the conscious mind like a knowing guru of our explicit intent. Funnily enough this insight reminds me too of Raymond Cass' introduction to the EVP recording anthology, The Ghost Orchid, where, with the paranoid alignment of a true obsessive, he remarks that the recordings he made soon began to home in on the operator himself.

Hannah and I recently spent a very enjoyable afternoon visiting Jim Shaw's Rinse Cycle retrospective at the Baltic in Newcastle. It also compounded for me an idea about the subconscious being a driven entity forever accelerating and demanding more from the disciple of our conscious. Early in his career  Shaw created a non-linear autobiographical alter-ego, Billy, whose exposure to Americana and adolescence is told in a wonderful series of heavily referential cartoons, form based pastiches and homages. Encounters with drug culture and sex, those teenage tribal rites of passage are apotheosised to the status of comic book hero. Billy is the nervous creative energy of the adolescence and the imp of a fervent surreal libido, inverting, subverting and confabulating reality to a more playful realm. One of Billy's imagined childhood inspirations appears to be an Encyclopedia, The Golden Book of Knowledge featuring Pinocchio on its cover - Billy as the made up boy.

But Billy grows up, or more to the point, inward to be subsumed by Shaw's adult creativity and to manifest as his muse in the artist's fascinating study of the perpetual motion ricochet between the irrational and concrete most evident in Shaw's "Dream Objects" project. Shaw's twin inspiration of comic book narrative and his own career storyboarding for advertisement companies provides the form for the blue-print "Dreamt of Drawings" sketches. These serve both as hilarious debunkings of angst-ridden Freudian ideology and revelations as to the nature of the alchemical garbage in our image banks. We do not sleep in some ruined acropolis of limbless and alabaster Greek Gods, creating carved, melodramatic and obvious text book myths: but in a trashy saturated prima-mater of talk show demi-urges and prog rock landscapes. Our Necronomicon's are not sealed with Babylonian demons but B-movie monsters. Above all there is a honesty and, as a very beneficial result, a psychotic humour in Shaw's storyboards. Even the titles with their transparent self-awareness manage to convey the impossible wit of the dream theatre... "I was in Vegas in a show with a Viking Farmer" - a pithy description like a game of exquisite corpse cutting up the sentential boundaries of history and the immediate.

What is particularly illuminating about the progress of Shaw's Dream Objects is the demands they make on the artist himself. Imaginary books - pulp Necronomicons in effect - synopsied by sleep need their covers designed in the day world. The artist becomes an hyped up copy agency for hypnos. Even the canvases of the dream world are irregular, creating objects that mutate between painting and sculpture - the facets of the work homages to disparate influences. The piece Of this man shall no nothing redrafts Max Ernst's enigma above a mock up of the Led Zeppelin IV album cover. These curious monoliths are Shaw's occult cornerstones, sigilised with ancient memories of his aesthetic lineage. 

Shaw is forced by his hungry dream muse to create ever more outlandish monuments to his nightworld. He dreams a monster piano in the trunk of a tree and through his talents carves a bizarre instrument  - piano keys for teeth. The result is a psychotically funny statue, part Rapa Nui, part Martin Denny.

Billy, the restless adolescent urge, by now has blossomed into a lascivious anima, coiling in  its own desire. This is perhaps epitomised in the Dream Object, which Shaw describes thus  - "I was working on a landscape sculpture that was actually a big garbage pile of all the dream objects I'd done and on top of it all was a sculpture of the whore of Babylon riding the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns"

So at last the muse reveals its true nature, the very whore of Babylon (which Crowley depicts as Lust in his Thoth deck). Creativity is Lust sublimated. Shaw's dream devours and subjugates all his previous dream objects beneath the rampaging beast of Revelations. Brilliantly Shaw bows down in supplication before this dream, creating miniature versions of all his dream objects piled up in a perspex box beneath a figurine of the whore of Babylon. Included in the garbage pile of miniatures is a miniature version of    the perspex box containing all his dream objects. The dream demon has taken full possession of Shaw, it is infinitely procreating - Shaw is a slave but also a puppet master aware that he has successfully brought to life an alchemical Golem from  "The Golden Book Of Knowledge"

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