Thursday, October 17, 2013

Responding to words and ideas that resonate...

Since finding his writing in the mid 90's Ive often picked up a book, poem or quote by Ben Okri and more often than not would discover an idea that resonated or spoke to work I was doing at the time. I've borrowed his words for titles of artwork frequently and painted works where I've included his text.

From Wiki: Ben Okri OBE FRSL (born 15 March 1959) is a Nigerian poet and novelist.[1] Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions[2][3] and has been compared favorably with authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.[4]

This small booklet is an example of employing the text in a visual mode. I loved the way the colour worked against the mat brown paper and the white ink text speaks out of the dark ground. I produced several booklets like this around Xmas and one friend who received this gift found the same deeply effecting quality in his words that I do... so was touched by the potency of word and image!

The pile of artworks on the left are what I worked on earlier this week... 50 watercolour
works on 300gm cotton paper completed as a series in 2 very long sittings!

'Mental Fight', in part inspired by William Blake, was published in London in 1999 excerpts were  featured in the London Times as the new Millennium approached.

I found these excerpts this morning which give you a taste of the work which I have mined on many occasions for the dense material it contains. 

Mental Fight: An anti-spell for the 21st Century
By Ben Okri

A few selected extracts

Already, the future is converging with the past.
Already the world is converging.
The diverse ways of the world
Will create wonderful new forms,
Lovely cultural explosions
In the centuries to come.
Already I sense future forms of art,
Of painting, sculpture, humour,
Already I sense future novels,
Plays, poems, dances.
Already I sense the great orchestras
Of humanity, a world symphony,
A world jam, in which the diverse
Genius of the human race -
It's rich tapestry of differences -
Will combine, weave, heighten,
Harmonise all its varied ways
And bring about a universal flowering
In all the vast numbers of disciplines
And among the unnumbered people.
Already I can hear this distant music
Of the future,
The magic poetry of time,
The distillation of all our different gifts.

Will you be at the harvest,
Among the gatherers of new fruits?
Then you must begin today to remake
Your mental and spiritual world,
And join the warriors and celebrants
Of freedom, realisers of great dreams.

You can't remake the world
Without remaking yourself
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.
We could use it to turn on
Our inward lights.
We could use it to use even the dark
And negative things positively.
We could use the new era
To clean our eyes,
To see the world differently,
To see ourselves more clearly.
Only free people can make a free world.
Infect the world with your light.
Help fulfill the golden prophecies
Press forward the human genius.
Our future is greater than our past.

We are better than that.
We are greater than our despair.
The negative aspects of humanity
Are not the most real and authentic;
The most authentic thing about us
Is our capacity to create, to overcome,
To endure, to transform, to love,
And to be greater than our suffering.
We are best defined by the mystery
That we are still here, and can still rise
Upwards, still create better civilisations,
That we can face our raw realities,
And that we will survive
The greater despair
That the greater future might bring.

From "Mental Fight - an anti-spell for the 21st century", Phoenix House 1999
(Reprinted by the Community Development Resource Association -

'This epic poem by Booker Prize winner Ben Okri is an intimate song of rage and restoration. It speaks to each new moment and each person, like sunlight or like pain. It is an anthem to our ascending dreams, and a hymn of inspiration.' Google Books

This is not the complete work...  just a few pages!

His words prompt much contemplation...

driving home some big themes we often don't care to think about

Today I was reminded of the still immensely relevant call to us he made around the new Millennium to remake the world with vision and courage for the unknown future coming at us

A friend who works tirelessly as an advocate for the future of a fairer, healthier Food System in this country has been chewing over some big questions... some of which aligns with the work I do through Homage to the Seed ... and some simply because of our common human experience and concerns over the future colliding with the planetary civilisation we've cultivated being so out of step with the limit's of nature. 

I find it critical to have these conversations whether or not others care to.  Just as we don't want a bad news diagnosis from our doctors we don't really want to hear the Science community telling us of the quickening of this ailing planet. I understand the resistance... but will always argue that not responding makes it far worse than the effort to be in the conversation and acting on overwhelming evidence that we must do something. Being in contact with Plant scientists, reading news coming in from all quarters leaves me in no doubt as to the scale of concerns.

"Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past." - Nature study lead author Camilo Mora
More here... if you dare!

Quality discussion allows a greater sense of resiliance and connectedness to result than does digging in and turning away from what's ahead. Instead of a dull dread gnawing away somewhat unconsciously it means I get to participate in solutions, in the development of cultural and educational responses that can grow and support change on all levels. 

I feel very much drawn to this as one might be drawn to nurture one's precious child. Its one thing to paint, to be an artist... the much bigger picture that calls me however is a desire to put what I do, as an artist, as a human being, in the service of something far greater than a personal career. 

If all one did was listened to news from Science quarters it could be overwhelming. Mind you there are  scientists who are hugely engaging,  variously involved in tremendously exciting ventures, working in a multitude of ways that can inspire and certainly offer a fresh sense of perspective.

Turning to the poets, the deep explorers of other frontiers of thought is a counterbalance for the science... both are necessary, both matter!

The '50 paintings on cotton paper' series

210 x 100 mm sized 300 gm paper 

they came in a package of 50

Interesting to observe where some work succeeds 
in having a life-force about it... and others do not.

this one seemed to go somewhere else

these paired works offer contradictions

I particularly liked this pairing

and broke out a little below
 introducing the purple here

I spent two long days working on this after most of the previous week's distraction of fighting a virus that really zapped my energy. This painting series was an unleashing of sorts. Listening to Radio National at length, hardly breaking away from the work to push the most out of this simple motif, the limited colour palate and a heightened desire to make really animated small works that could speak for something intangible and strong that was pre-occupying me on some level.

The best result in the making of 50 small works was a growing fluency ... not unlike what it used to feel like after hours practicing at the piano working towards the accomplishment of something more difficult. I liked the brain-work of the exercise... wandering off on tangents of thought or staying very present to the making of compositions, trying out numerous approaches to bring rhythmic variation, spacial depth into the works... or alternatively paring back, reducing down to essences, going linear, delicate, minimal. 

Finally last night I managed to commit to the design for my new business card ...spending hours designing then ordering a series of postcards, business cards and so on in preparation for the upcoming Studio launch which will be held on Saturday November 23rd. If you are in Brisbane that weekend and would like to come along this space for further info or email for details here.

The card introduces a new departure... I've mused for months on what to call the studio. 

With a plan to build momentum for setting up engagements with others I wish to promote my base as a multi-dimensional work and interactive space. Focusing on Plant Science, dialogue on Biodiversity in eco-systems and cultural terms plus Art concerns and seed + plant collecting I toyed with the idea of the laboratory.

Clearly it communicates an intention to give the exploration of Science space and that is a good place to start for the next phase of my work.. 

Seed.Art.Lab took some getting used to ... and I have had months to consider it... but now as I seetle my mind on where I'm heading it feels like the next stage of a venture whose time has well and truly come. The dialogue between disciplines, knowledge bases, between people of different backgrounds, ages, persuasions and interests is important as never before. 

Rejecting the unfamiliar may be a strong tendency for we humans.... but building the kind of complex 'response-ability' that is critically called for at this time takes courage and willingness to look into the unfamiliar. One approach to the new is quiet considered enthusiasm or I guess run and hide ... I for one will be very excited to attempt to keep the dialogue open and the cross-pollinations richly rewarding in my very new 'laboratory'!

Here goes!

Best to you all who come by and take time to read...  its much appreciated!


Roberta said...

The business cards are lovely. And that book is really wonderful.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as working in a series I think. To be able to keep going and keep fresh is a challenge in itself and your series here is so successful. You may not like each one individually but to me it is more about the whole.

Valerianna said...

LOVE the name of your studio, Sophie, perfect! I had a professor in grad school (who I did not much like, HUGE ego) that said "the "artist is a scientist in the lab"... Such a rich post. I definitely resonate with the Okri piece and copied it to share with my students. I look forward to seeing what happens in the seed art lab!

Sophie Munns said...

Wonderful to hear from you both!

I've been ever so slow and painstaking in my approach to the way I wish to see the studio come to life. My reference point, somewhat strangely, has been the Shopfront Studio I ran in Melbourne in the mid 90's for 4 years.

I decided that there was much about that template for operating that needed to be revisited... so here goes!

I'm glad you like the business card Roberta. I agree that a series allow that freedom to just put ideas down and see its integrity as a whole! The book form... hope to go there again!

Valerianna... he sounds like a forceful character... but interesting to be taught that! This post I'm glad just flowed... Ive been circling around a series of ideas for awhile and not feeling all was congruent... yet that seemed to change somehow after I made the business card curiously.
Committment... to have your comments here is very confirming! Funny how uncertainty that can sit over something until certain steps are made.
Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

so much in this post - thank you! and i love the new card and the art.lab concept, creativity is key in how the human race faces the future, and artists can model small persistent acts of inspiration and construct examples for the more leadfooted ;0
the okri book is beautiful, the words and the colours you chose are so perfect.
what a feast! i'm going to put a link on my facebook page, hope that's ok, but my permaculture friends need to see this! ;)

Debbie said...

Love the business card and your studio name and the images.
Thought provoking words it will take me time to take it all in. I tend to procrastinate, I see the importance of getting a message across but am afraid of taking the plunge and being actively involved, but our planet's future is our future and is ignored at our children's peril.
I find Ben Okri difficult to read but will look up this poem in full.
Thank you

Velma Bolyard said...

sophie, this is rich, such a wonderful collection of you know i see this in terms os book, maybe it's the format, but whatever it is it is rich, indeed. thank you for sharing your dialogue with okri, too.

Sophie Munns said...

I'm delighted you make FB link singingbird artist.

The small persistent acts you mention are potent. When people walk away wondering, even those muttering negative comments, they are still left with a nagging thought very often.

Enough nagging thoughts can make all the difference. Like water which is strong enough over time to wear away rock that how I guess we can work toward the great resistance that is amongst us... the lead-footed as you so beautifully put it.

Thanks for your lovely words today!\

Sophie Munns said...

Hi Debbie,
I do hope you find the Okri poems to read... they are like seed bombs of thought in a way... his words grow in you and don't resonate all-at-once!
Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughtful comments.

I don't have children, and having chosen a rather frugal, demanding-sacrifice-kind-of-vocation, and journeyed solo, no long-term life-partner, no help sustaining that choice for years, my concerns have been around why such short term thinking... many people seem to have been forgetting about their children and children's children's future in terms of the planet's viability to sustain us... instead the consumption model of being on the planet is incredibly popular.... what can we own, what can we get!

It always seemed odd to me to want so much for one's kids but not to make sure there was a planet for them to do all these great things on!

Your voice is important and all you need to be concerned with is starting to speak... a little here and there ... until you find your way and discover that its OK!
Frankly I was scared to say some of these things in this post... but my reward is the wonderful people who stopped and left comments... that is so enriching for me. Ive had so much change this year + because circumstances got in the way of routine ways I earn income I've been so broke... but the one thing I know I would not stop doing is speaking.... being part of the move to make our journey on this planet as good as it possibly can be... not in a "look at me drinking champagne in the Greek Islands kind of way" but in ways we were grow our sense of connection and shared wellbeing in step with the planet... no matter what our life looks like or how much money we have.

Sophie Munns said...

thank you my friend. I think all that time off the project this year due to moving has brought forward one really positive thing... the chance to very deeply re-align with what matters most to me and get a clear sight as to my direction in all the layers of engagement I like to cultivate.

Something that keep speaking to me involved children. I stayed with this thought for months until I decided it wasn't so much about me working with children, doing work specifically for children ... but somehow looking more at the world that children are inheriting and getting a bigger conversation going for their sake.

Children need different things from adults than what they are often given these days. I'll be staying with these thoughts over time ... how to ask the questions we need to address ... what are the most important things we need to think about?

Thanks always for your great encouragement!

Printed Material said...

Sophie, this is one BIG post to get my head around. There is so much to absorb here. Firstly, Ben Okri, who I only know as a Booker prize winner, and that for a book I've never read I'm ashamed to say. Having read this poem I am going to find out more and read this poem in more detail. There are lots of things to reflect on in it and your book is a lovely way to make a lasting reminder of the messages in it. Then there are your great painting explorations, pushing the theme to the limit and getting some great results. The card and your rationale for arriving at the name is perfect. So much going on for you and I hope this is the start of a rich seam of ideas and creative work!I love the card image, especially that blue and rust combination. Just magic.

Blue Sky Dreaming said...

This is a rich body of Your business card is spectacular and your studio name couldn't be more of a perfect fit to your new direction. Your vision is clear, strong and big. I for one will be watching closely as you navigate your art making. I'm speechless on the poetry, pages of new work and your revealing heart. Carry on Sophie!

Sophie Munns said...

Hello Lesley,
Its funny ... I feel I'm getting around much of the time with a head full of ideas, works in progress, internal arguments or musings on things I'm processing that Its almost a surprise to have feedback of this being a big post for others to get their head around because it feels like such a normal space to be in.

However... Its actually terribly appreciated ... this feedback helps me realise the difference between internal busy-ness and communicating it and my tentativeness over the name! Blue and rust... very compelling combo just now ... thanks for a wonderful comment Lesley... it seems a whole series of things have merged and converged after a long gestation!
Thanks for your good wishes,

Sophie Munns said...

What beautiful encouraging words MaryAnn!
You would not know but I've been wondering if I should be "carrying on" ... or getting a day job or some such thing. Funds drying up during such a long transition meant I was staring squarely at my future thinking how audacious am I... what am I thinking etc!
Somehow each thing you chose to share here has meant a lot ... added to the generous and wonderful thoughts of those before you I now feel that much more "ready for the next stage" than I might have had the confidence to feel!

My business cards and postcards arrived in the mail today... I'm consequently "back in business" and greatly encouraged by all here...