Neptune’s Scribe lays down her pen

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from Melancholia by Lars von Trier

REEF has closed and my residency is officially over, so I’m a little sad, yes . . . but although hosting the Sea Changers event felt like cresting a wave, I wanted to say my final farewell from Neptune, where I’ve spent so many fascinating hours these last two months.

As Neptune’s scribe, I first want to share some of the other writers I discovered, or read in a new light, for my fiction workshop at the gallery. Okay, okay, Homer – or the woman we think of as Homer – was a poet, but one who composed immortal stories best known in English in prose translation, so I felt no qualms about including The Odyssey: quite apart from his elemental omnipresence in this epic sea voyage, Poseidon makes a crucial cameo in the story, cursing Odysseus for blinding his son, the Cyclops. Purists may like to seek out Judith Kazantzis‘ pamphlet poem of the scene; I confess that I didn’t reread Ulysses to find how Joyce rendered it, but moved on instead to science fiction – Stanislaw Lem’s classic Solaris, with its gelid ocean of delusions; and a short story, ‘The Star’, by H.G. Wells, which places Neptune on a collision course with Earth, and reinforces Wells’s reputation as a visionary humanitarian, awake to the pleasures and sufferings of people all over the world.

When it came to literary fiction, though planet and god proved elusive, Neptunian themes of deception, addiction and dissolution abounded. As a Brightonian, I didn’t have to go far, presenting a section from Bethan Roberts’s brooding psychological drama My Policeman: a chilly swimming lesson near the pier, in which all is not as it seems. I also returned to John Banville’s Man Booker prize-winning The Sea – not as plotless a book as some reviews make it out to be, but in fact a series of carefully submerged mysteries. And I discovered ‘Walking on Water’ a lyrical flash fiction by Iranian writer Payam Feili that explores the power of namelessness and allowed me, with my focus on testy Neptune, to also address the traditional association of the sea with motherhood.

Finally, I had the privilege of hearing workshop participants read the first drafts of pieces that I hope they will one day add to Neptune’s archive. Though I have to move on to other projects now, I am leaving that temple door wide open  . . . my Neptune residency has been good for me, a chance to openly express aspects of myself that in the past have felt separate, even secret – teaching and astrology, poetry and science fiction, politics and spirituality – and I’d like to continue to find ways to integrate these parts of my private and public personas. Perhaps one day I’ll develop these posts into a longer study, but in the meantime I’m on the look out for more examples of Neptunian art. Last night, responding to a recommendation by a workshop participant, I watched Melancholia, Danish director Lars von Trier’s lush take on ‘The Star’, in which two wealthy sisters confront the destruction of Earth by a looming blue planet. von Trier, as his recent perplexing outburst in defense of Hitler demonstrated, is no Wellsian artist-activist; but having endured the gynocidal orgy that was his previous film Antichrist, I was intrigued to discover that Melancholia had a strong feminist subtext. Emotionally at least, it is the women who survive the crisis because, unlike the alpha males around them, they are able to live with their own fear and grief, in part for the sake of a child.  Perhaps, I wonder, von Triers’ stated dismissal of the work as ‘a woman’s film! . . . a wrongly transplanted organ!’ reflects the difficulty he may have accepting his own severe depression. (He does at least accept his ill-considered remarks at Cannes were highly offensive to many people, and immediately apologised for them.)

But let me not leave you on an even slightly contentious note. May we all continue to care for each other and tread lightly through our darker sides . . . I wish you all rich voyages into 2015, and perhaps, the gods willing, I’ll see you next summer at Neptunalia – the Roman festival, traditionally held July 23rd, a time of licentious merrymaking spent in huts in the woods, drinking springwater and wine. I don’t know yet where I’ll celebrate it, but having had my fill of drunken youths in Brighton, I suspect its more likely to be in Ashdown Forest than Benidorm!

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Neptunian Revellers (rehearsing for their marathon performance of The Odyssey, I am sure).

 

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Emerging . . .

Kidd Pivot Frankfurt Rhein Main "New Work"

Here it is, rising from the primordial chaos of inspiration and admin: my first post as the Fabrica Gallery Artist-in-Residence for the Simon Faithfull exhibition REEF. My role is to engage audiences with the themes of the exhibition; to write a blog and curate events that will ‘work with ideas of the sea as a metaphor for emotion, the imagination and psychological space.’ For those who don’t know me, I am a poet, science fantasy novelist, professional Tarot card reader and part-time activist for a just peace in the Middle East, and the potential of the brief to dissolve the boundaries between these various aspects of my life intrigues me more than I can say – though I will have a go!

As a poet I have used images of the sea to express deep, recurrent emotional states; as an SFF writer I am drawn to the magical hidden worlds of Atlantis, Lyonnesse and Solaris, Stanisław Lem’s compelling vision of a planetary ocean of repressed memories. As a Tarot card reader I work with the sea as a symbol of boundless creativity, of sensitivity, vulnerability and passion. And, finally, as a human rights activist I am concerned with the possibility of political, cultural and personal ‘sea changes’: fundamental shifts in perception and changes of narrative, opportunities for long-denied truths to emerge. The sea being a pretty big theme, I hope you’ll now allow me to entertain a big claim: in a time of climate change, renewed war in the Middle East, the devastation of Gaza, with both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe, and seemingly every day bringing another national revelation of the sexual abuse of children, institutional racism, the abandonment of the poor and disabled by a government racing to cut basic provisions and privatize our NHS – artists can make a difference. By applying our empathy and intelligence to urgent issues of justice, diversity and environmental catastrophe, and – however subtly – allying our personal vision with collective action, we can explore the complex undercurrents of social and political conflict, and, by diving deep into the human psyche, support real and lasting change.

‘Sea change’, then, has become the main theme of my residency, and its icon, for various associated reasons, the mysterious blue planet Neptune. Astronomically Neptune is cold and appropriately tempestuous – its surface racing with the strongest known winds in the solar system, up to 2100 kilometres an hour. In Roman mythology, Neptune was a god of springs, lakes and rivers, only later associated, like his Greek forerunner Poseidon, with horses, storms, earthquakes and the sea. In astrology – which can be viewed as mythology-in-motion – Neptune represents chaos, dissolution, temptation and illusion, the turbulent, overwhelming power of the sea; but also compassion, spiritual wisdom and universal love, the ocean’s pacific nature. In its movement through a chart, Neptune signifies the gradual breaking down of old psychological patterns, and the slow emergence of change for the better. Whatever you think of astrology – and I will write more about it soon – I hope you will agree this is a worthwhile aim.

Researching ‘sea change’, I learned – navigating full circle back to literature – that the phrase, like so many, was bequeathed to us by Shakespeare, in lines of The Tempest that, with their imagery of coral and submerged bells, converse over the centuries with Simon Faithfull’s project, deliberately sinking a boat in order to allow it to become an ocean reef:

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.

The metaphor of a voyage from suffering to ‘something rich and strange’ will be the essential theme of my residency. Over the next two months I will be blogging on various aspects of the journey, but for now I just wish to introduce my main events for the gallery, to all of which you are most cordially invited:

Night Contact
A one night multi-media festival: Saturday Oct 18th.
Screening projections across indoor and outdoor spaces Night Contact showcases a range of still and moving works exploring ideas of collaboration, authorship and influence in relation to the photographic image and the screen. A map outlining a visual trail across the city encourages visitors to view film and photographic works in various spaces across central Brighton. As part of the activities surrounding this event – Fabrica will be staying open until 10pm. Between 7-9pm I will be in the gallery to chat about science fiction writing, being a poet, the significance of Neptune to astrologists and my role as a tarot reader.

Neptune Nights
Poetry: Tuesday 4 November, 7.30–9.30pm
Prose:   Tuesday 11 November, 7:30-9:30pm
I will be leading two creative writing sessions exploring the mythic, scientific, literary and astrological significance of Neptune and asking participants to reflect on its themes. Participants who wish to learn the placement of Neptune in their chart are asked to submit their date, time and place (nearest city/town) of birth. No previous experience of creative writing or astrology is required.

Sea Changers
Saturday 15 November, 7.30–9.30pm
The Fishermens’ Vestry, St. Paul’s church, West St, Brighton BN1 2RE
In front of the large open fire built to dry out fishermen before church services I will host performances and discussion from three artist-activists. British-Palestinian novelist and lawyer, Selma Dabbagh; spoken word artist, coach and diversity practitioner Akila Richards; and musician, actor, writer and accessibility/social inclusion consultant Mik Scarlet will use the theme of the constantly changing sea to present their work and to discuss the relationship between their creative and political activities.

The November events are free but places are limited and booking is recommended. To book please visit the Eventbrite page, speak to a member of the gallery team, or call 01273 778646. And if I don’t see you in person, I hope to meet you online – the comments are open!

Image from The Tempest Replica, a dance production by Vancouver-based choreographer Crystal Pite, created for her company, Kidd Pivot.