Black Mist, Burnt Country

How much do you know about the many nuclear tests in Australia secretly conducted by the British? Chances are, not much.

The exhibition “Black Mist, Burnt Country” has been touring Australia since 27. September 2016, marking the 60th anniversary of the first Maralinga atomic tests. It consists of paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos, prints and found objects made over the course of several decades by Indigenous and non-indigenous artists.

Even though these are not the first nuclear tests conducted on Australian soil, Maralinga (“thunder”in Garik, now extinct language of Northern Territory) became a symbol of Imperial ambition over human lives, much like Hiroshima.

After USA excluded their former WWII ally from the nuclear program in 1946, Britain reached over for Australian soil in their desperate and ultimately doomed attempt to join the “nuclear club”. Numerous so-called “minor trials” were conducted between 1956 and 1963 in Maralinga, on Pitjantjatjara land in the southern part of the Great Victoria Desert of South Australia. Unsurprisingly they caused widespread displacement, severe health issues and death for the local population, as well as the estimated 35,000 under-equipped or improperly informed Australian personnel involved. Significant amounts of plutonium and beryllium were found in the area during later research that was conducted only in the ‘70s.

Famous Aboriginal rights activist Yami Lester of Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara land in SA described what happened to his community as “black mist” that covered the country and poisoned the waters. Yami was himself blinded in this event and later became a prominent figure in the fight for the rights of Indigenous people affected by the nuclear tests.

yami-lester-17a70d9f-2388-4e7e-be91-03e7ac8709c-resize-750
Portrait of Yami Lester by Jessie Boylan

The exhibition contains some striking photographs of the effects on people and landscape. Also very notable are several traditional-style paintings that are both lush and distressing at once, as well as the very easily recognizable landscape with clouds by Blak Douglas. Seeing the haunting-looking photographs side by side with the narrative of Aboriginal paintings is especially powerful in conveying the gravity and scale of the misfortune that lasts to this very day.

The exhibition will reside at Penrith Regional Gallery until 29th of July in and will then continue touring nationally until February 2019.

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Parabola

One of my biggest recent literary discoveries was learning about Parabola Magazine.

Subtitled “Myth and the Quest for Meaning”, it started as a quarterly journal in 1976, exploring traditions and mythologies from around the world, and how these ideas relate to contemporary life.

Each issue is devoted to a particular theme, and I found them all equally interesting. It was difficult to pick only a few back issues to order but I settled on Magic, Initiation, Mask & Metaphor, Animals, and Androgyny. The impressive list of contributors includes Ursula K. Le Guin, Mircea Eliade, Jacob Needleman, Elaine Pagels, Pablo Neruda, Italo Calvino and Joseph Campbell, to name but a few.

Upon opening my first issue, the one devoted to Magic, I found a very interesting article titled Magic, Sacrifice and Tradition: Preliminary Notes by Jacob Needleman, and within it a short tale by P.D. Ouspensky. It has been over a year but the wisdom captured inside this short story still reverberates with me. I find it so profound and universal to many of life’s situations that I just had to share it, so here is the entire story:

Strange life of Ivan of Osokin by P.D. Ouspensky

Ivan Osokin is a young man who has watched himself stupidly take the wrong turn at every crossroads of his life until he is brought to the state of desperation. At the point of suicide, he visits a powerful old magician. In the course of talking to the magician, Osokin pleads for a chance to live his life over again, knowing in advance everything that has happened before.

“It is possible,” the magician says, “but it will not make things better for you… I can send you back as far as you like, and you will remember everything, but nothing will come of it.”

Not believing the magician, Osokin asks to be transported back to his school days. But his life proceeds as the magician predicted.

Osokin knows what will happen, but he cannot bring that knowledge into his emotional life, and inexorably everything takes place exactly as before, down to the last detail, until he even ignores what he knows and imagines it to be only a dream. In short, he is trapped again in the wheel of existence.

Once more he is brought to the point of despair, and once more he finds himself in the magician’s house. But now one thing is different: Osokin realises with horror what has happened. He knows and feels the automatism of ordinary human life. “There is the cold of the grave in this thought. He feels that this is the fear of the inevitable, fear of himself, of that self from which there is no escape…. He will be the same and everything will be the same.”

Then, and only then, does he find it in himself to sacrifice his belief that he knows what he needs and ask for help without dictating the terms. And only then can the magician show him the first step toward the path of escape from the innate automatism of his existence. He tells Osokin:

“…Nothing can be acquired without sacrifice. This is the thing you do not understand, and until you understand it, nothing can be done. Had I wanted to give you, without any sacrifice on your part, everything you might wish, I could not have done it.

A man can be given only what he can use; and he can use only that for which he has sacrificed something. This is the law of human nature. So if a man wants to get help to acquire important knowledge or new powers, he must sacrifice other things important to him at the moment. Moreover, he can only get as much as he has given up for it….”

“Are there no other ways?” asks Osokin.

The magician answers, “You mean ways in which no sacrifices are necessary? No, there are no such ways, and you do not understand what you are asking. You cannot have results without causes. By your sacrifice, you create causes….”

 

If you are intrigued, Wikipedia is a good starting point for learning more about the author: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._D._Ouspensky

Fascinatingly, Parabola is still being published and new issues are available as hard copies or digital PDF, as well as via subscriptions. Old, out of print editions also available in the “Archived” section of the website that also features podcasts, essays and articles: https://parabola.org

 

Fantastic Art Books Made Available For Free

Stop the press!

Guggenheim Museum in New York has recently released over 200 art books for free on The Internet Archive.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preservation and sharing of knowledge. The books can be downloaded in various formats suitable for computers, phones or e-readers, and include famous works such as Wassily Kandinsky’s seminal “On Spiritual in Art”.
Some of my personal highlights from the collection are various books on Russian Avantgarde, Paul Klee, Marc Chagall and “The Aztec Empire”, a retrospective of Max Ernst as well as two books of Australian art: “Antepodean Currents” and “Australian Visions”.Take a peek, grab what you like, study and enjoy. And don’t forget to share!The entire collection can be found here:
https://archive.org/details/guggenheimmuseum

And you can read more about it in this article:
https://mymodernmet.com/guggenheim-museum-free-books-online/

Favourite reads of 2017, PART ONE

I’m kicking off with a very large post. So large in fact, that I had to split it into two parts to keep the scale more reasonable.
Last year, like the year before, I took on a reading challenge after being prompted by a dear friend. As a result I read over 35 books in 2017.
So this is a recap of sorts of the year behind – a review of my top 20 favourites, part one.

I am keeping the reviews brief, in the hope that some of these will pique your curiosity to pick them up. And if you are interested in the progress of my literary adventures, please feel free to follow me on Goodreads.

 

1) “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London (1903) USA

A well known work by a master of adventure writing, this book is narrated in first person… by a dog. At the very least, I find this book is significant for this non-anthropocentric perspective. Highly recommended for all the nature and adventure lovers, as it skillfully explores the character of both man and animal. The Canadian frontier setting only adds to the beauty of this book. It is justifiably a standard required read in many schools.

 

2) “A Charming Mass Suicide” by Arto Paasilinna (1990) FIN

Absolutely hilarious. By circumstance, two strangers decide to form a suicide club for depressed Finns. As more and more people join, they decide not to end their lives just yet, but instead begin to tour beautiful Finnish countryside before the deed, and eventually tour the rest of Europe as well. While exploring the philosophical and spiritual implications of being aware of our own mortality, Paasilinna delivers some wonderful humor and portrays Finnish mentality in their signature endearingly self-deprecating way. I am becoming a true fan of this author. Sadly I am not aware of this book being translated into English yet, but I recommend grabbing a copy of “The Year of the Hare” by the same author.

 

3)”King Solomon’s Ring” by Konrad Lorenz (1949) AUT / re-read

Konrad Lorenz was an 20th Century Austrian scientist whose life was dedicated to animal behavior studies. He is world-renowned for making amazing progress in this area, and this book is a collection of recounts of his experiments. He described in detail the imprinting behavior in birds, and decoded animal “language” by living in a house full of animals.
I would recommend this famous book to anyone keen to learn more about life that surrounds us, the fantastic creatures we meet, and the friends that we can make in dogs, birds, shrews, fish. It will provide insight, and make you wonder and laugh out loud. As a bonus it features whimsical illustrations by the author himself.

I offer this quote that particularly stuck with me:

“The pleasure which I derive from my dog is closely akin to the joy accorded to me by the raven, the graylag goose or other wild animals that enliven my walks trough the countryside: it seems like a re-establishment of the immediate bond with that unconscious omniscence that we call nature. The price which man had to pay for his culture and civilization was the severing of this bond which had to be torn to give him his specific freedom of will.
But our infinite longing for paradise lost is nothing else than a half-conscious yearning for our ruptured ties. Therefore, I need a dog that is no fantasy of fashion, but a living animal, no product of science or triumph of form-breeding art but a natural being with an undistorted soul. And this, unfortunately, is what very few pedigree dogs possess, least of all such breeds as, at sometime or other, have become “modern” and have been bred with exclusive consideration for a certain external appearance. So far, every breed of dog that has been exposed to this process has been damaged in mind and soul. I wish to achieve the opposite result: my purpose in breeding dogs is to bring about an ideal combination of the psychological qualities of Lupus and Aureus dogs. I want to breed a dog which is specially capable of supplying that which poor, civilized, city-pent man is so badly in need of!”

 

4) “The Holocaust” by Laurence Rees (2017)

This book explores the historical evidence of the Holocaust and the chain of events that set the stage for it. There was no single event or decision that triggered what now seems unthinkable. We are introduced to the structure of the German army and the SS, the world politics of the time, and how different countries behaved in regards to deportation of Jews, Romas and Slavs. We learn how allies knew about the extermination camps, and the the role played by the UK, USA and Vatican. The book briefly touches on British racism and colonialism, and finally elaborates on the core reason that made Nazism possible: a nation falling in love with the idea that they are somehow better than others.
There is also mention of the important role that Yugoslavian resistance played in delaying the war on Eastern Front, and detailed accounts of life in ghettos and camps. You will also learn of the scale of Soviet sacrifices, millions of human lives, that contributed to the Allies winning WW2. These sacrifices were indeed so enormous that the Soviets’ hard stance on Nuremberg Trials seems not at all unreasonable.

A relevant read for people interested in WW2, but also those unfamiliar with the actual historical background of the anti-fascist movements, a book that helps greatly to understand the dynamics of the challenges that we face today. Here are a couple of passages I found memorable:

“(…) Toivi Blatt, who at the age of 15 was selected as a sonderkommando at Sobibor, was astonished with how the horrific circumstances of the camp can alter the character of those who work there. “People change under some conditions,” he says. “People asked me: what did you learn? And I think I’m only sure of one thing–nobody knows themselves. The nice person on the street, you ask him, “Where is North Street?” and he goes with you half a block and shows you, and is nice and kind. That same person in a different situation could be the worst sadist. Nobody knows themselves. All of us could be good people or bad people in these different situations. Sometimes when somebody is really nice to me I find myself thinking: how will be be in Sobibor?”

“Life has sense only when one does good. Am I right? I did not feel the urge to live a public life, I did not care about financial incentives that would let me compare my car with someone else’s car. I did not need to impress anyone.”

 

5) “The Nuremberg Trial” by Ann Tusa and John Tusa (1983)

A detailed insight into one of the most significant events of XX Century; the trial held in Nuremberg for political and military leaders of the Nazi party. It is an extremely detailed work, based on well-researched material and trial records. Although not a casual read, WW2 History buffs will certainly enjoy it. The book goes to great lengths in discussing responsibility that both Axis and Allies had regarding the start and development of WW2, and provides valuable comparison to what is happening today, with some historical context applied. To me the most interesting part was to discover how big a role USA played in initiating the trial, given the subsequent history. To Quote Noam Chomsky “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”

 

6) “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty (1971) USA

The story made famous by the 1973. movie of the same name. Apart from the classic horror and suspense, it tackles a very essential theme for every spiritual human – the nature of faith and that of loss of faith, and the battle between spiritual and scientific approaches to psychological healing. It also portrays one of the coolest fictional priests that I know of, the ex-boxer Father Damien Karras. There is nice reference to Mesopotamian mythology, although not entirely accurate. If you decide to give it a go, be sure to get the newest edition.

 

7) “The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn” by Brothers Strugatsky (1970) USSSR / re-read

Brothers Strugatsky’s masterpiece, in my modest opinion. Set in the titular mountain lodge that loses all contact with the outside world after a blizzard, this self-proclaimed anti-murder mystery has it all. From classical tropes of the detective genre, via twists on corny stereotypes of horror stories, to the Strugatsky’s signature blend of absurd and dystopian. I read it in college many years ago and recently decided to refresh my memory. I am now sure I’ll read more works by these writers. Superbly atmospheric!

 

8) “Tomboy Survival Guide” by Ivan Coyote (2016) CAN

A wonderfully warm collection of short stories by the Canadian author Ivan Coyote. Ivan writes about growing up in Canada’s Yukon region, his family and gender identity. Great inspiration for every masculine-identified person, their admirers, or people wishing to gain more insight. Coyote was a guest of last year’s Sydney Writers Festival.

 

9) “Liber Null & Psychonaut” by Peter J. Caroll (1987)

Foundation books that defined a contemporary school of magic known as chaos magick, they introduce a very interesting stream in modern occult discourse. If you are a writer, a scientist, an artist, a fan of 70s counter-culture or an anarchist, someone already well versed in occultism or just interested in the subject, this stimulating material skillfully lays down an introduction and prompts further research.

“To oppose repressive forms of order which often impose themselves by evil means, magic aligns itself to a vision of chaotic good. Magic’s commitment to the good is reflected in its concern with individual freedom and consciousness and its interest in all other life forms on this planet. (…)
The chaotic aspect of new aeon magic is psychological anarchy. It is a species of operation mindf*ck applied to ourselves as much as the world. The aim is to produce inspiration and enlightenment through disordering our belief structures. Humor, random belief, counter-information, and disinformation are its techniques.”

 

10) “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” by Carlos Castaneda (1968) USA / re-read

I first came across Castaneda’s writing sometime in my early twenties and it was a huge revelation for me. He wrote about what I deeply felt to be true and provided valuable direction. A decade later, I felt compelled to review this material again and I can confirm that I still find it very relevant. The Teachings of Don Juan is a series of books of which I only read five, but plan on reading the rest. The material has been criticized by skeptics – but whether or not the Yaqui Indian teachings in Castaneda’s stories are an authentic ethnological study or not is ultimately irrelevant. It provides a working model and its core principles of alteration of consciousness and spiritual reality have been mirrored elsewhere in contemporary research such as Quantum Physics and Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

Carlos Castaneda was an ethnologist who headed to Mexico to research the use of psychoactive substances among Mexican shamans. He got acquainted with Don Juan and consequently becomes his apprentice. In the first couple of books he is struggling to accept the spiritual reality and the universal wisdom that his teacher is offering. As readers, we are gradually frustrated by Castaneda’s failure to embrace the privilege of being initiated into age-old wisdom but his skepticism and ignorance are a device for us to decouple from our own. As the old wisdom says: when the pupil is ready, a teacher will appear. This is true of the book itself. Highly recommended for everyone wanting to get out of their cognitive bubble or comfort zone, that common contemporary disease. These books will not only help you “see outside of the box”, but also help you take a good look at the box itself.

 
11) “Love and Power ~ Awakening to Mastery” by Lynn V. Andrews (1997) USA

This woman is like a female Carlos Castaneda! Just the right kind of a thing for me to kick-start my spiritual practice again. Highly recommended for everyone looking for their Path, but also those who already well on their way. I learned about this writer in a talk that William Burroughs gave sometime in the 90s, that old warlock never fails. I might be reviewing some more of her writing in the future.

Here is a short passage from the book:

“The circle provides an important focusing tool for understanding yourself. As you begin to understand yourself, you begin to heal yourself, and as you heal yourself, you can than take your power and heal the world around you. As society naturally evolves, out of the language that it speaks, and therefore needs to continually create a new vocabulary, so the natural environment waits for us humans as a species to move creatively into a new world of enlightened evolution. Have you ever asked yourself how animals evolve? How does a two-toed horse become a three-toed horse? By running faster, each day, than it’s capable of running. We as humans evolve by stretching and becoming more than we ever dreamed we could be. So we must heal our fear of taking our power. The well-being of our world depends on it.”

12) “Grayson Perry” by Jacky Klein (2009) UK

A comprehensive look into Perry’s art, life, ideas, technique and artistic process. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend to any Perry’s fan. I read the revised and updated version. It contained a lot of the artist’s work in wonderful detail!

 

Welcome

This blog has been initiated as part of a Writer in Residence program at The Orchard Gallery, an Artist-Run Space in South Sydney Uniting Church in Raglan St, Waterloo, NSW.

I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. What started as just one of the ways to learn about the world around me had quickly become a formative trait and ultimately a defining aspect of both my personal and professional life.

Only a couple of years ago I started writing as a natural extension of my reading activity, of my need to express experiences as an immigrant and as a furthering of my artistic practice. My literary adventure started with short essays in self-published zines, and an occasional article for South Sydney Herald.

More recently I found that my creative work benefits from, or even requires, frequent cross-referencing of different disciplines such as art history, ethnology, archaeology, philosophy and cognitive science, to name but a few. Once again I am discovering a lush world of ideas and concepts that starkly contrasts our daily torrent of useless information, and offers an alternative to modern matter-of-fact way of thinking.

This blog is an attempt to share the joy and wisdom I find in the books I read.

I do hope you will find here something you like, and perhaps even something that will make you think, question and wonder.