Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Room and Us

* Jan van Eyck, Suckling Madonna Enthroned(1436)

Jan van Eyck might be notable for his great details to the landscape and the infusion of that to the almost sculptural, grotesque figures of men, but this acclaimed painter never paid much-needed attention to the accurate proportion. Just look at the volumnousness of Madonna’s robe clashing with the unpractically slight forms of her throne and the baby. The narrowness of the cell, on the other hand, provides a rare intimate fixation on Madonna and her baby, but an underlying anxiety of claustrophobia might lurk stealthily somewhere. The suckling baby looks upon at once warily at his mother- Madonna’s maternal gentleness hardly overcomes the baby but the world, in which he was fortunately born, escapes his youngish vision and its wonders are yet witnessed by this pure soul.

Him and I are appointed to sit a person’s house until that person comes back. Clock is ticking away, inflicting that person on a crime of being unpunctual and going back on his words. We have thought of any possible, albeit some whimsical, activities to fritter away the long hours, yet seemingly after ages and years have passed between us we still sit facing each other, ashen-faced, racking our brains to come up with even one simple word. The place we are situated in is technically narrow, walled on four sides with an almost unnoticeable door leading to the kitchen, which we are restricted to go unless we are really thirsty. The location is rather insular, as we assume so since not a soul or sound is heard in the vicinity, but the curtains, which are drawn with not a corner ruffled, block the approaching darkness and ascending night lights eternally from us. We are also forbidden to wind up the curtains no matter what happens.

Therefore, I am always the fast one to think of something interesting. I tell him to put away the papers he read so we could at least have a clean table to strategize. With bleary eyes he says insouciantly that he has always liked to let things run amok. I say no deal since the person might come back soon and such a state should not be remained. He muses over how many hours still will the person finally show up before us and thus he counts those hours, as I am appalled with how long we have stayed in this house. He then proclaims it makes no difference with what to do in this hour when we are bound to have still so many hours to while away. I am beginning to get nauseous with all those numbers so I beg him to stop with what is forming in his mind before it comes out of his mouth. He wrinkles a wry smile, stands up, and takes down the mantelpiece that seated above the fireplace.

I am made anxious with his recklessness. But that thing is supposed to stay on the fireplace! He laughs mockingly and wonders why I still care so insignificant a fuss when everything seems to be so long ago. He then kneels beside my feet and tries to cool me down with a story he just fabricated, during those bleak moments when that person is still here. In his story some boy of a small town witnesses a sphinx roaming near the valley, so he runs home all his might to impart to his family this unbelievable incident. The boy’s story proves to be truly hard to believe, for the whole house is instantly emblazed with laughter when the boy finishes and stares at them with wondrous eyes. That night the sphinx appears again and this time barges its way into the boy’s house. All sleepers are more or less unperturbed and even when some are half-consciously aware of an elephantine monster, they close their eyes at length and declare the scene to be merely living in their dreams. Only the little boy, with the day’s occurrence still retentive, brandishes a stocky candle at the sphinx and mumbles in undertone some incantations. With those people who cast the sphinx in disbelief it passes them caring not a whiff, but with the boy, who takes its form and contour into the vision of his eyes, it spares him no mercy of punishment (and of what punishment the sphinx imposes on the boy the teller mercifully spares me the detail and reason.)

I start to march off to the kitchen when my craving for food shows no sign of cessation. He swiftly overtakes me and hinders my further attempt. The impulsion within me is so urgent that I flap him away violently and continue my venture. He is both anxious and baffled at my drastic change, in much effort beseeching me to consider the consequence of such rash action. I declare the kitchen can be mine since the doorknob is nearer-fetched by me, and sooner I will be cooking my own square meal. He shouts, not without much fury, that a permission is demanded and such permission can be only granted by that person, that person is the only one who decides whether the kitchen can be used or not. I retort that the kitchen is my territory, and an occupier of the kitchen is the sole one to wield the use of it by his liberation.

Suddenly we all silence and gape at each other. We then realize, that nothing is shared, nothing is divided and nothing is dual. That person can be outside and eavesdropping our conversations all the while, and when he next comes through the door, a victorious cry and ardent welcome he is expecting to hear from one of us- this sole and lone one and no more.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Tree

* Van Gogh, Road with Cypress and Star(1890)

Cypresses have featured in numerous paintings of Van Gogh. The leaves and branches stretch and pitch to the zenith, yet such vision of the cypress bears more unnervedness than hopefulness. With the painter’s characteristic speckled treatment of brushstrokes, series of overlaying swirls are dimly created, with the cypress seemingly to mingle gradually into them. The tree cut the painting roughly into two parts, with a sun and a moon occupy each firmament. It is doubtlessly grotesque to have a sun and a moon in concurrence, but if this painting could be interpreted as one’s blurred and gradually faded memory, then the swirls and the anomaly should be duly explained. While the shape of one’s retrospection is at risk of distorting itself and dissipating into the ever-increasing swirls, the colour of it swells and fight tenaciously on the verge of being vanished for good.

People have dreaded and warmed their young not to approach that tree. The tree, which stands straightly without a twist on the ground, trunk wrinkled but bare of any lumps. The leaves unidentifiable of their colours, whether the tree stretches too high that the sunbeam blinds the vision of the apex, or night-tide lures the object into mingling with the murkiness, nobody can give a definite or accurate answer of what the leaves are like. Some superstitious ones hold the firm belief that every subtle trait of the tree bears the morbid implication of its most sinister self- that the colourless of the leaves denotes the tree’s indifference to anything that happens, even if it concerns with people that wither, and dissipate.

A succession of people wither and dissipate by no means in a slow progression. They will have their feverish put on bed earlier, assuming the dismal cold weather has brought a blast of temporary sickness. They will hear their sick ones toss and turn fitfully on their burning beds, artlessly suggesting the cold has exerted its full force, but worrying little since such symptom cannot be more normal. And in the morning they find ruffled blankets and torn mats but not the person. Some sublimes the incidents as angels who shed their clemency and take away the sufferers pain, but suddenly so entranced by their hot, crimson faces that the angels decide to abduct them, as furtively as gypsies who smuggle fair children away at the witch hour.

Nevertheless most people deny the sugarcoated hearsay and determine the tree for the blame, for the ever-immobile tree does give a slight waver whenever a person vanishes, several people contend so with their naked eyes. Therefore on the eve of this Christmas, when the missings have become so numerous that people start to hear yelpings, in their heads, of those who since never went home, from the faraway besieged by forests. Those unaccountable sounds prompt the people to hold a small night ceremony around the tree. With not a tinge of vengeance but sheer reverence the people kneel themselves and circle the trees. In undertones they wish wholeheartedly the evergreen of the tree, promise never to tamper it in any fashion, or cast it with any blasphemies. The people will respect the tree and worship it as their venerable God. What the people earnestly wish is merely the mercy of saving and securing those who survive, and hope to continue surviving a long while later. A boy points out afterward that those prayers and worshippings seem effectual because he simply sees the tree finally smiles. How? Well, the wrinkles of the trunk just suddenly crack into a smile, that’s all.

But the tree does not budge and stays silent. People go home merrily in preparation for the imminent holiday. The tree takes it! The tree is finally happy! With such illusional thought dwelling in their heads, people busily yet contentedly prepare for the feast. Reeling with inexplicable laughter they look at each other’s face, red spots slowly creep upon the face, while others’ cheeks are brimmed with crimson, just like those in an outrageous fever.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Masquerade

* Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge(1892, 1895) Lautrec’s love for caricature is apparent in the figure’s rough and sketchy lines and unprimed background. Balls and cafĂ© scenes have been adopted by numerous French painters, extending back to the Impressionism period when they became the dominant subject matter. Rarely one fellow French painter, however, presented a wholly endearing scene of people in their indulgence. Manet’s luminous figures belie their unbounded sexuality; Degas’ marvelous performers can hardly hide their exhaustion when off-stage; the revelers in Lautrec’s paintings, as recklessly as they can be, unreservedly trumpet their decadent lifestyle. A phlegmatic insouciance or coolly restrained emotion is not a sentiment that best sums up Lautrec’s works. The light that shines ruthlessly on the woman’s face in At the Moulin Rouge, everything within or without her is exposed, including unnervedness and fear.

A masquerade was taken place in the grand mansion of an old yet wealthy man, who planned the prodigious event merely to appease his raucously lonely soul. Myriads of townsfolk the old man had invited, with their faces ever-shielded by masks unknown whether the veneers can be sheerly fraudulent. The old man was well-aware of the plausible deception, but neither was he too keen on seeing people in their genuine selves. Anything stripping bare left a grating displeasure within him that truly bothered. An unalloyed person always inevitably welcomes with arms outstretched uncensored scrutiny. Multitudes of eyes like pieces of piercing glass, sliding down one’s body with every pore opened, every hair raised. With palpitating heart one waits, until the time the glass no longer dithers, and find a spot to be rooted, and finally to be determined.

The ballroom was walled with mirrors, as appointed by the old man, to enable the partygoers to judge their deceptions. Such design doubtlessly created illusion too, as one guest remarked by whispering to the ear of his dancing partner, that the room was huge yet packed with people ever flocking in to fill the gaps. The music played in the background, hark! did it not sound more like a marching requiem? The opulent chandelier emitted slants of variegated beams, which, with the aids of the aforementioned music generated a giddiness that made the dancers swoon, heads hung out of the shoulders like the final posture of a body under the gibbet. Some people screamed when swirling and flouncing around the ballroom. They were in their own ecstacy which words were ineffable or redundant for description.

The old man judged quietly the roaring event at a side. He himself neither engaged in any one of the dances nor put on a mask, but no one noticed it since rarely one could point out how masks were different from real flesh. The masquerade rendered the old man hard-bitten and resentful, with a fermenting rage he nursed furtively since the entrance of the guests. He at once sashayed into the circle of dances in the fashion of a professional dancer who overheard the waltz playing in his head when he walked. Keeping the action as randomly as possible, the old man tore off the mask of whoever that passed him by. Spates of shriekings and groanings occurred, punctuated by the rhythmic beats of the requiem that spurred the dancers on notwithstanding.

The old man left numerous masks and flesh trailing in his wake, like the seared leaves that suddenly fell. The old man was hardly merciful.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Building of Dream

* (Gentile Bellini, St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria(1504-7) With his posthumous ubiquity paled comparing to that of his baby brother, Giovanni, Gentile Bellini nonetheless managed to achieve an optical accuracy through his relatively less prolific oeuvre. Providing a monumental painting like St. Mark Preaching in Alexandria, the canvas has ample capacity to enclose an almost panoramic view of the religious ceremony- people uniformly thronging around here and there, blocked only by the encompassing buildings. Every subtle detail is attended to with great finesse. Just by looking at those adorned pillars and the ruffles on the monks’ robes one might be illusioned of seeing some work of photography. A compelling sense of solemnity surges from the painting and swirls around the pillars, the rooftops, until it finally reaches the zenith.)

I toss and turn yet the somnolence is ever one-step behind the descending darkness. I feel the pulsating heart of weariness, my eyes glance involuntarily at the clock which proceeds so slowly. This will be a long night. I try every possible means to build a dream, or at least pave a pathway that leads to the final reverie. Building dreams can be laborious, and frustrating also if the kingdom of dream you built lasted no sooner than the sun, who untimely awoke and exerted its formidable power, onto every brick that eventually melt.

Thus I begin to build my dream, employing every brick that is likely to create a dream that will tide me over this night of malice. Someone once told me building dream is like forming a well-fabricated story. Such story is permitted to be the most chimerical, with every disparate detail amalgamates to a hodgepodge of wonder. Every piece of one’s memory is by no means an undervalued block to be overlooked. I dredge up mine regardless of the sadness or painfulness of some. A dream is a dream undistinguished of its good or evil.

Bad memories, if included, are the unfitted piece that ever tricked out from a well-structured dream, as if only a single window is crowned above with a single piece of cornice. However, if such bad memories are served as a base of the architecture of dream, the magnificent building you create will be something far different from a normal, dull one. This is the manifestation of genius in its unconsciousness, and I defy anyone who brands it the embryo of a nightmare.

So every incident that has left bitter aftertaste within me I gather them altogether as the base. Every betrayal, trauma, failure, deceit, fraudulence, stupidity, inanity, and behind them, the initiator, the foe- once and for all I recruit them into the dream I build diligently, as intimate as the act can be, and treat them as my confidantes, my lovers. To dream those bad memories off I naively supposing the termination of them.

Nevertheless, I am wrong. I wake up unknowing the lapse of time, pajamas drenched in sweat. The dream sleeps by now but as soon as it ends I start pining for it. Yes, I pine for the fantastical building I have built, forgetting what I don for its middle bulk and the top, knowing only the base I stuff with all the past malice. An unaccountable longing and passion yet surge, and heave my whole body up. I long to seize those bad memories and foes close to my heart, to squeeze them and fondle them, treat them as a once estranged lover of mine I never want to lose again. I can even slave away for them, regardless of how much hatred and indignation I had accumulated. In light of the longing I plot and sketch furtively a building of dream for tonight, and those that are served as the foundation should be piled higher.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Harsh Winter

* Robert Doisneau, Musician in the Rain
(Contrary to the prevalence of artists yearning for the things of the past and gloating over people’s wounds, Robert Doisneau had his eyes on the present and envisioned as best as he could an idealized world, hence explains the often seemingly staged performance his photography works appear to be. Not too much an idealization to be elevated to divinity, however much Doisneau’s photos strive to present the world in its most endearing fashion, realism is an element that the photographer failed to leach away. It is by no means a wonder that some certain rawness should crop up in a supposedly uplifting humour. A man cherishes his cello so that he shields it with umbrella when the rain pours. Whoever witnesses and appreciates the man’s love for his musical instrument is nonetheless a moot question. The only other person in the photo has his eyes fixed on the canvas. Situated in a same scene and under the same overcast weather, the two characters however go astray. You relish your music while I my art. It is the vignette of our daily lives that never deprives of the quirky irony that makes each of us sole.)

I walked pass faces I never knew, faces that I feared had been immortalized. Nobody recognized anybody as people roaming about. Aimlessly I treaded after whatever pair of heels before me, as if the click-clacking of the heels was the only torch that guided my way. I wondered where I was heading.

Faces so difficult to be delineated, no less trying to be interpreted. I stood still abruptly to wait for a possible attack from all sides, but the crowd just washed me over, like a handful of sands streaming through the supposedly gapless fingers. The distant church bells pealed in a most crispy fashion, but apart from two or three who gave a slight start to the rings, other people kept shuffling on as if nothing just occurred, or each had already had a bell live inside the body. The one I unexpectedly intercepted was even surprised when I mentioned the ring, who stammered on that every sound seemed too deafening to him, for he was mildly deaf.

Even when the words were more whispered than spoken, their resulting sounds however the baffled person sidled away and mingled into the crowd again. Where would the march head to? And when would it ever end? A considerable degree of gravitas arose from the assiduous marching crowd. Anyone who was so reckless to break the rhythmic functioning was to cast with myriad piercings of glares. I imagined symphonies in my head to serenade the troop, but winds whisked by my ear to ascertain my wrong.

That was a harsh winter and no one sang, chattered or got all merry over the impending festivity. They scoffed at the overblissed and lent no sympathy to the demoralized. People only blamed the relentless coldness that made numb of their knuckles, and this impeded their monotonous movement. Be it possible that the sunbeam cast its welcoming power over the crowd and they were all awoke from their long-lasting stupefaction, one of them would taste the bitterness of the first drop of snow. And another tomorrow would only seem too far away.