Monday, 20 February 2012

The Sleep

* Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia(1852)

(A painting of an obvious suicidal subject can be veiled in such uplifting beauty. At once my eyes veered toward the throngs of bushes studded with flowers above the dying Ophelia, I was thus delusively convinced that her death appeared more like martyrdom. One feature sustains my perfunctory conjecture is the facial expressions of Ophelia, which shows her grotesquely in an absorbed ecstasy. The painting alludes to the analogy between death and the return to nature, and the viewers are only too tranquilized by this beautiful scene to be informed of its subsequence.)

Our beloved Cecilia passed away just last weekend. Before her folks shrouded the body carefully and laid it finally at rest under the sweet earth, Cecilia was said to be found floating face upward on a lake. The flesh no longer persisted in stiffening itself when the water eroded and seeped into the skin; glimpses of Cecilia’s somewhat pulverized bones were grotesquely visible under the beaming sun. The lake glistened placidly when caught by rays of light, for the quintessence of the bones was fully mingled with the water. The only moment in the girl’s ephemeral life when a posthumous glorification was reached; with all the refinement the greedy water elicited, it tumbled and rumbled in excitement.

Death, Angel and Demon held a congregation beside the cemetery. With his slender finger pointing skyward to forbid the other two from making any rash decision, Death was anxious to know the cause of Cecilia’s demise. The Angel sensed the fading aura of the girl while the Demon simply tasted a grab of earth around her grave; the two launched into several varied yet tragic possibilities of Cecilia’s death: sickness, murder, suicidal attempts, accidents, heroic martyrdom among many others. Being roused by a subsequent squabble between the good and the evil, something gave a slight quake from underneath where Death stood. The thing gave some tittering sound when Death stomped the earth suspiciously, so he pricked his ear.

The body spoke: I was born when a straying raven flitted across the red-imbued sky in agitation, thus I was told by some seer that my life would be doomed sooner or later- these words I took no notice but mere bluff. I passed my days rather serenely, for I was well aware of my termination- a definite spot with its abnormally short distance beguiled by a thronging haze before my eyes. Once my fate was irreversibly decided, I succumbed fully my body and soul. So blamed not the people that should carry a lifelong guilt, nor lamented an incident that occurred so untimely and sudden. The kind of bird I once was and always will be, whose wings were merely manoevured by a pair of invisible hands, or winds, as they swayed me by.

Child your face was ever bereft of emotions that left me puzzle over your true feelings. Why that uncanny smile still constantly lingered upon your mouth even when you were no longer breathing? Smiling still you shocked the gathered crowds when in tears we genuinely mourned. Therefore with your assent we built a wall around you, where nothing was penetrable except the air and the winds, descending leisurely up from above. I divined your pleasure of warbling in your roofless kingdom; I could almost see you craning your neck at the sky which seemed ever so far-fetched. You carried that uncanny smile everywhere, even when I, releasing you and finally laying you somewhere the sun always shines, and the sky so easily accessible- so near that you would suspect it turned liquid.

Death finally picked up his flute and played. Both Angel and Demon bowed to an unsolvable impasse of the eventual victory. The three were ready to escort Cecilia to her next chapter of life. For the present, here lay Cecilia the graceful, ever so contented, ever smiling. Living in solitude until the very end; without complaints.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Chamber of Horror

* Caravaggio, Amor Vincet Omnia(1602-3)

(With horror or beauty, paintings constantly haunt us. Within the sense that what informs us is merely a limited scene fixed upon a panel, curiosity is whetted of what might become of the scene, or behind it. When curiosity becomes incurable, the all-encompassing hauntedness can only grow denser. Weird is such a mediocre word to express the feeling when the painting barely insinuates any weirdness but rather discloses some unsettling effects. Any unsettling features bring focus: amid a cluttered room our sense of evaluation is sometimes more or less deceived. In Caravaggio’s painting what seizes most of my attention is the crack of smirk of the cupid. Beholding the evidence of some rather child-play havoc he wreaks, I suspect the cupid’s smile belies a certain viciousness. After hindsight I might blame my hyperbole and declare the smile to be no less than an artless one, but I conjure up more prequels and sequels of the paintings in my vision and on the sly.)

I have long hemmed in my own little kingdom and felt my seclusion more compelled than voluntary. For some time I can feel my disinterestedness gradually claiming me, while any extremity of emotions appears no more than a slight prick on my stupefied heart. I was letting myself be recklessly devoured by the encroaching murk when one day, a much-estranged friend of mine paid a visit to me. A kind offer was insisted that I should stay a few days in his grand old house, which he once glibly termed as his ‘chamber of horror,’ as part of the therapeutic session. People hoped such change of pace can reinvigorate my withered soul and thus regain the long-lost sanity.

The scarce evidence of any looming horror failed to justify his house as a veritable haunted one, but when stepping into it the first time I could, without too keenly notice, that a vague sense of danger and gloom was lurking not far behind. I was straightly directed to a large drawing-room, where the therapeutic session was said to officially begin. Encompassed by an interesting selection of curios and paintings, the owner of the house, whose identity I was yet certain of despite chattering ceaselessly during the long drive, asked me to make a summarized description of my view of the paintings. I was too curious to even raise doubts over this simple task proposed, since the paintings seized my attention abruptly.

Quite instinctively the image of an unidentified monster devouring a living thing appeared to me rather hysterically artificial. I made it no secret that I aspired to become a killer when I was young- to punish the vile and to further annihilate the people. That was the only time I had a dream, a dream that happened to be apocalyptic. My trigger-happiness was only somewhat appeased when it struck me one day that the sight of blood appalled me greatly. Judging the picture closely, the thin red line underscoring the fractured body was the only feature that made me blink- not the physiognomy of the monster, nor the overall repellent choice of subject matter.

I suddenly realized, and was also equally amazed with, how curtains were drawn yet all the advancing lights seemed to be blocked by the prowling darkness that those paintings presumably induced. Guillotine-like objects seemed more apt to be highlighted than grotesquely overshadowed, as seen in this painting. People loved to witness whatever scenes that went on when a throng of them was already there vying for a better vision. Even when a hanging was being executed the audience judged it with mouths agape as if a necromancy was carrying on before their eyes. I was now slightly astonished that the gathering tribes would not care a whit of the hanging creature, or they were rather too accustomed to it? Loneliness lurked in when you were the lightning amid an overcast sky.

Goya, Rosa, then Bacon, Artemisia and went on and on. The face of my friend was no longer visible to me. I did not raise suspicion to his whereabouts, however, for my eyes were too busy scouring for more paintings. Before it wizened utterly I could feel my spirit giving a last leap of jubilation. Or a last laugh that could blusterously denounce any of those paintings that conjured up reminiscences of stories I was not too unfamiliar with. My eyes finally settled on a last painting, Pieta by Titian. After seeing so many recurrent dark colours, the rusticated pillars in the painting made me somewhat wince. This was a painting that emitted such utter depression and gloom that before long I found myself flapping around, all anxious to unfetter myself from this constricted box. Then I heard my friend, chanting in gradation, all the saints and angels he summoned.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Sick Child

* Edmund Dulac, illustrations for The Wind's Tale by Hans Anderson(1911)

(There are times when a certain image begs you to lend an attentive ear to the fairy tales and stories you once heard as a child- I found such impression the most in Edmund Dulac’s illustrations for various children’s books. To be frank I never found much extreme jollity in the fairy tales I have read, but instead a menacing viciousness seems to loom over those which bear a disguise of a patronizingly happy ending. Fairy tales, to me, rarely appear thoroughly na├»ve, I can easily spot pain that encompass the stories until the very end. Fairy tales, however, I do love to revisit often, for their haziness of comprehension that excludes everything rational, practical. In a straitlaced and sequestered garden of mine those stories might be the only thing that remains footloose.)

When I was in the apotheosis of pain, I started to see visions. The world before me turned to liquid then materialized, all in a blink of an eye. Every image I had witnessed at day was put on veil deliberately, in which I could effortlessly divine an execution of black magic ready to unwind. I heard the magician announcing his next show to be a real stunner. People bustled to get into the tent, I saw throngs and throngs of them rushing in like a roaring river amid tempestuous weather. Then a series of screams and shrieks were heard.

The screams made every sound suddenly acute, although a rejoinder of them did escape me. I pricked my ear and listened, as if the walls were also covered by myriads and myriads of ears, they, however, listened to every throbbing of my pain. I stifled a scream as the pain surged and heaved; it penetrated not the thinnest thread of my tolerance but instead tested it, incessantly. The formation of music could go wild at any moment in my head, rarely did the notes waltz by but loped, frolicked, and deviated. I felt a voyeuristic urge through my ears.

The carnival persisted. The aforementioned tent blew itself up like an air balloon, a large capacity of joy is accumulated. Such was the same elation, the elation felt when the pain within me tumbled on. I divined a freak show ensuing behind the shadowy curtains: the performers were all maimed, mutilated and mortally wounded. What was really grotesque were the spectators who gathered, gobsmacked by the hijinks those weirdoes strained to do. People like me could hardly resist the warped magnetism that propelled us, like an interminable spell that echoed eternally in our heads and ears, into the carnival. The carousal might cease at any moment but our entities in this place and time felt ever excluded.

So we left, abruptly heading to the faint of light that we followed blindly, and trails of bodies scattered submissively along the path we walked. For pain could be translated to the ones that were the most impassive. With bitter pain inflated our hearts so much we became killers. The carnival was finally over, everything laid in extreme disarray, not an inkling of evidence could be found of how it first had taken place. When we conquered pain that was how the ecstacy came.