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Of Human Nature

                                         * Francesca Woodman, Untitled

  ( Francesca Woodman’s photography is akin to performance art. The performers’ (repeatedly featuring the photographer herself) self-awareness is clear. But they often seem more compelled than voluntary to give their performance. Looking at Woodman’s photographs of bleak, unnerving drama I was immediately reminded of the typical interplay between an abductor-cum-masochist and his prey, in which the former will entertain himself by commanding the prisoner to put on various grotesque (often erotic) poses. It becomes obvious that Woodman was steeped in surrealist tradition, yet unlike Man Ray, the allegedly pivotal figure of surrealist photography, Woodman did not lean on photographic techniques to create the otherworldly effects. The photographs are rather realistic, but the narratives behind each shot are mostly beyond comprehension. Woodman’s work only becomes even more mysterious when she ended her life aged merely 22 by throwing herself out of the window of her New York apartment.)


Nature tells stories beyond our ken. At least that is what he notices when tears inevitably drop on the leaves and they tremble, once and twice then no more. Carefully ensconced in the bushes, the scenes of the event are only partly visible to the little boy. Relieved, the little boy is however seized by a convulsion of unstoppable sobs. But the sobs do stop when the tears have no companies to share with. Excepts everything that stirs or murmurs, the little boy is all alone in the forest.


He bends his ear to the ground and the noise of an ongoing funeral amplified. He can hear a mixture of brass instruments shrieking every time the priest stops speaking. The speech of the priest is recognized at once a hypnotic chant, as if he was assuaging the careless animation of nature. For sure the little boy can sense several butterflies rollicking just above the priest’s head, and the priest, too preoccupied in his saintly duty, is unable to dismiss the irreverent insects, who are now drawing halos around him. Once or twice the weeps of the mourners escape not the keen ears of the little boy, and strangely they seem to overshadow the priest’s solemn prayer. The little boy will like to surmise the priest’s tendency to sing during his interminable speech, as judged by his monotone, which is suddenly leavened up by a slight lilt at the end of each sentence. The priest’s kind intention of rendering the funeral a less bleak affair is however not felt by some of the attendants, who bury their woe in the creases of their billowy dresses.


The little boy seeks some momentary comforts staying in his horizontal pose, prostrating on the barrel ground anticipating the requiem. And before long the pacification of the death does begin. But the starting note is perceptibly strayed out of tune; the slackness of the performers is to be blamed. Little attention is fixed upon such unpardonable flaw. The mourners now seemingly lost in the ecstasy come only after the forceful concealment of extreme sorrow. And they crane their necks to gaze at heaven, looking forward to a few drops of heavenly tears to assail their stoic masks. Even though the sky is cloudless and devoid of any telltale signs of an overcast weather, the mourners hardly avert their eyes when the threat of sun and lights looms. As if the people are all blind. They all are, afterward, grown apathetic, when blinded by their unspeakable emotions.


Therefore only the nature surrounding him offers solace to his wounded heart. The little boy plays listlessly with a grabful of weeds. The whispers nature gives are always elusive. The sentences uttered are fractured and never seem to end. Once the little boy assumes he has formed companionship with nature and leans on his ears, everything suddenly becomes motionless and confides no more. A pair of boots is visible under the lower-half of the little boy’s glance. Without any words or ado the uncle is going to fetch his nephew away.


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